Film career is an intersection of good luck and hard work

Luck got St. Simons native Sara Alread into Georgia’s film industry, but hard work keeps her there.

Like many people, Sara was a fan of the movies. But what she really enjoyed was getting a peak at behind-the-scenes footage of the people who create films. Film production was her dream but opportunities were scarce in her hometown of St. Simons Island so she pursued graphic design instead.

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That changed in 2015 when filming began on Ben Affleck’s movie “Live by Night” in nearby Brunswick.

“Being from St. Simons Island, I had given up on the chance to work on film,” Sara says. “When ‘Live by Night’ came to small-town Georgia, it gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream.”

A friend of Sara’s who worked as a videographer looked into working on the movie. The production didn’t have a job for him but asked if he knew of any locals looking for work. He gave them Sara’s name. It was her first stroke of good luck to come.

Her good luck continued when the film’s location manager, Laura Bryant, decided to call Sara first from a long list of potential people. The deciding factor? The location manager liked her name because of a favorite Aunt Sarah.

“Luck got me in the door on that first film as a location production assistant. But then I worked hard and learned enough to keep the job,” says Sara.

“My background in graphic design helped me, too. The locations department creates maps of the set and sends them out daily with the call sheets. I can make the maps in-house which gives us more control over them.”

The growing Georgia film industry not only provided Sara with a new career opportunity at the perfect time, but it gave her husband opportunities as well. In 2015, she was freelancing as a graphic design artist from home while caring for their daughter. Working on films gave her enough income to allow her husband to quit his corporate job and freelance from home to spend time with their daughter.
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Sara found that locations work is a perfect fit for her. The locations department is the middle man between the crew and the local community. Her organizational and communication skills have served her well and she enjoys the variety offered by locations. She scouts for locations, spends time in the office to prep for filming, and then gets to go on set and be part of the movie-making process.

Sara has worked on “Baywatch,” “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” “Galveston,” “Underground”, and is now working on “Gemini Man.”

“I love my work,” Sara says. “I’m not ever looking at the clock and 12-hour days go by quickly.”


Film opportunity takes catering business from Mom’s kitchen to million-dollar enterprise

You think it only happens in the movies, but how about this real-life script?  A twenty-something culinary and medical school dropout down on her luck turns her big break into a million-dollar company within a year, thanks to the Georgia film industry.
Joy Merle

It happened to Joy Merle of Atlanta.  After running her catering business –– Finding Flavor –– out of her mother’s kitchen when she lost her biggest customer in 2015, she decided to explore the opportunities in film.

“I sent out about 200 emails to every producer, director, production coordinator or office assistant I could find in the Georgia film help-wanted hotline,” says Joy. Just one person wrote back, but it was the right one –– a production assistant on “Baby Driver,” a film then scheduled for shooting in Atlanta.

“They needed some office catering, and that job lasted about a week,” says Joy. “After they tried another caterer for a couple of weeks, they called me back and said they wanted someone to cater the rest of the movie.  They gave me a deposit so I could get out of mom’s kitchen and outfit my own.”

After that, the work came pouring in.  Within a year her company Finding Flavor, based in Sandy Springs, had 10 employees and a million-dollar revenue stream.

Joy says she loves the steady income, but even more, she loves the energy and passion in film and television work.  “I have great clients in this industry, great people who have been kind, patient and open,” she says. “But your dreams can’t be based on money.  If that’s all you want, you’ll have a short run.  The people in this business all have a passion.  But it’s not for the faint-hearted.  They work hard, 16-18 hours a day.  But they love it.”

In addition to “Baby Driver,”  her catering credits include “Stranger Things,” “Fast and Furious,” “Hidden Figures” and “Pitch Perfect 3.” 

Is there a secret to her success?  “Get the word ‘try’ out of your vocabulary,” Joy says. “It’s all about execution.  Either you deliver or you don’t.  If you can execute in the movie business you can win.”

Film industry drives growth of Georgia chauffeur service

A company that counts corporate transportation as its bread and butter credits Georgia’s growing film industry for a significant portion of its recent growth.

