Production opportunities draw family members to Georgia

Krissy Alban definitely plans to see “Goosebumps 2 Haunted Halloween,” a Georgia-based production that opens this week. What brings her to the theater is more than the movie itself; it’s the run-down Victorian mansion where actor Jack Black’s character lives.

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Krissy and her fiancé working on set

In the new storyline, the house in the original “Goosebumps” has been abandoned for decades. As part of the paint utility crew for “Goosebumps 2,” Krissy worked to age a beautiful home near Decatur that usually serves as a wedding venue into a place creepy enough for Slappy and the other “Goosebumps” ghouls.

And when Krissy sees “The Hate U Give,” which opened this month, she’ll see one of the bigger projects she’s worked on — a complete makeover of an Atlanta block to add murals and alternate storefronts to transform the street to fit the movie.

“It’s a tradition from my childhood, growing up with a Dad who works on sets,” says Krissy, a 26-year-old resident of Conyers. “We go to the movies to see the work we’ve done.”

Krissy, a native of South Florida, followed her father — prop maker and special effects expert David Alban — to Georgia in 2015. For Krissy, it was a bold move made in hopes of taking her film and television production career to the next level. It was a gamble that paid off. As a paint utility crew member, her set work includes “The Fate of the Furious,” “Pitch Perfect 3,” and “Miracle Workers.”   

She’s proudly working fulltime at her chosen profession, no longer filling downtime with short-term jobs like retail or phone technical support. Every time she gets a new production project, she expands her skills and responsibilities, Krissy says.

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Krissy meeting Anna Camp on the set of “Pitch Perfect 3″

She describes bringing her love of detail to her set work, an attribute that came in handy with her work at the old Douglasville, GA, prison for “Logan Lucky,” one of her first jobs in Georgia. As she finished up one of the last sets for the movie, production scouts for “MacGyver” came through, asking a host of questions about everything from custom paint mixes to color palettes. “I kept great records, and had just about every answer they needed,” says Krissy.

Krissy says she has no regrets following film and television industry opportunities to Georgia. She’s currently working on a new production, and so is her father.  Her fiancé works in the industry as a painter and prop maker, and a number of uncles and cousins work primarily in set construction.

“A lot of my family has relocated to Georgia to work in the film industry,” Krissy says. “We thought we’d move here for a couple of years, but we’re now buying houses and truly creating a new life. We plan to stay right here in Georgia.”

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‘The Hate U Give’ part of movie veteran’s growing resume

After decades of travel, Bob Melton, Tennessee native and longtime resident of Florida and California, has found a home in Georgia’s movie business.

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Bob Melton in the center (literally) of the action.

A veteran stand-in and movie extra, Bob’s resume includes “The Hate U Give,”  a crime drama filmed in Georgia that opens in limited release this week and nationwide later this month.

“I did double duty for a high-school graduation scene — first as a stand-in for the principal as the shot was set up, and then in the audience as an extra for the ceremony,” Bob says. “It was an early call and a long day for all of us.”

Bob’s days are often long. He’s been in more than 100 productions as an extra or stand-in, including many of the major films produced in Georgia like “Game Night, “Hidden Figures,” “Avengers: Affinity War,” as well as “The Hate U Give.”  Currently he is a regular extra on “Walking Dead” and “Lodge 49.”

image4His movie career began on a ladder putting letters up on the marquee of the Glendale Center Theatre in California. His first acting job was in the same theater playing the role of a clumsy cowboy vying for the affections of the leading lady.

He never got the girl in that play, but he did catch the theatrical bug. And now, 50 years later, he is again chasing the dream of prominent roles.

As a teenager he was an accomplished guitarist in rock bands, one of which won the Florida Battle of the Bands in 1967. The next year he went west seeking fame and fortune. He found neither but did get an apartment behind the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for $80 a month while working for Thomas Edison Light Show Company doing special effects for concerts and on “Mission Impossible,” “The Partridge Family” and television commercials.

All the while he kept finding jobs in music, including time with Gary Stewart, whose biggest hit was “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” After many years moving around the country, he remarried and moved back to Georgia.

His break came in Georgia when got his first appearance as an extra in “Game of Silence,” a one-season series on NBC. “I saw how easy it was to get hired on, so I started working with casting companies and directors. I got lots of work because I was punctual, listened to the director and never caused a disturbance.”

Bob now has an agent and has reduced his busy schedule as an extra in search of speaking roles and a bigger career because he sees a bright future for television and movie production in Georgia.

“Things are possible now that have never been before,” Bob says. “I’ve been amazed how far people come to work here hoping to break into the business.”

