Former Miss Cobb County is crowned a winner with opportunities in Georgia film

When the Georgia film industry started to heat up with several shows featuring pageant story lines, Lace Larrabee knew she had the experience to make her a perfect fit.

Lace Larrabee 2As a former Miss Cobb County, Lace harnessed her talent for performing comedic dialogues into winning more than $26,000 in scholarships. She made it to the Miss Georgia pageant four times.

“I did pageants until I aged out, and I felt like all of that experience could pay off,” says Lace.

And it did.

Lace got her chance on “Queen America,” Facebook Watch’s dark comedy about pageants. Lace said performing in two scenes with Catherine Zeta-Jones will always be a highlight of her career and can’t believe she hugged an Oscar winner.

“I think all of the filming in Georgia validates us as an entertainment community,” says Lace. “Now those of us in the performing arts don’t have to act like it’s just a hobby. You can have a lucrative career right here. That’s huge, I don’t have to uproot my life and move across the country.”

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After graduating from college — mostly paid for by her pageant winnings — Lace went on to become a nationally known standup comedian. When not touring, Lace lives in Atlanta, where she created and runs an all-female comedy class called the Laugh Lab Comedy Class.

Whether it’s her comedy classes that are filling up with actors working on their comedy skills or the local bakery in Atlanta where she filmed scenes for “Queen America,” “the Georgia film industry is boosting all of us,” says Lace.

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Family-owned Crafty Apes puts ‘boots on the ground’ in Georgia

LeDoux Brothers

The LeDoux Brothers: Chris, Tim, Mark and David

In 2014, Crafty Apes opened its Atlanta location with a staff of two: Chris LeDoux and Joshua Stevens. It didn’t take long to expand to employ dozens, move most of the rest of the family to Georgia, and emerge as one of the top visual effects companies in the industry.

Founded in 2011 in Los Angeles, Crafty Apes had worked on a number of Georgia-based film and television productions, parachuting in for the duration while keeping the company’s base on the West Coast. But even then the potential in Georgia was clear.

“We decided we wanted to be the boots on the ground here,” says Chris, cofounder of Crafty Apes. “We didn’t want to just send random people out here to work, but get here ourselves. We saw the opportunity in Georgia and were eager to get a foot in the door.”

Fast-forward to today. Crafty Apes is one of the industry’s premier visual effects companies, with a production resume that includes Oscar-nominated films “A Star Is Born,” “Hidden Figures” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Georgia-based productions include “Stranger Things,” “The Front Runner,” “The Hate U Give,” and “Hidden Figures.”

While the company maintains offices in LA and New York, the Atlanta location has emerged as Craft Apes’ largest office — and Atlanta has become the family’s home.

Chris LeDoux and Genevieve DeMars

Chris LeDoux and his wife Genevieve DeMars

Chris and his wife Genevieve DeMars, an Emmy-winning producer, just bought a home in Atlanta. Also based in Atlanta are brothers Mark LeDoux, senior VFX supervisor, and David LeDoux, director of IT. Tim runs the operation in LA along with co-founder Jason Sanford.

“I wasn’t completely sold when Chris wanted to make the move to Atlanta,” says Genevieve, whose work includes projects with Disney, Warner Brothers and Amazon. “But I’ve made great connections in the business right here in Georgia. This is now my hub.”

Invested in Atlanta

Since making the move to the South, Chris and his team have spent much of their time training local talent to help develop what are becoming some of the top crew around. Through workshops and on-the-job training, Crafty Apes has trained about 30 people in special visual effects over the last five years.

Now with about 65 full-time employees in Georgia, the company quickly outgrew its original location and relocated to a 6,500-square-foot facility in west Atlanta complete with a ping-pong table and vintage pinball machine.

“Among the tables full of little gadgets and games, you see some great creative work getting done,” says Mark. “At any given time there are 40-50 people sitting at their desk working extremely hard.”