Casey Corporate Transportation (CCT) has found a new niche that takes its fleet of cars beyond the business traveler to wrap parties, celebrity airport runs and other chauffeur services that require discretion.
Chad and Sonia Casey

“I’ve really seen the market boom in the past few years thanks to Georgia’s film industry,” says owner Chad Casey, who says film industry-related work accounts for a big chunk of the company’s 75 percent growth this year.  “And that segment of our business is only going to continue grow.”

Chad founded CCT in 2003 after a stint in the restaurant business. Today the South Fulton resident employs about five drivers and has created professional links between transportation companies around the country to help provide seamless transportation to travelers, particularly those flying between Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Recent engagements linked CCT to the cast of Dynasty, filmed in and around metro Atlanta early this year. The CW remake of the popular 1980s prime-time soap debuted in October.

“From airport runs to cast parties, there is opportunity for us all around,” says Chad. “We’re excited to be a part of something big.”

Georgia’s growing TV-production industry is spurring the growth of Cinema Greens

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As television production in Georgia has grown, Cinema Green’s business has increased dramatically — spurring the owners to relocate its in-town space to one that is five times larger.

“In the early 2000’s, movies were filmed all over the place. By 2013, we felt comfortable starting our company in Georgia because of its business-friendly climate and the increasing number of films being shot here,” says Bryan McBrien, Cinema Greens CFO and Art Director.

Cinema Greens is owned and operated by McBrien, Jeff Brown, the former HOD for Universal Studios (Los Angeles) Greens Department, and Carlos “Paco” Martinez, a renowned plant care specialist from LA. The company specializes in plant and set dressing rentals for the film, television and event industries.

Cinema Greens began in 2013 in Hampton, GA, with the purchase of its flagship property and shooting ranch. The property includes more than 14 acres of landscaped property, an 1897 farmhouse used exclusively for filming, 13,000-square-feet of custom greenhouses and more than seven acres of live exterior plants. The Hampton Farm was the site of “Vampire Diaries” filmed in 2015.Cinema Greens2.jpg

The Metropolitan Decorator’s Mart was opened this summer to cater to the fast-paced clients in the television industry. Next year, Cinema Greens will relocate to 15,000 square feet of interior space and another 5,000 square feet of exterior nursery in the now-vacant National Archives and Records Administration Building. It will be located next door to Central Atlanta Props and Sets, the largest prop house in Atlanta. Together, these businesses will offer a central location to pick up materials, custom fabricate props, and offer a one-stop-shop for industry veterans and event planners to create scenery and backdrops.

Cinema Greens has provided materials and expertise to hundreds of films and television shows such as “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Oscar-nominated “Passengers” (Best Production Design), “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Fate of the Furious.”  

We’re excited about the expanding infrastructure being built in Georgia,” says McBrien. “I think Georgia may soon surpass LA for soundstages. That’s our bread and butter — to replicate greenery on stage.”

Week after week, synthetic greenery looks fresh and green, unlike real greenery.  Apparently Cinema Green’s look-alikes may look a bit too alike. After the company created a synthetic marijuana plant for “Ted 2,” the prototype was shipped to Seth MacFarlane in a special crate via FedEx. During shipping the crate cracked open, and when an employee saw the contents, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency was called to investigate.

“They thought it was real,” says McBrien. “We’re still waiting for a quote from them saying our marijuana plants are so realistic looking we fooled the DEA.”

Love for animals evolves into quirky film career

As a young girl from Jacksonville Beach, FL, Nicole Kanoy grew up around two things: Water and reptiles.

Her mom and sister were heavily involved in competitive swimming, while her dad was busy working at the popular Alligator Farm. Nicole took the best out of the two and turned it into something producers around Georgia are all interested in — animals willing and able to be on the big (or small) screen.

Early in her professional career, Nicole began a non-profit job to rehabilitate orphaned and injured wildlife animals. She found herself rescuing alligators and large snakes, as well as training non-releasable wild animals. Always looking for ways to make herself in high demand, Nicole took on a new task that would bring her to another level: Water safety. She couldn’t have done it without Daniel Ray, AKA Diver Dan, head of Water Safety Professionals. With those skills, Nicole has continued to make the sets safer for people and animals alike.

