Production work provides life-saving benefits to Savannah family

Mike Neal, a former dive instructor and advisor to armed forces around the world, has created a new career for himself as a marine coordinator for Georgia-based film and TV productions.

The impact of the film and television production industry has been significant on Mike’s business and his family. Mike, a Savannah resident and owner of Bull River Cruises, attributes 50 percent of his business to film and TV work, and that share is growing. Most importantly to Mike and his family is the impact on the healthcare benefits that he receives as a union member.

Mike’s wife was recently diagnosed with liver cancer. She’s gone through treatment at the Mayo Clinic and is waiting for a life-saving liver transplant — none of which they can afford without the healthcare coverage he gets through his film industry union benefits, Mike says.

“My wife is able to have a transplant that would have been economically devastating before I had union benefits,” says Mike. “Our coverage is accepted by major hospitals and clinics, like the Mayo Clinic, whereas before our options were limited.”

Through these hard times, the film community has been very supportive to him and his family. “Savannah has a very tight film community,” Mike says. “The film industry is more like a family than people just working together. They’ve been checking in on us and helping.”

Mike has worked on a steady stream of productions since 2010 like “The Walking Dead,” “Baywatch,” “Ozark,” “Gemini Man,” and “Peanut Butter Falcon.”

As a marine coordinator, Mike scouts locations, works on pre-production planning, and recruits and manages crews on the water during filming.

On a production like “Ozark,” Mike works for the marine department which is in charge of everything on the water. “Ozark is one of the bigger water shows filmed in Georgia. That crew is always a pleasure to work with,” says Mike. “Season 3 was especially exciting working with river boats.”

Mike says the union benefits allow him and those in his industry to work for multiple productions in a year.

“I’m only one of many, many people to whom the film industry is crucial to their futures. I’m a strong proponent of keeping film in Georgia,” says Mike. “A large swath of Georgians who work directly on productions and the businesses who support them would be devastated without the film industry.”

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Real estate careers turn into small business helping film, TV productions

Amy Fuchs was working on Wall Street when she came to Atlanta for a wedding and fell in love with the city, infatuated enough to move South and take a job in finance. A single mom, she soon fell in love with her now husband of 13 years and added to their family with a daughter. She also started a second career in real estate.

It wasn’t long after that her life intersected with the film industry.

“ In our real estate business we were was getting a lot of calls about short-term housing for people coming here to work on film or TV productions,” says Amy. “It didn’t take long for us realize there was a gap we could fill.”

So began InFocusGa, a company owned by Amy and her business partner Jen Falk that makes connections that help solve housing and on-location issues for film and television productions.

One easy problem for two Realtors to solve was short-term housing needs for crew members and production teams. But then producers started asking about properties that could be used as locations.

“Since finding properties for someone to live in was our business, we could easily find properties for someone to film in,” says Amy.

They were alert to other opportunities as well. Most communities like to attract filmmakers; it’s good for business. But with filming can come disruption, especially traffic and parking. So Amy and Jen developed what they call “audience engagement.” By networking in a community where filming was taking place, they could reduce the friction by solving problems for the filmmakers and the community.

“In Atlanta, parking for crew members is always a problem,” Amy says, “so we approached neighbors and asked them if we could park cars in their driveway –– for a fee, of course. This helped solve the parking on location and made the neighbors feel they were a part of the production.”

To further cement community relations with filmmakers, InFocusGa can arrange local screenings when a film or television show is complete.

Currently filming in Madison is the Netflix production “Charming the Hearts of Men” starring Kelsey Grammer and Anna Friel. To help grease the community-relations skids for that production, InFocusGa went door-to-door explaining what was coming and how locals could engage with the production.

Their company is something of a barometer for the industry’s economic impact. Its real-estate rental arm is expanding as productions multiple, and its sales of homes are going up as well. “We’re noticing more and more people are giving up the commute from L.A. and settling in Georgia,” Amy says.

Two more opportunities are ahead for InFocusGa:

  • The company is planning an expansion in Savannah, already a hot spot for filming.
  • Also in the works is a partnership with American Real Estate University in Covington to teach Georgia real estate agents more about how to work with the film industry.