Middle school teacher trains and inspires the next generation of filmmakers

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Mike Morris teaches middle schoolers the mechanics of visual storytelling at Utopian Academy for the Arts in Clayton County, but what he really wants his students to learn is that their voice matters.

“I teach our kids to take ownership of their stories,” says Mike. “Their perspective is unique and worth sharing. They learn to confidently use their voice to change their communities.”

Mike sees filmmaking as a different approach to teaching. Through the creative process, he says, kids learn to trust themselves and take ownership of their projects, and that helps them build confidence.

Students at Utopian Academy are benefiting from Mike’s filmmaking class. One student was the classic trouble-maker, fighting with teachers and students and struggling in many of his classes and at home. Despite the challenges he faced at home, the student improved at school and co-created an award-winning documentary on Georgia teachers. Another student ended up in Mike’s class by mistake and developed a passion for script writing.

Mike sees the growing Georgia film industry as a real opportunity for these kids.

Mike Morris.jpg“When I was growing up, we didn’t see Georgia as a place for opportunity in filmmaking,” says Mike. “Now, the industry is growing right around them. I’m so happy and excited that Georgia has become a place where a kid’s dreams can come true.”

When Mike started in the film industry, he moved to Los Angeles. His apartment and internship at a studio fell through, so he lived in his car. When his car got towed, he literally ended up on Skid Row. Not a fortuitous beginning. But he made some connections and eventually worked for a production company. A few years later, Mike started his own business, Visual Tellers.

After moving back to the South, a friend asked him if he’d like to teach media arts with him at Utopian Academy. At first, Mike wasn’t sure he wanted to teach. He was a professional photographer, business owner, writer and producer. He had his hands full. But he remembered how lucky he was as a kid. Even though he didn’t have much growing up, his parents entrusted him with a camera and that’s how he developed his love of photography.

Mike wanted to give the same trust to the students at Utopian Academy and serve as a positive role model. Once he started teaching, he fell in love with the job.

“The kids look up to us, they say they want to be like us. It’s humbling,” says Mike, who is also a volunteer at re:imagine/ATL, a non-profit that connects teens with mentors and resources in film and digital media.  “We’re there to be a positive influence and empower them to be whatever they want to be.”

Empty, old hospital gets new life thanks to movie, TV productions

The old Piedmont Newnan Hospital closed in 2012 after 50 years, but it’s finding a busy second life as a set for movies and TV shows.OldNewnanHospital2

This summer alone, three productions used the hospital and five other buildings on campus for filming – back to back to back in June and July, said Zack Holt, Piedmont’s director of facilities management. He estimates at least a dozen have used the space in the last few years, including “The Walking Dead.”

“It comes in waves,” Holt says. “It’s like they have seasons.”

Most recently, it was Season 2 of the TV series “The Gifted.”

That’s all been a nice economic boost for the hospital, which is up for sale. Holt declined to give economic figures.

Production crews often put up facades and other set decorations on site. Usually, they’re required to return the place to the condition they found it.

“But the building is so old and vacant that when they make an enhancement to the space, you just let them leave it,” he said.

For instance, one production installed, and paid for, a working elevator when the hospital had none. Another tore out old carpeting to reveal more attractive hardwood floors.

“It’s nice,” Holt says. “It’s a benefit.”

Other benefits extend to the community, where production crews, sometimes more than 100 people, support hotels, restaurants, shops and service companies. Local residents are sometimes hired as extras.

“The restaurant businesses and the hotel industry appreciate it,” he says. “Piedmont appreciates it, too. As I learned, it is lucrative and beneficial for the county to have that amount of money come in.”

Film Industry calls, and a business moves to Georgia

Chef Robert Smith recalls the “aha!” moment he had just a few years ago.

He was wrapping up a long, grueling shoot of the “Baywatch” movie in Savannah – exhausted and missing his wife and son back in New York, where the family was based. After 18 months of constant catering work on Georgia film and TV sets, Smith was tired of shuttling back and forth.

ChefRobSmithSo, he proposed the family move here. They settled in Johns Creek two years ago, and his business is booming: Catering by Chef Rob, based in Doraville.

“As soon as I put up my placard, it’s been through the roof, insanely busy,” Smith says.

He’d been in the business for years, with top-tier titles on his lengthy resume, like “The Americans” and “Blue Bloods.” Plus, he cooks privately for star performers and athletes.

By bringing his business here, Smith created four permanent jobs for Georgians, and hopes to double that by the end of 2018. This year, he expects to triple his revenue from last year.

Plus, he says, productions mean jobs for a half-dozen more people through a months-long shoot. The trickle effect is enormous – in Georgia, film and TV production generates some $10 billion in revenue.