As the company has grown significantly, so has its ability to do more. From rotoscoping to creating full-on creatures for films, the team does it all.

“To do all levels of sophisticated work, we had to outsource in the beginning, but now we are at the point where we can do everything in-house,” says Chris, adding that the Atlanta office even pulls in work from other states where the Georgia tax credit doesn’t apply. “That’s a good sign for post-production as a whole, that the quality of the work has crossed that threshold.”

While it’s hard to pick a favorite project, Chris counts “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” and “12 Years a Slave” among the most meaningful projects the team has worked with.

“I’m a sucker for a good story,” Chris says. “Ultimately at the end of the day, we love being part of a great story that will last for generations. That’s what we do best.”

Incentives, talented crew recipe for success in Georgia, says ‘Raising Dion’ producer

Bob Phillips 3Walking around EUE/Screen Gems Studios’ Atlanta lot, Bob Phillips sees the past — and the future.

As a Georgia native, his memories of the 11-stage, 33-acre studio complex range from exploring what was then Lakewood Fairgrounds as a boy to his first production job in the basement of what is now Stage 1.

And as the line producer for the upcoming Netflix series “Raising Dion,” hosted at EUE/Screen Gems in Atlanta, he knows why productions will be coming to Georgia for years to come.

“Atlanta is one of those places where you can show up and find just about anything you need,” says Bob, who spent months in Atlanta for the nine-episode series about a young boy with multiple superpower abilities. “The crew and team you need are right here in Atlanta. There’s so many really, highly skilled and experienced department heads, and the grip and electric crews were among the best I’ve ever worked with anywhere.

“There’s world-class crew right here in Georgia.”

Bob Phillips 2Born in south Georgia, Bob began his production career in the 1980s, and has worked on locations around the world.  In addition to “Raising Dion,” Bob’s recent projects include Amazon’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and “Banshee,” the Cinemax crime series. He also worked as a line producer for “Valkrie,” the 2008 Tom Cruise movie about the assassination attempt on Hitler.

Currently living in Topanga, CA, Bob has watched Georgia’s film and television production industry mature during his decades of work.

“We’re big fans of filming in Georgia,” says Bob. “The tax incentive draws work here, and that combined with first class crew and infrastructure is a recipe for success.”

Forsyth native builds full-time career in Georgia’s film industry

Eric White grew up with a love for writing and storytelling, but knew that might not be a particularly reasonable career path.

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He graduated from high school in Forsyth, GA, and followed a common path to the local college to try and figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He soon discovered this path wasn’t for him and dropped out, beginning a stint as a server in restaurants around Forsyth.

“I was looking for my opportunity, and not finding it,” says Eric.

For Eric, the path to opportunity began with creating a comic with a friend, a venture that motivated him to stick with his creative side and enter film school in Florida. Today, Eric works in a variety of crew positions in Georgia’s film and television production industry, including set decorating, lighting and set construction.  Projects include “Summer Nights,” a coming-of-age story filmed in Atlanta and Newnan, and, most recently, the CW television series “Black Lightning.”

IMG_20170709_211857_799Over the years, Eric has moved from supplementing his income with landscaping and construction work to creating a full-time career in Georgia’s film industry.  He balances his time between working as set decorator and his passion, screenwriting. He recently wrote and produced a short film, “Colorblind,” which won the Audience Award at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2018. Since he started in the film industry he’s moved from from independent film and music videos to larger union productions

“The people I’ve met working in this industry have become lifelong friends,” Eric says. “I’m excited to be surrounded by like-minded people who are able to work together to create great work.”

Moving to Georgia is good business for film financier

After several decades as a successful film producer and financier in Los Angeles, last year Maggie Monteith “packed up the trucks” and moved to Georgia.

“I loved California, but I needed a new adventure,” Maggie says. “The films I was making were in an L.A. voice, but I became intrigued with the idea of making films that would endure in an authentic Southern voice.”