“The exciting part of working with film and TV production is the expanding opportunity for Georgia’s existing businesses,” says Amy. “It’s all right here.”

Film, TV productions provided lifeline to Cofer Brothers

In 1919, two Cofer brothers borrowed $500 to open a small country store in what was then rural downtown Tucker, GA. That investment grew into a thriving enterprise that included one of the busiest building supply companies in metro Atlanta, one that held its own against corporate giants like Home Depot, Lowe’s and the many other independent lumber yards around metro Atlanta.

Cofer’s Studio team includes (from left) Kenny Wiggins, Katie Cofer-Scott and Steve Young

The home building industry — which had become the core of Cofer Brothers — hit a screeching halt in 2009 as the country fell into a recession. Company leader Chip Cofer was determined not to become a statistic — he was committed to keeping the family business alive.

And as the saying goes, when one door closes another one opens.

“My dad had one hobby outside of our business and helping raise five children — collecting cars,” says Chip Cofer, today the CEO of the 100-year-old Cofer Brothers. “That hobby turned out to be just what we needed at the right time.”

Through that hobby came a friendship with local businessman who provided cars to movies, and like many thriving in Georgia’s film and television production industry, one introduction leads to many opportunities. For Chip, that was an introduction to the person buying the materials for a local set in Tucker.

“I saw the set, and thought, wow, this takes a lot of material. We can do this — this is what we do,” Chip says.

It was the beginning of Cofer Studio Supply, the division of Cofer Brothers that supplies materials to film and television productions around Georgia. Still based in Tucker, Cofer Brothers today employees about 50 people, including fourth-generation members of the Cofer family. The company’s sales manager, Steve Young, has worked for Cofer Brothers for nearly 50 years. The average length of employment for the team is 15 years. Katie Cofer-Scott, Chip’s daughter, and Kenny Wiggins handle the Cofer Studio Supply sales side of the business.

Six members of the Cofer family currently work at the company. From left, Jamey Wilson, John Wilson, Jim Wilson, Chip Cofer, Charlie Cofer and Katie Cofer-Scott

Film and television productions make up about a third of Cofer Brothers’ business, Chip says. The company is currently servicing about 35 production, and counts among its satisfied customers “Black Panther,” “Ozark,” and “Stranger Things.”

“The movie and TV business roared into Georgia like a freight train,” says Chip, who says he’s been a big fan of the business since he rode in a Cofer Brothers truck in scenes in “Smokey and the Bandit” as a teenager. “It’s a huge part of our story, and gave us the new life we needed to pull through a tough time in our history.

“A hundred years later, Cofer Brothers is still going strong.”

Recycled materials from productions contribute to construction of one-of-a-kind building

It was a perfect match of supply and demand. Georgia Tech needed reclaimed materials to build its environmentally pioneering Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design. Georgia moviemakers had an abundance of lightly used materials that could be repurposed.

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Shannon Goodman, Lifecycle’s executive director, (left) tells the story about how a film site breaks down to Georgia Box Office host Sheena Wiley. Photo credit: Georgia Box Office

The Kendeda Building, expected to become the most environmentally advanced education and research building ever constructed in the Southeast, will open this fall thanks in part to the contributions of Georgia’s film and television production industry.

This partnership has been going on since 2011 through the efforts of Atlanta’s Lifecycle Building Center, a nonprofit that collects reusable materials and in turn makes them available at low cost to small companies, nonprofits and homeowners.

When the filming of “Last Vegas” was complete the studio had enough leftover materials in the sets, especially lumber, to turn over more than 75 tons for resale and reuse. About the same time the producers of “Walking Dead” followed the same path of reuse.

“This was the start of a productive and valuable relationship with the film industry that has benefited more than 190 Atlanta organizations,” says Shannon Goodman, Lifecycle’s executive director.