“You have to know the signs that each animal gives and you have to know how to get the best behavior out of each of them,” Nicole says.

Nicole’s entry into Georgia’s film industry came when she was approached about using one of her animals in a role for a small film. She trained and brought the deer to the set and everything just started to click. The person who approached Nicole for her first gig was Renee DeRossett, now a partner of Nicole’s in Savannah. They have been working well with animals — and each other — for well over a decade now, and together manage Animals On Set.

But keeping any business up and running can be a challenge.FB_IMG_1501895910034

There’s maintaining a 50-acre farm in Covington, three growing girls, and close to 150 animals, it can be stressful and expensive. When Nicole became a single mother, finances started to be an issue. That was not going hold her back. Nicole came up with ways to keep the operation alive. She began allowing families to sponsor and adopt animals while also having educational programs and petting zoos on the farm.

Today, that income is supplemented by Georgia’s film industry.

Animal training is only a piece of the skill set Nicole brings to each job. Before they even arrive on set, she has already read the script and chosen the animal that perfectly matches the personality of the role. Nicole takes a few weeks before filming to imitate situations like feeding an animal in the same conditions that exist on a film set so the animals know what to expect when they arrive.

When going on set, Nicole makes sure they have something to make them feel at home. It could be a stuffed fox to keep Roscoe the St. Bernard entertained during a break or black-out curtains to help him catch a quick snooze.

Nicole has worked on films like Who gets the Dog and Birth of a Nation; TV shows such as Vampire Diaries and Constantine; commercials for AFLAC; and music videos for rapper Rick Ross.

All animals, from roaches and raccoons to ducks and deer, can make it onto the big screen with a little help from Nicole and her team at Animals On Set. Whether it’s an exotic animal, a domestic pet, or even a local native species, Nicole can train them to do amazing things. Still shots, creative wildlife parties or big motion pictures, her team can do it all.

“The film industry allows me not only to continue to rescue animals, plus it supports my family,” Nicole says. “I get to do what I love.”

Exotic reptile collection breeds film industry success

Jeff Nix arrived on location two hours before the cast and the rest of the crew scheduled for the evening’s filming of MTV’s “Scream.” Looking around, he knew his expertise would be needed here at the auto parts center that would serve as the backdrop for the evening’s filming.

Jeff Nix 1Lots of tall grass and underbrush nearby. Water sources. Structures that have been in place for awhile.

Jeff’s assignment? Clear the area of snakes.

“I’ll be the first one in and the last one out,” says Jeff, who describes this type of assignment as snake abatement “My job is to look for the existence of snakes. Where do little ground animals go for food and drink? If there aren’t any, there are likely no snakes. But if there are? I’ll find the snakes.”

Jeff, a resident of the Ellenwood community in southwest Atlanta, is one of a handful of Georgians who has built a business off removing — or supplying — critters to the film industry.

His safety reviews encompass the primary set area, including craft services, base camp and cast and crew parking areas. The emphasis is, of course, where the people, equipment and film action is concentrated.

“I wear a bright green fluorescent hat so I’m very visible,” Jeff says. “The cast and crew associate that visibility with snake safety.”Jeff Nix 2

Jeff’s service to the film industry is a natural extension of his love of snakes, a love he has passed on to his daughter, Abigail, 15. She got her first snake at age eight, introduced to the care of reptiles as a volunteer at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge. Jeffand Abigail still volunteer there today, as well as manage an extensive private collection of exotic snakes and reptiles.

Jeff has worked on more than 20 productions during his five-year career in Georgia’s film industry. While snake abatement makes up a good portion of his work, much of his work centers of supplying and “wrangling” exotic snakes, reptiles and insects on television and movie sets.

Think Madagascar giant hissing cockroach on the set for the Netflix series “Ozark,” filmed around Lake Lanier.  (A “nice big visual creepy thing,” Jeff says.)Or six colonies of roaches for the set of one of Netflix’s most popular series, “Stranger Things.”  And then there’s the seven-foot-long Australian carpet python, the Asian black forest scorpion, live rats, and the moray eels.