There’s a bit of charming irony listening to this native of Glasgow –– who will never lose the lilt of her Scottish brogue — talking about the voice of the South. “I was drawn to the material of the writers I had met from the contemporary South and wanted to explore that,” she says.

So Maggie and her husband started scouting from Virginia to Mississippi to find a new base. “When we realized we were constantly flying in and out of Atlanta airport, we asked, Why not Atlanta?”

Why not, indeed.  They decided to stay, and she describes it as love at first sight.

But it was more than love.  It was good business.

“Georgia had made a lot of smart moves to provide incentives for people like me who were investors in the film industry,” says Maggie. “In addition to the significant tax credit, we discovered amazing support for training and education of crew members across the state.

“What’s more, there has been increasing investment in facilities that are as modern and affordable as any in the country. Those advantages made it clear that moving to Georgia would be a good move.”

Not long after the move, she stared getting proposals she called divinely inspired. “The scripts were perfect, set in the South and easily filmed here,” says Maggie. “The locations fit the material. Dahlonega could be Dahlonega; it didn’t have to pretend to be anything else.”

She also found others with experience moving here from around the country.

“The talent needed to put out a big film doesn’t have to be imported,” says Maggie. “It’s already here.”

At the other end of the skill spectrum are the many opportunities for those just out of high school and college who want to step on the lowest rung to get a start in the business. Georgia, she discovered, encouraged her life-long passion for mentoring newcomers. “I’m gathering a coterie of beginners,” she says with pride. “Working with people who are excited about the opportunity is the most fun you can have.”

As a business executive with sidelines in fashion, film merchandise and film distribution, Maggie understands the value of the investment climate created by the tax credits. “It means we can increase the production budgets and therefore the quality of the films. We can afford better salaries. We can persuade more investors to participate. Everyone wins.”

That recognition makes her grateful.

“I’m benefiting from those who invested in the infrastructure of education and production,” Maggie says. “The groundwork has been prepared. I want ever so much to fit into and contribute to what’s already here. What a marvelous position to be in.”

Health insurance one of many perks actor finds through film, TV work in Georgia

Meg Gillentine 1

Photo by Justin Patterson

When actor Meg Gillentine was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, she found solace in her work in the Georgia film industry. The industry not only provided a creative outlet and income but, most importantly for Meg, incredible health insurance.

As a working actor, Meg has hit the level of success that qualifies her for health insurance through the Screen Actors Guild. For Meg, meeting the required income threshold happened when she moved back to her hometown of Marietta to work in film and TV.

“I’ve had more opportunities in film, TV and commercial work in Georgia than I ever did in New York or L.A.,” says Meg. “We moved back here and we’re the happiest we’ve ever been.”

Meg is healthy now and says she is thankful she had health insurance to cover the cost of her cancer treatment. She says pursuing a career in Georgia was an easy decision. She goes where the work is and Georgia has so much to offer.

“Coming home to a fully developed industry that I could sink my teeth into was a dream come true,” says Meg. “Georgia has given us a wonderful lifestyle. Our child can attend public school, housing is affordable, and we’re close to our family.”

A graduate of Pebblebrook High School, Cobb County’s performing arts magnet, Meg went to New York University for musical theater. During her sophomore year she earned the role of Cassandra in the show “Cats” on Broadway. She attended school during the day and performed on Broadway at night through college. After graduation, she performed in numerous national tours and Broadway shows, including the national tour of “The Producers.” That led to her first film role in the movie version of “The Producers.”

In 2006, Meg moved to L.A. where she continued to do theater, commercial and print work. She married in 2009 and had a baby with her husband Jay Hunter Morris, a renowned opera singer, who traveled for many months out of the year. In 2011, Meg realized Georgia was the place to be, and she moved her family here.

Meg Gillentine 2Within months, Meg booked a series of commercials for SCANA. Since then she’s appeared in commercials for Ford, Direct TV, Toyota, Smithfield Bacon, Home Depot and many more. She’s booked appearances in numerous movies and TV shows, including “I Tonya,” “Madea’s Witness Protection,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Star,” and “Queen America.”