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Georgia’s film and TV production industry has contributed more than 384 tons of materials. Photo credit: Georgia Box Office

The reuse partnership is a good deal for everyone. Tons of still-usable materials are kept out of the landfills and put into a low-cost market for reuse. Most of the leftovers can be sold from 50-80 percent off retail prices.

Since 2012, 25 productions in Georgia’s booming film and TV production industry have contributed more than 384 tons of materials, including lumber, bricks, plumbing, flooring, tiles, light fixtures, doors, hardware, and even cast-iron bathtubs.

And the industry contributes more than building materials. After the filming of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the studio passed along food, diapers, baby formula and cribs to the United Way of Greater Atlanta. Another studio contributed three whole production sets that totaled more than 82 tons.

Overall, the Lifecycle Building Center has collected for repurposing more than five million pounds of materials in seven years.

At the Kendeda Building, for example, architects estimated a need for 25,000 two-by-fours that didn’t have to meet structural ratings. Eventually, most of those boards came from salvaged movie and TV sets.

The Lifecycle Building Center estimates that about 25 percent of its incoming materials come from film and TV productions. Through grants, Lifecycle has helped more than 190 Georgia nonprofits get materials through its Nonprofit Material MATCH program.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for charitable organizations throughout Georgia,” says Shannon. “The film and TV industry is a huge part of this program. Repurposing materials from productions is a continuing benefit from having the film and TV industry here.”

Growing up in Covington provides inspiration to young filmmaker

What happens when something big unveils itself, the latest trend or the hot new buzz? People notice, and people want in. And it’s not just the people who want to keep up with the Jones’ or someone looking for work — even the kids are noticing.JW_IMG_1526034210915 (002)

That’s what happened with the film and television production industry right here in Georgia, and Jantzen Winnig, a Covington native, was watching.

When Jantzen was young, his mother recognized his interest in the industry, and she helped as she could. When she saw a movie directed by Alex Winter shooting in Old-Town Conyers, she had to let Jantzen know.

“My mom took me out of school, and we spent the day hanging out on set,” says Jantzen. “I was 14 at the time and I remember talking to every single crew member I could and soaking it all in.”

While Alex Winter may not remember talking to him on set, his kind words inspired Jantzen to follow his dream and work to perfect his craft.

“In high school I took broadcasting and theater and that helped me break out of my shell,” he said. “I didn’t like being in front of everyone so broadcasting really spoke to me.”

Throughout high school he and his friends would work on small videos mostly meant to entertain themselves. But as they got older those blooper reels evolved into more serious short films that kept improving. With the advance in film quality came the need for better equipment, but as anyone in the industry knows, it ain’t cheap.

Jantzen has taken many jobs in and around his hometown of Covington, and from Day 1 he has been saving to afford the equipment he needs to take his work to the next level. Since those days of filming around the backyard, Jantzen has built quite an impressive arsenal of equipment.

7pa2Scl (2)“In just a few years I’ve compiled a high-end camera, lights, sound equipment, sliders, tripods, drones and a plethora of other film equipment that help me get my work done,” he says.

These days Jantzen and his group of filming friends have formed a group they call “Silent Frame.” They focus on short films and have been nominated for 25 different awards at film festivals around the United States, bringing home twelve of them. Jantzen also helps small businesses with promotional videos.

“My family thought I would have to move to California if I wanted to get into this business, but I’m so happy that I am able to live in my home town and still do what I love,” Jantzen says.

“Stranger Things” publicist has front-row seat to industry growth in Georgia

Like many people drawn to the film and television industry, Denise Godoy Gregarek felt the itch early.Denise Godoy 2

“I always knew I wanted to work behind the scenes in the film industry,” says Denise, who graduated from the University of Texas with a major in radio, TV and film communications. Post-college, a move to Hawaii helped open the door to her dream. “I worked in Honolulu for Hilton Hotels, and part of my job was to help scout locations and solve problems. I was hooked.”

Today, 23 years later, Denise is a fixture of the Georgia film and television production industry as the unit publicist for “Stranger Things,” the popular Netflix series that premiered its third season this month.