“The animals I deal with are those you wouldn’t be able to find at a pet store,” Jeff says. “They’re not form around here.”

What’s the strangest thing he’s ever worked with on a film set?

“That would have to be the Vietnamese centipede,” he says. “Six inches long, about as big around as your thumb — definitely the creepiest thing I’ve ever worked with.”

Lighting the way for future Georgia filmmakers

Film making may seem romantic to those who dream of a glamorous job, but with the glamour often comes sitting in the hot sun all day or freezing through cold nights on film sets around the world.

Just ask Atlantan Brian Gunter. The price for working on more than 150 films during his 35-year career was often months at a time away from his family. Brian has lived in Georgia all his life and never wanted to move his family to Los Angeles. When he would get a call to work, he’d just pack his bags and go. He lived out of hotel rooms for about 15 years. It was hard on his family, but they would come to the set to visit and his kids enjoyed the travel and their adventures with him, like learning to ski in Prague. So it was a blessing when work started to pick up in Georgia over the past eight years.

Now Brian has found a new career path that lets him stay in the film industry, requires little travel, and even allows him to take vacations. Thanks to the recent boom in the Georgia film industry, the next generation of filmmakers needs to be trained by people like Brian with decades of experience.

Brian has retired from the set to teach film lighting and electrical work for the Georgia Film Academy. He is also an adjunct professor at Kennesaw State University, which is a part of the Academy.

During his career on set, Brian spent about 10 years as an electrician (a member of the lighting crew), 20 years as a gaffer (chief lighting technician), and five years as a camera operator and director of photography, working with some of the most accomplished directors and actors in the world.

“After all those years, I lost my enthusiasm for the long hours on set. Teaching at the Georgia Film Academy gives me the opportunity to get off the set and pass on my knowledge,” says Brian. “What I’m teaching is something I’ve done for so long I could do it blindfolded.”

Brian knew the material, but had never taught it before. Aaron Levy, Director of Academics for the Georgia Film Academy, offered Brian this advice: Treat teaching like a performance. That made sense to Brian, who has a trove of stories to tell his students.

“One of my favorite stories is from the set of ‘The Newton Boys’ with Matthew McConaughey. I built a lot of my own lights to make them fit perfectly for tight, nighttime sets. These lights were made out of cardboard,” says Brian. “My crew was rigging five of these lights around McConaughey and I joked with him, ‘They’re paying you so much money I have to shoot you with cardboard lights.’ He was good-natured about the ribbing.”

Several of Brian’s students are now bona fide members of the film community. He’s proud of their hard work and perseverance, but according to Brian, it’s a myth that it’s difficult to get into the film business, especially in Georgia.

“Georgia is the best place to be if you want to work in the film industry,” says Brian. “The industry prefers to hire locals and the Academy is meeting its goals of increasing the labor pool in Georgia. I wish I had this opportunity when I first started in this industry.”

Revival of GM plant is part of stage manager’s future — and past

When Scott Mobley looks around Third Rail Studios’ Flex Space, he’s hit with a vision worthy of Bran Stark of “Game of Thrones.” It’s a flash from the past, when Scott’s dad Harold stood in the same room working on the General Motors assembly line in the late 1960s.Scott Mobley

The scene today for Scott, the stage manager at Third Rail Studios, is one of polished concrete floors, sound-proof walls and state-of-the-art lighting.

The studio is part of a bigger plan for Assembly, a new mixed use development including, dining, retail and more designed to transform the sprawling, obsolete General Motors Plant, which opened in 1947 and closed in 2008.

“We’re part of bringing this place back to life, and that’s exciting,” says Scott.

Scott is part of the growing team at Third Rail Studios, which opened in November with 60,000 square feet of stages, 30,000 square feet of production offices and nearly 70,000 square feet of open space used to build sets and props. Productions filmed at the studio include “Rampage” with Dwayne Johnson, scheduled for release next year, and “An Actor Prepares” with Jeremy Irons.