“The people in the Georgia film industry are a tight-knit, fantastic group,” says Meg. “I just want to work. Give me one line or fifty, both are equally fantastic. In the last two weeks I’ve had 10 auditions for TV shows — that didn’t happen in L.A. It’s exciting for Georgia and for all the local actors. A lot of us are able support ourselves from the opportunities that the film and TV industry provide. It’s a blessing and I’m grateful.”

NC student finds opportunity in Georgia

When North Carolina decided to change the tax incentives it provided to the entertainment industry, many people were left with fewer opportunities to do what they love.

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“When the North Carolina film tax credit dried up there was a mass exodus,” said Lucy Keller, a graduate of the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. “Many of my friends were quick to get out and when they told me about the opportunities in the film industry in Georgia, I was in.”

North Carolina’s loss is Georgia’s gain.

Lucy sought opportunities to learn more about the industry in Georgia. What began with local or online classes soon turned into developing connections, which got her into networks that helped her build the knowledge and skillsets she possesses today.

She is now contributing to a number of productions, currently as a PA for the Warner Bros. TV  show Doom Patrol about a Superhero team, premiering February 15, 2019 on DC Universe.

“You have to work hard. Sometimes you are asked to work long hours, or strange hours, or handle strange things, but if you just push through someone will notice,” says Lucy.

For Lucy that moment came when she was working with Crazy Legs Productions. It was there where she and a few other interns took turns holding directional signs in the frigid temperatures and pouring rain.

lucy keller“Lucy’s motivation and drive in her interview carried over into her experience and the impression she made as an intern here,” said Kimberley Hinson, Office Manager of Crazy Legs Productions. “Those who seek and create opportunities will always be more successful than those who wait for opportunities to be presented, and you could tell Lucy was a go-getter.”

Lucy has come a long way since being an intern and she credits a lot of that to the opportunities she has gotten to network and ask questions on set. “At first I thought everyone would be too busy to answer any questions, but once I got comfortable enough to ask, I realized how helpful everyone really is,” she said, “The worst answer I’ve gotten is ‘I’d love to talk about it, but could you come back in one hour?’”

Lucy is convinced she’s in the right place at the right time.

“I made the right decision coming to Georgia,” said Lucy, “I can’t wait to see what opportunities are ahead.”

Chef, businesswoman finds new opportunities in Georgia

Samone Lett is a successful chef and businesswoman well-seasoned by cycles of hardships and triumphs. After 20 years in Orlando, she’s now moved to Georgia to become a factor in the film industry, bringing with her the experiences of several lifetimes.

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A producer encouraged her to bring her talent to Georgia to help serve the film industry. It wasn’t long before she got a short-term contract to serve lunches at a studio and cater an industry event. More assignments are on the horizon.

“I was just overwhelmed by the warm and helpful reception I got here,” says Samone, owner of Wishful Concepts, a catering and event-management business now based in Atlanta.

An Army veteran from Brooklyn, Samone has degrees in hospitality management (City College of Orlando) and culinary arts (Le Cordon Bleu). She has been a volunteer counselor to women getting out of prison, an experience that reinforced in her the power of compassion and healing, assets she brings to her work.

“I learned early on that I loved being with customers more than being in the kitchen,” Samone says. “I love food, but I’m more than a chef. I work best when I’m part of a family.”

samone 2During a bad patch in her life years ago when she was dealing with a drug-addicted husband and a declining business, she took strength from the prisoners who would sing “There’s a Lilly in Valley” an inspiration for the first of her five autobiographical and inspirational books. During this stretch her marriage failed, she was homeless for a time and her car was struck by lightning (with her in it), but her faith and fortitude helped her recover, “bruised but not broken,” she says.

In 2017, Samone appeared on the Food Network hit show, “Cooks vs. Cons.” She loved it, and the affection on the set was mutual. “They let me stay on as the last person because we enjoyed our time together so much,” she says. That feeling carried over to her appearance for three episodes of the “Food Network Star.”