An opportunity as a publicist at the TNT headquarters in Atlanta brought Denise from Hawaii to Georgia, and gave her a front-row seat to a lot of changes in the industry.

“When I started, the business was a difficult one for women, but fortunately I’ve seen a significant shift in the tolerance and opportunity for everyone in the culture,” says Denise, who describes the job of publicist as a behind-the-scenes translator or jungle guide for fans.

Denise has also been in the middle of the phenomenal growth of the industry in Georgia.

denise-godoy-1.jpeg“It’s like a giant arrow pointing upward,” she says. “You can see how companies are deciding to be based here, not just move in temporarily for a production. You can see infrastructure like sound stages being built and local actors getting feature roles.  It’s exciting to watch people who came here as transplants become rooted in the place and its culture.”

She attributes success in large part of the culture of Georgians taking care of each other. “When people ask me what’s on my highlight reel I always talk about the relationships I’ve made with filmmakers and crews, especially the gifted people behind the cameras who make the magic possible.”

Denise believes the future of the industry in Georgia is strong.

“There are wide choices in locations, well-trained crews and abundant studio space. Filmmakers like being here because they prefer having access to people who know what they’re doing. All that adds up to job security for the people who depend on the industry, and for the industry itself.”

Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance Announces New Leadership Team

 

Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance Leadership Team (1)

Top left to bottom right: Beth Talbert, Kris Bagwell, John Raulet, Dan Minchew, Tyler Edgarton, Mark Wofford

The Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance, the state’s only organization dedicated solely to representing local investment in Georgia’s film and television production industry, announces a new leadership team that will steer the group through the next two years.

Beth Talbert, head of Eagle Rock Studios, is the newly elected President of the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance. Kris Bagwell, founder of the Alliance and Executive Vice President of EUE/Screen Gems Studios, remains on the leadership team as immediate past president. Other newly elected officers include: John Raulet, Alliance President-elect and Partner at Mailing Avenue Stageworks; Daniel Minchew, Alliance Secretary and Owner of Studio Space Atlanta and Atlanta Filmworks; Tyler Edgarton, Alliance Treasurer and Partner at Mailing Avenue Stageworks; and Mark Wofford, Infrastructure Board Chairman and General Manager of PC&E.

“I’m excited to continue the great work of this group of Georgia companies,” says Talbert, who stepped into her leadership role in July. “We are — and will continue to be — all about supporting the film industry. We live here; we work here; our families are growing up here. We are fully committed to supporting Georgia film and television production because it’s our local businesses and communities that are the beneficiaries of this thriving industry.”

Founded in 2014, the Alliance is anchored by a core group of studios that includes Atlanta Filmworks, Eagle Rock Studios, EUE/Screen Gems Studios, Mailing Avenue Stageworks, Third Rail Studios, and Triple Horse Studios. Infrastructure members — companies that provide support services to production studios and their clients — include Cofer Bros., Crafty Apes, Enterprise Entertainment and Production Rentals, Herc Entertainment Rentals, Lightnin’ Production Rentals, Moonshine Post-Production, PC&E, and Sim Digital Inc.

The Alliance also works closely with Georgia Production Partnership, founded in 1995 to strengthen and grow the film and television industry here.

Members of the Alliance serve the film and television industry in a variety of ways, including providing studio space, camera equipment, visual effects and post-production services, HVAC, power equipment, truck and car rentals and building materials — and all have invested in the long-term success of the state’s growing production business.

About the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance: The Alliance is a unified voice representing studios and other companies essential to the industry’s infrastructure to the Georgia General Assembly, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and any other state entities dealing with the regulation of the entertainment industry. A key initiative of the Alliance is its on-going sharing of stories about Georgians building careers and changing their lives through employment and opportunity in the state’s film and television industry. Read those stories on our blog page and on the Alliance’s Facebook page.

Paramedics put skills to work on Georgia’s film, TV production

A crew member working on a local production wrecked his bike, and was lying unconscious on the pavement. To those who saw the accident, it was pretty clear that the rider must have had a heart attack.

But Andrea McDougal knew better.