That’s because of a lucrative tax cut the state provides, and losing that would be devastating to countless businesses, Smith says. “We’ve already seen it in other states. We always say there’s a reason everything’s on wheels. It’s not a joke. They’ll just roll out of town.”

Georgians are learning all kinds of new trades and building careers for themselves, he has found.

“If you work hard in this business, you’ll always find work,” Smith says. “If you’re out there and you’re busting it every day, you’re going to go from job to job to job.”

He does all the cooking, even when feeding several hundred people on a set. Smith makes healthy food, with lunch buffets that include salads, vegan and vegetarian choices, chicken and fish, plus a nice spread of desserts.

“And of course, sweet tea,” he says. “I’ve learned you can’t have an event here in Georgia without sweet tea.”

Town sees a boost in spending over months-long construction of sets

WayneDasherGlennvilleWhat happens when about 100 movie workers spend four or five months in a town with fewer than 4,000 people?

For one thing, the Hollywood visitors spend a lot of money.

That’s what happened earlier this year, when crewmembers descended upon Glennville, GA, according to Wayne Dasher, chairman of the Tattnall County Development Authority, about an hour west of Savannah.

The workers on the upcoming Will Smith movie “Gemini Man” spent weeks building structures downtown, putting new facades on others, turning a bank into and school, and more.

“They did quite a bit of stuff,” Dasher said. “They spent thousands of dollars at stores, restaurants and our two hotels.”

Downtown, the production team rented more spaces for storage, and one of Dasher’s vacant buildings for the location office.

Filming this spring took about a week. And then the movie crew put everything back the way it was.

With at least one exception.

Dasher left the set dressing on one of his downtown locations, just in case the movie becomes a blockbuster.

“People might want to come stand in front of this and have their picture made,” he said.

IndieGrip helps build a niche market in ‘the space in between’

With movie and TV locations more and more commonly used in Atlanta and Savannah, a company in Augusta is finding a niche in the space between. It’s been the site of numerous small films, and Clint Eastwood is currently shooting “The Mule” there.

terrenceAll that activity has been great for Terrence Williams, an Augusta native who had been working on theater and local public access TV until about three years ago.

“Somebody said I was doing a good job and asked if I’d like to try my hand at movies,” said Williams, now manager and one of three full-time employees at IndieGrip. He said the company, which provides equipment and crew to productions, has tripled its business. “They gave me the opportunity to try my hand on that, and it went from there.”

That first movie was called “The Reason,” with Louis Gossett Jr. IndieGrip has supported productions including “Detroit Crossing” and “Hollywood Dirt.”  Williams, who works as a key grip arranging equipment and lighting on sets, said the company also works on TV commercials and music videos, in addition to independent films.

TerrenceWilliams on setA 30 percent tax cut from the state means that film and TV productions generate about $9.5 billion annually in Georgia’s economy. The rolling effect of each production generations thousands of dollars in the local economy, with working visitors spending money in hotels, restaurants and stores.

“If we were to lose that tax credit, like they have in other states, that would put a damper on things,” Williams said. “We’re actually getting business from Louisiana and North Carolina.”

Williams loves the work and its challenges.

“It’s constantly changing every day,” he said. “Day to day, hour to hour.”

Production Sound Mixer makes move to Savannah, experiences immediate impact on career

The move from small-budget films to big-screen productions made the decision to move to Georgia an easy one for Production Sound Mixer Kevin Strahm.

“Once I got here it was much easier to network in the industry,” says Strahm, “Before I knew it I was working on multi-million-dollar films.”TES_0006_master

That’s something he says would have never been possible if he didn’t make his way to Savannah.

You can trace Kevin’s path to the film industry to the Philippines, where his family lived while his parents worked as missionary teachers. While taking a short daytrip with his family, they stumbled upon the set of the 1986 Oscar-winning war movie, “Platoon.”

Watching the action on set that day would eventually inspire Kevin to work in the film industry on the other side of the world.

There were many stops along the way. For the better part of a decade, Kevin lived in Chicago working for Marriott International. His work there included handling audio and visuals for hotel meetings, but on his own time he played guitar and learned more about audio recording. Beyond the technical training he received there, Kevin credits the social skills obtained on the job with getting him where he is now.

From Chicago, Kevin made his way to Charlotte, NC, where he continued to develop his skills until he got his first opportunity. There he worked on small budget films, usually ones that would go straight to video. But that was all soon to change.

After a brief stop to work in Augusta, GA, Kevin finally found himself in Savannah working on exciting projects, such as “Blood Money” featuring John Cusack.

Work for a Production Sound Mixer means working continuously through hot or cold weather, bugs, rain, enduring it all until the movie wraps.