Scott Mobley 3For Scott, Third Rail and Georgia’s thriving film industry is a chance to put his passion to work here at home. A native of south Atlanta — he grew up in College Park and attended high school in McDonough — he now lives in Cumming. He’s chased film work around the southeast, working on productions such as “Treme” in New Orleans and “My Fellow Americans” in North Carolina, a film where he built a replica of the White House Oval Office.


His Georgia work includes “Resurrection” and “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.”   His first movie was “Fried Green Tomatoes,” released in 1991 and filmed in Georgia locations that include Juliette, Fayetteville and Newnan.

“It used to be that if you wanted a career in the film industry, you had to travel, chase the work around and uproot your family to get work,” Scott says. “Now we’re able to set up roots in Georgia.

“That works for me — I love this business.”

High school program invests in film crew of the future

Jason Hanline, who has spent the last five years teaching English at Forsyth Central High School, says his love of film-making made him the go-to guy for anything film related that came up at school. Earlier this year, Jason was offered an opportunity he couldn’t resist: The chance to combine his love of film with his love of teaching.Jason Hanline

Traditionally, Georgia’s high school students select a career path that falls into categories such as technology, fine arts, or world languages. But now, with the help of high school teachers like Jason and the Georgia Film Academy, students have the opportunity to learn every aspect of the film industry from writing scripts to lighting and set design.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Georgia students,” says Jason. “This in depth look into film wouldn’t be available to my students if it wasn’t for the Georgia film industry.”

Thirty high school teachers from around the state have participated in a two-week course with the Georgia Film Academy that introduced film-based curriculum to use in the classroom. The materials cover everything from lighting and set design to storyboarding.

“The state of Georgia is really pouring resources into equipment and software necessary to teach these classes,” says Jason. “The goal is for these students to have all the skills they need to create their own feature film.”

Macon native puts learning-by-doing strategy to work in Georgia’s film industry

Kareem McMichael is one of those 29-year-old movie marvels who seems to have 40 years of experience. And it all started watching network news and Jack Nicholson playing the joker in “Batman.”

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“I loved watching the news and figuring out how it was done. That led me to a career in movie production,” Kareem says. “But I also loved acting. I even played boxing promoter Don King in a 4th-grade play.

The Macon native is a staff member in the department of journalism and mass communications at Savannah State University, where he graduated in 2009.  He manages web content and teaches through projects like the student newspaper and films outside the classroom. While a student at SSU he also worked at WJCL-TV handling the cameras and creating graphics and audio.

“I learned the business on the job, working in TV productions and making documentaries before I ever took a class,” Kareem says.

His learning-by-doing strategy has paid off. His professional biography includes 13 credits for acting, 10 for producing, seven for directing, seven for writing, two for cinematography and two for film editing.

“I used to think you had to go to L. A. to learn the business,” Kareem says. “I actually know people who went and came back because of the growing opportunities in Georgia.” The state’s tax credit, he says, “helps cut production costs and keep money local.”

He served on the Savannah Film Commission, which maintains a database for local people with different skills needed by the film industry, including hairdressers, makeup artists, construction workers, landscapers, florists and dozens of other professionals who have found jobs in the industry. While on the commission he advocated the inclusion of Savannah State and its students in workshops and other opportunities to get involved in 
film productions in Savannah.

He also sees a role for himself educating the general public about the value of film industry to the Georgia economy. Some cities aren’t used to film crews in the neighborhood, he says, but all those people and equipment mean jobs for Georgians, he says.

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“And that impact is spreading across the state,” Kareem says.

Among Kareem’s many successes along the way were “The Road to Desegregation,” which won awards at the Humboldt International Film Festival in 2015, and “Feed the Hungry,” an award-winning documentary released this spring about Rep. Carl Gilliard’s organization in Savannah. He produced that documentary with his friend Will Martin, another Savannah State graduate. The two of them have plans to expand it into a feature film next year.

What else is on Kareem’s agenda? He’s planning to continue teaching, finish four short films he has written scripts for and serve a term on the Savannah Cultural Affairs and Arts Commission.

In the movie “Batman,” the joker is asked what his plan is. His response: “Do I look like a man with a plan?” Clearly not.

But Kareem McMicheal. Now there’s a man with a lot of plans.