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Andrea and Christoper McDougal, owners of McDougal Movie Medics

“Part of my job as a medic is knowing the medical conditions of many of the people I might be treating on a production,” says Andrea, a native of Columbus. “I knew the biker was a diabetic and that he had probably passed out from hypoglycemia. Knowing that made a difference in how we dealt with his emergency.”

Andrea and her husband Christopher serve as medics on a growing number of film and TV productions in Georgia. Their company –– McDougal Movie Medics –– provide emergency services during the set-construction phase as well as the actual filming.

Both are certified paramedics with medical direction, a classification that enables them to carry and administer life-saving drugs in an emergency. Before her work in Georgia’s production industry, Andrea was with Grady EMS and served as a civilian contractor to the military in Iraq. She also did research at Emory University in emergency neuroscience and traumatic brain injuries. Christopher is a former captain and paramedic with the Atlanta Fire Department.

Their first work on a production in Atlanta was “Lila and Eve,” a film with Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis made in 2012.  Other credits include two seasons on the TV show “Satisfaction,” “Passengers” with Jennifer Lawrence, “Spiderman Homecoming,” “Ant Man and the Wasp,” “Pitch Perfect 3” and three seasons of “Star.”

McDougal Movie Medics staffs productions with a pool of experience medics the couple has cultivated over the years. For many, opportunities through the company has a ripple effect, leading others to their own production jobs where they bring their own cadre of recruits into the industry, Andrea says. McDougal Movie Medics has become a ladder up for other medics and a barometer for the growth and vitality of the film and TV industry in Georgia.

Another indicator of the industries impact in Georgia can be found in RV parks around town.

“When we began working on films we had a home in Roswell and we had to commute for hours each way,” Andrea says. “When a working day is 12 hours or more, the commute is a backbreaker. So we bought an RV to park near the production and would go home on weekends.”

When they first moved into the RV park, they found other film families who had come here in RVs from around the country. And what started as a convenience for transients is transforming into a permanent base in a new state.

“The interesting thing now is to see the number of people who have given up their RVs and bought homes in Georgia,” she says. “The impact of the industry on Georgia is far reaching — it’s not just jobs. It’s establishing a foothold, buying homes, settling into careers because of all the opportunities.”

 

New Alliance Chair Committed to Supporting Film, TV Ecosystem

Beth Talbert agrees with the old adage that when opportunity knocks, you better open the door.

By chance she landed a job 24 years ago in the film and television production industry and during her career she’s turned that opportunity into becoming the head of a studio — one of only a few women to do so.

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Beth Talbert with her daughter Garyn Talbert.

When Beth moved to Atlanta to head Eagle Rock Studios in 2016, she jumped into the Georgia market with both feet. She is the newly appointed chair of the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance and is a board member of Women in Film & Television Atlanta, the Producer’s Guild of America Atlanta Chapter, and the Dekalb County Entertainment Commission.

“I’m thrilled to be the chair of the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance,” says Beth. “We are a group of Georgia companies supporting the film industry. We live here; we work here; our families are growing up here. We are fully committed to supporting Georgia film and television production because it’s our local businesses and communities that are the beneficiaries of this thriving industry.”

A native of North Carolina, Beth moved to California 20 years ago for her husband’s job and was intrigued by the excitement of the entertainment industry. Because movie-making seemed fun, Beth pursued a job at 20th Century Fox as an assistant to a production executive. She worked on-set for five years and then moved to Tribune Entertainment distributing syndicated programming to local stations across the country. Beth says it was challenging and rewarding work but eventually advanced to managing sound stages which she has continued to do for the past decade.

In 2016, opportunity came calling again, this time from Eagle Rock Studios in Atlanta. Beth was happy to come back to the Southeast and says Atlanta offers an easier lifestyle where the cost of living and the traffic is better — something only someone from L.A., where the traffic is even worse, could attest to.

Eagle Rock Studios is currently home to “Dynasty,” “Ozark,” and “Greenleaf” television productions. The studios are owned by Eagle Rock Distributing Co., a beer distributing company that found itself with an abundance of warehouse space in Norcross and Stone Mountain at an opportune time when productions were looking for studio space. The third-generation family-owned business transformed warehouses into state-of-the-art studio space specially designed to fit the needs of film and television productions.