27650355_10156040974624254_697148578_o“To see it all come together on the big screen makes it so cool to be a part of this process,” Kevin says. “I sometimes can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

Kevin also works on personal documentary and storytelling projects that are important to him. Working with the Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse, Kevin has travelled around the world helping communities in need. Currently he is working on a documentary on the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

What next for Kevin?

“I have dreams of starting my own business, helping put to work men and women living in Georgia,” Kevin says. “We all encourage each other to hire local, and I want to continue to do that.”

Savannah resident finds job stability in Georgia film industry

Laura Bryant 1Laura Bryant spent a lot of time searching for a satisfying career. It wasn’t for a lack of trying to find her niche. She worked as an autopsy assistant, Kirby vacuum cleaner sales person, yacht assistant, hotel sales person, just to name a few stabs at stability and satisfaction.

“I worked a lot of whacky jobs and always counted down the minutes until my shift was over,” says Laura, a native of Savannah.

And then came a small job that would eventually lead to big opportunity.

A family friend worked at the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce and needed someone to scout locations for a Saks Fifth Avenue photo shoot. Laura didn’t think she was qualified but was encouraged to take the job. She did, and she took to location scouting like a duck to water.

“They wanted a rustic environment with horses and a river,” says Laura. “I know Savannah like the back of my hand. I knew exactly where to get that for them. After working 14 hours a day for 10 days, I couldn’t get enough of it. I knew I found my career path.”

At first, Laura worked on commercials, photo shoots and a small-budget movie. She got her next big break from a connection her sister made renting a car to the location manager for “Forrest Gump.”

Working on “Forrest Gump” was a game-changer for Laura. She kept her mouth shut and her eyes and ears open. On set she learned that everything on a production has a purpose. Twenty-four years later, she still loves location management and feels fortunate to find steady work in the Georgia film industry. In the early 2000s productions slowed down but after the tax credit incentives were introduced, the number of productions skyrocketed. So much so that she now has to turn jobs down.

She’s also preparing the next generation of location managers to fill those jobs, and watches for opportunities to add new talent to her team.

“Location assistant Sara Alread was a God-send. She just got it right off the bat,” says Laura. “She was like me when I started out. She saw what was needed, not just verbally but from their eyes and expression. You can’t teach that.”

Laura Bryant 3Location managers do more than scout the perfect site. With the input of the production designer and producer, they break down the scenes to understand the needs of each. Depending on the logistics of the scene — whether it’s a car crash, rain, or special effects — the location manager ensures the police and fire department are involved, a water hydrant is on location and whatever else is necessary to make the production run smoothly. They take a laundry list of issues into consideration, from noisy trains to leaves falling off trees.

Another aspect of location management that suits Laura well is giving back to the local economy. She connects local businesses to the film industry. She hires vendors of all sorts, from tent companies to bathroom rentals.

While filming “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” Laura hired a local pressure washer to clean nine blocks of sidewalk. When your star is only seven inches tall, a piece of gum looks like a boulder. Laura knew just the guy to hire to clean all of the debris off the sidewalk.

“These local vendors bend over backward for our productions,” says Laura. “We’ve built these wonderful relationships that are mutually beneficial. We’re thankful for each other.”

‘Leap of faith’ lands former cosmetologist in Georgia’s film industry

Living in an unfamiliar area with nothing but a dream was a chance that Anita Williams took when she moved from Florida to Atlanta eight months ago, looking to immerseIMG_6917 herself in the growing Georgia film industry. Her “leap of faith” paid off when she quickly found work as a studio administrator.

“At some point I had to take a leap of faith, and get my foot in the door,” Anita says. “I don’t regret taking this chance.”

Anita started her career in the field of cosmetology, first behind the chair styling hair and moving to director of education at beauty schools in Florida and Virginia.  Now at Eagle Rock Studios, Williams works as a studio administrator, with duties ranging from creating weekly reports to processing production orders.

Anita says she became inspired to join the film industry when she sat in on the production of “Hitch,” filmed in New York in 2004 “I was invited to the set and I absorbed everything that was going on,” Anita says. “It was the first high-end production set I had been on.”

IMG_2367 (1)She talks about how she sat next to an older man she had never met, and he brought her out on the pier to watch the movie being filmed right in front of her. The gentleman then introduced her to Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. “You never know who you are talking to, so be kind to everybody,” says Anita.

Anita immediately became interested in everything it took to make a film.

Now happily working at Eagle Rock, she says this is just the beginning for her. In her free time, she’s writing scripts. She’s written many pieces, including one called “The Dog Walker” that has won a few contests and is expected to premiere at film festivals around the state in 2019.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” Anita says. “I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.”