The woman who sees the world as family now sees Georgia as home. “For 20 years in Florida people would ask me where I was from, and I’d say Brooklyn,” Samone says. “Now they ask, and I say Georgia. The tremendous opportunities and people here make me truly feel that I’ve come home.”

Young professional finds opportunities in Georgia’s entertainment industry

Julie Quach has had a number of roles as an extra, yet one opportunity stands out among them: She gave an actress a manicure in an episode of “Dynasty,” a reboot of the classic series that is produced in Georgia.

post hair & mu for ksu orientation videoFor Julie, a first-generation Vietnamese American, the experience combined her new world with her family’s business — Nail Xpress, a Marietta nail salon founded more than 20 years ago by her parents.

“I grew up in the nail salon business, and here I was playing a manicurist on a popular television series,” says Julie, who also works as a production coordinator. “That was pretty surreal for me.”

As a young professional, Julie’s blending her passion for the film and television production industry with a variety of opportunities that come with living in the heart of one of the most popular production locations in the industry.

Born and raised in suburban Atlanta, Julie’s determination to make it in the entertainment industry started in high school. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she joined the production side of the business in 2015. Starting as a production assistant, she’s since taken on bigger roles as a production coordinator. Depending on the size of the project, she finds herself coordinating between crew members and the client. With some productions, she’s hiring rental equipment and cameras.

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Her passion for on-camera roles stays strong. In addition to “Dynasty,” she’s had the opportunity to be an extra in “Vampire Diaries,” which filmed in Covington until the series ended in 2017, and “Step Sisters,” a Netflix comedy released on Jan. 19, 2019.

“I’m in a great place to build a career in the entertainment industry,” says Julie. “There is so much opportunity in Georgia, and my hope is to keep learning and keep getting opportunities.”

New podcast turns a spotlight on those in “The Credits”

Kalena Boller 1 (photo credit Anthony Davis)

Photo by Anthony Davis

Kalena Boller, a location manager from Hapeville, strongly believes in the adage, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Her own career path was influenced by veteran Atlanta grip, Louis ‘Bolaji’ Bailey. As a guest speaker at Kalena’s high school, Bolaji’s stories illuminated the behind-the-scenes world of film productions.

“He gave us the knowledge of what we could be and it blew my mind,” says Kalena. “Because of him, I studied film at Howard University.”

Now Kalena has a spotlight of her own: “The Credits,” Georgia Public Broadcasting’s new podcast featuring Georgians working in the state’s film and television industry. The interviews are also featured on GPB’s daily talk show, “On Second Thought.”

“I feel lucky to have a multi-billion-dollar industry in my backyard,” says Kalena. “I want the film industry to stay, grow and thrive in Georgia. That’s why I started ‘The Credits.’ I want people to understand the thousands of careers and lives affected by the Georgia film industry.”

Like many aspiring film-makers, Kalena felt she needed to move to LA or New York to start her career. Luckily for her, she got a chance to intern on a music video filmed in her hometown of Atlanta. She quickly moved from intern to production assistant to the Locations Department and hasn’t stopped working since in the booming Georgia film industry.

Kalena Boller 2 (photo credit Anthony Davis)

Photo by Anthony Davis

During her career, she’s met many of the small army of people who take a production from concept to the screen. Intrigued and inspired by their stories, Kalena created “The Credits” to highlight the people listed in the credits of films and television shows produced in Georgia.

The podcast showcases the diversity of both people and jobs involved in the Georgia film and television industry. She says she’s doing it for regular people who are curious about the film industry and to show them what’s possible as a career. From security to teachers to medics to caterers, the possible list of careers in the film industry seems endless.

“When we pitched the podcast, there were concerns we would run out of stories,” says Sean Powers, GPB’s director of podcasting. “The opposite is true — there are so many Georgians working in this industry, we have too many great stories to tell!”