It was a difficult path to reach this point in her career. Beth says she had no mentors in an industry that was male-dominated and she had to forge her own path. But now that Beth is in a position to do so, she is determined to help other women find opportunity in the business. Beth has helped women find internships and strives to continue her relationship with them.

Beth says she hopes to use her position both at Eagle Rock and as chair of The Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance to promote opportunity for all Georgians in the film and television production industry.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the growing Georgia film industry,” says Beth. “The influx of shows is bringing business to our industry and to local businesses who provide a wide-range of services. It’s a win-win for our community.”

A moment in history led to Georgia’s billion-dollar film, TV industry

Carla and Josh_Film Exhibit.JPGGeorgia’s film industry has roots in a movie about a prison football team. In the early 1970s the producers of “The Longest Yard” were searching for a prison in which to shoot their film but needed the governor’s permission.

When then-governor Jimmy Carter heard about it, he made actor Burt Reynolds and his producers a deal they couldn’t refuse. If you build a football field inside the state prison at Reidsville and leave it there when you’re finished, you can film the movie there.

The rest, as they say, is history.

From that collaboration has grown a multi-billion-dollar industry that employs more than 92,000 people in Georgia. Appropriately enough, that industry is on display until the end of the year in “Georgia on My Screen: Jimmy Carter and the Rise of the Film Industry” at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

“It was incredible foresight by President Carter to recognize what was possible,” says Joshua Montanari, Education Specialist at the Museum. “With this exhibit, we are highlight the economic benefit and jobs that moment in history created.”

The catalyst for the exhibit was a news item from the Smithsonian Institution that it had acquired props from Georgia-produced “The Walking Dead,” according to Museum Specialist Carla Ledgerwood. “It made us wonder whether anyone here was collecting Georgia-related artifacts,” she says. “That’s when we decided to mount the exhibit ourselves.”

Walking through the exhibit is like experiencing the timeline of Georgia film and television productions. There’s a tribute to “Deliverance,” which first brought Reynolds to Georgia in the early 1970s, launching a long-time friendship between the actor and President Carter.

The exhibit contains only original artifacts (no replicas) including Joe Pesci’s boots and Marisa Tomei’s witness-stand dress from “My Cousin Vinny,” Joyce Byer’s living room in “Stranger Things,” two of Daryl’s motorcycles from “The Walking Dead,” Captain America’s costume, and the Oscar won by “Driving Miss Daisy” as the best picture in 1989. There are wardrobe and props from recent blockbusters like “Black Panther” and Dr. Randolph Bell’s white jacket from “The Resident.”

Also featured are tributes to the many Georgians who worked behind the cameras as set directors, sound mixers and even specialists in prosthetics and special makeup effects, thus recognizing and honoring the thousands of Georgians in every business imaginable who have benefited from the spectacular growth of the film and television industry since Jimmy Carter opened the door.

Gathering such an impressive set of costumes, props and memorabilia wasn’t easy.

“We had to do a lot of research because we had zero sources in the industry until the Reagan Presidential Library provided our first contacts,” says Carla. “What’s more, because we had nothing to call a collection, everything in the exhibit would have to be on loan for about nine months. That’s a hard sell in the museum world.”

But sell they did, reaching out to local film offices in Georgia and practically every studio and production company working in the state. “Everyone in this very competitive industry was wonderfully accommodating,” Carla says.

Another problem was that there have been more than 1,500 film or television productions in Georgia since 1972 — far more than what could be represented in one exhibit. Entries were limited to those nominated for major awards or box-office hits, trimming the list to the more than 65 productions highlighted in the exhibit.

This extraordinary growth all began because of the interest and energy of Jimmy Carter, who believed that film profoundly influences the way we see ourselves and our country, Carla says.

“The exhibit draws deserving attention to that heritage and the economic impact of the industry on Georgia,” Carla says.