Georgia Tech grads find their niche

Christmas_2019Georgia’s film and TV production industry is the benefactor of a Georgia Tech math student’s epiphany that he really didn’t like doing calculus after all.

“When I realized I needed a new direction, I thought about what I loved to do,” says Ben Lambeth, co-owner of Cinder Lighting & Grip. “I turned to a hobby of mine –– filmmaking.”

So long math department, hello business major.

Active in the film club at Georgia Tech, Ben met Gabe Pippas, an engineering major also drifting toward film. They owned their own equipment to do their film projects, but discovered people wanted to rent it for their own work.

IMG_6381“That was our first step to becoming a business,” says Ben. “We worked for six months before we came up with the name Cinder. Our clients were those we met at Tech and friends we made as freelancers. Along the way we also met a lot of producers who needed our equipment.”

“Within a few months they were bringing on a staff to help with the workload, and rented a warehouse to store their expanding inventory”

By 2014, the industry starting to take off in Georgia, and the company grew as well. It now has 10 employees and has supplied equipment for television series like “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta,” “Your Worst Nightmare” and “Dead Silent.” The bulk of the company’s rentals are for commercials and music videos.

Although most productions are months or years in the planning, a producer’s need for extra equipment can pop up overnight. “We’re very used to day-before or day-of orders,” says Ben. “We react as we go.”

The growth of the industry has been a big boost to Ben and Gabe.

IMG_0262“While we’re in competition with everyone else renting lighting equipment, the market is big enough to support many companies,” Ben says. “Everyone is growing and there’s plenty of work to go around.”

Although the movie and television production is spread across the state, most of the major suppliers of equipment are concentrated in Metro Atlanta. Because Cinder will pack all the equipment in a truck and let the production crews drive it to their own locations, statewide distribution is simplified.

Ben and Gabe have kept up their own work as independent filmmakers and share a keen drive to help other independents by providing affordable ways to rent equipment.

“We want to encourage more locally produced content,” Ben says. “We want to encourage more Georgia-based production, not just filming.”

Security is big business on the set of Georgia film/TV productions

Sites for top productions like “Stranger Things” and “The Fast and the Furious” draw big crowds and curious onlookers.

It’s up to professional security companies like Atlanta-based Global Protective Services (GPS) to keep the cast and crew safe.

GPS L_Reginald Lindsay R_ Phillip A Lindsay

“Because of Georgia’s film industry, we went from employing fewer than 100 people to having 550 full-time employees during our busiest times,” says Reginald Lindsay, president and CEO of GPS. “As movies come to Georgia, we’ll continue to put people to work.”

GPS provides total security for the production set, securing equipment, controlling access to the film sights, securing basecamp, and providing bodyguards for onset talent. The security team even keeps an eye on social media and will track down the source of leaked information from onset.

Popular shows with large teenage fan bases can be a challenge, but Reginald says his team is happy to handle the crowd-control issues. He and his team are excited to be a part of the film industry and take great pride in their work.

Reginald and his brother Phillip Lindsay, vice president of GPS, took their entire management staff and employees to see “Furious 7.” When they saw the company’s name listed in the credits, the whole team felt excited and proud. “We let out a loud cheer right there in the theater when we saw it,” says Phillip.

Reginald moved to Atlanta in 1994. He had a degree in business management and an interest in law enforcement. He began his career as a police officer in Clayton County and was promoted to Major in the Clayton County Sheriff’s department. In 1999, Reginald started his security company. In 2006, a GPS operations manager formed a relationship with the location manager for the film “Stomp the Yard” and GPS was hired to secure its first movie.

Since that first opportunity, GPS has provided security for hundreds of productions in Georgia. The film industry accounts for 60 percent of GPS’s business. They currently employee more than 300 people.

“I feel great that our company put hundreds of people to work while unemployment was high during the housing market crash,” says Reginald. “We hired normal people from all walks of life, like former teachers and retirees. The economic security we provide not only helps our employees, it trickles down to a web of people in our community. We feel that responsibility — it’s overwhelming and exciting.”

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.

Lifecycle 2

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.”

“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.”

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.

Producer’s assistant pays it forward to fellow Georgians

Karen Felix, a producer’s assistant who spent 15 years as a property master on Georgia film and TV productions, understands how difficult it can be to break into the film industry. After she found herself in a position to pay it forward, she made sure to extend the courtesy to other dreamers.Karen Felix 1

“As a department head, it feels good to give someone their first chance in the industry, the same way others gave me my first shot. I always hire local people and do my best to keep them working,” says Karen. “I believe in paying it forward to other Georgians and spreading the wealth.”

In 2004, Karen worked in Atlanta’s restaurant industry but desperately wanted to get into the behind-the-scenes work on films. After many asks and rejections, she finally nabbed one day of work as a set dresser on the HBO movie “Warm Springs.” She took the opportunity and ran with it.

Karen was determined to make her day count. She worked hard and was asked back for three days on set. Karen says she was so passionate about the work, she quit her steady job to take the three-day opportunity.

It paid off.

“Quitting my restaurant job was the best decision I made. The first day on set I saw the cameras and gear and how everything comes to life. It blew my mind,” says Karen. “I knew I had to figure out how to make this my permanent career.”

A producer noticed her hustle and asked if she could stay on for the rest of the show as an additional on-set dresser. A property master position soon came open for another production, and Karen was offered that job.

“Not only did I get lucky to get the position of property master so quickly, but I had someone who believed in me,” says Karen. “I worked weekends, stayed late, and did everything I could to do the best job possible.”Karen Felix 3

Karen has been working steadily in the industry ever since — especially since the 2007 tax incentives brought an explosion of work to the area. Karen says she enjoys seeing the crew base grow and to see the growth of the communities and businesses that the support the studios, too.

“It makes me proud to help local businesses,” says Karen. “I think it’s wonderful that we’re able to spread the money we get from the studios across Georgia to small and large local businesses.”

As a prop master, Karen is in charge of anything the actors use or manipulate on screen. Like on “Insatiable,” Karen needed tiaras and sashes. She worked with family-owned Premier Crowns in Monroe and found everything she needed.

After 15 years in the business, Karen has moved on from the prop department. She has recently changed to the production side and is a producer’s assistant and is working towards eventually becoming a producer.

“I love this industry and I’m so thankful film and TV production is in Georgia,” says Karen. “I love my home in Pine Lake and I’ve only had to travel twice in all my years working in the film industry. I feel blessed that I’ve been able to keep it that way.”

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.”

Lace Larrabee 4

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.

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.”

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.”