Cumming-based business makes the most of our most basic need

To most people, the movie and TV business seems like nothing but glamour and excitement.

But anyone who has worked in the industry – which generates some $10 billion in Georgia – knows it’s long hours and hard work, often at remote locations.

People in show business, they say, are just like the rest of us.

And that means they need portable toilets on location, too.

“Everybody’s gotta go,” says Jody Tinsley, owner-manager of Event Services of Georgia, which has provided sanitation services and portable toilets for more than 100 productions in seven years.

“If they gotta go, I’d like for them to go in one of mine.”

Jody and his dad worked in the portable-toilet industry previously. When Jody saw a developing need in the marketplace, he moved to fill it. From their first TV series, “The Vampire Diaries,” the company has grown to six employees, with productions counting for 60 percent of their revenue.

Event Services has about 200 portable restrooms, and 10 climate-controlled trailers to dispatch around Atlanta and in North Georgia. In addition to movie and TV productions on location, the company also provides portable toilets, trailers, hand sanitizing stations, portable showers and other sanitation services for events like concerts and festivals.

That part of the business can be more seasonal, and the Hollywood connections round out the business all year.

“It keeps us consistent throughout the winter and summer months,” Jody says. “The production side really keeps a steady income and steady workload.”

Event Services of Georgia has worked on locations for “Furious 7,” “Taken 3” and “The Hunger Games” movies, as well as “Stranger Things” and the upcoming “Dynasty” reboot.

“The production business here is huge,” Jody says. “I’ve had people in the business tell me face to face, ‘We want to do business with the little guy – we like spending our money with local companies vs. some big corporate deal.’

“I know it’s affected our business tremendously.”


Atlanta florist gets its big break

Halls Atlanta Valarie Bell, Primary Instructor HAFDS

Valarie Bell, primary instructor

A lucrative new market has opened up for Halls Atlanta Wholesale Florist — the Georgia film industry.

“In the past five years, our revenue has grown by $1.5 million due to the impact of Georgia’s TV and film industry,” says Mark Bell, Halls Atlanta’s supplies manager and dean of its floral design school. “Since we’re a wholesaler — a bulk volume business —we’re limited to whom we can sell. The movies opened up an entire new market for us that didn’t exist before locally.”

Over the years, the family-owned business, started in 1921, has grown into one of the top-ranked wholesalers in the nation.

Halls Atlanta Mike Whaley, Principle buyer and Scott Jensen, Owner.

Mike Whaley, principal buyer, and Scott Jensen, owner

Greensmen and set decorators working on films shot in Georgia need local resources. Halls Atlanta was ready to jump in when the film industry came calling. It has an unmatched product line and the largest “bucketed cooler” (fresh cut flowers and plants in buckets of water) in the Southeast.

Cinema is a visual medium and can require unusual botanicals to achieve the desired look. Halls Atlanta meets the challenge with foliage, flowers, fresh mosses, branches, containers and all manner of exotic items.

It provided an array of products for films from pots made of dried vines for science-fiction movies to a wide variety of floral arrangements. One action movie required gorgeous floral arrangements in delicate vases that were then blown up by the special effects team.

“Black Panther,” recently filmed in Georgia, required jungle landscapes. “They needed fresh moss. A lot of fresh moss. We sold them 40 cases a week for several weeks for their sets and to hide mechanical devices,” says Mark.

Halls Atlanta has even supplied dead flowers. “The Walking Dead” needed dried-up, dead flowers for a scene in an abandoned flower shop. Halls Atlanta set aside its floral refuse for them. “They certainly looked creepy,” says Mark.

Halls Atlanta 1Many times a film will need a professional florist. Halls Atlanta provides contacts for designers, some coming from its own premier floral design school. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had someone come in and need plants and arrangements by noon,” says Mark. “We have the product on hand and the creative design specialists to get the job done.”

The company has supplied flowers and accessories for “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” “Stranger Things” and many others.

“The Georgia film industry is very important to our revenue stream and the growth of our business,” says Mark. “We hope to see the film industry and its impact on local businesses continue to expand.”

SCAD Grad Wears Lots of Hats at Third Rail

Kyle Perry plays an essential role in the small but growing team at Atlanta’s Third Rail Studios, located on the site of the former General Motors assembly plant in metro Atlanta.  A graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) with a degree in photography, her job at the studio gives her the chance to put her creative side to work.kyle-perry

Following graduation, Kyle’s work was varied — human resources, managing events and even mixing in some photography here and there. But after about four years in HR, she wanted to get into a more creative job.

Kyle was offered a position at Third Rail Studios before there was even a studio built. The staff at the time? Kyle and the head of the studio. “I couldn’t pass up such a unique opportunity to be involved in a start-up at ground level with such responsibility,” Kyle says. “I was all in because, with only two of us (at the time), I knew there wouldn’t be a shortage of work.”

Now part of a growing team, Kyle stays flexible. One day, she’ll develop social media for Third Rail Studios or provide photographic content for the website. Another day might require walking the studio providing facility inspections checking for damages or safety concerns.

And she continues to fuel her creative side with freelance photography, drawing and painting for her own business whenever possible. If you are at the studio, check out some of her paintings in her office. Like we said, she wears many hats.

Second chance at good health leads Savannah man to film career

IMG_4449By the time Will Martin graduated from Savannah’s H.V. Jenkins High School, his juvenile diabetes was overtaking his future. “I was slipping into kidney failure, losing my eyesight and on dialysis,” he says. “Frankly, I didn’t know how long I would live.”

To stay close to his home-based support system, he enrolled in Savannah State University, where he studied mass communications and theater. “I love acting and I loved making things on the production side,” Will says. “In front of or behind the camera didn’t matter; I just wanted to be involved.”

Will’s journey to good health led to a double transplant on Sept. 11, 2002, and his recovery was remarkable, even better than his physicians had anticipated.

“With that second chance I decided to go for the dream of a career in film I thought I would never have,” he says.

Film was always his goal, but in the early 2000s that meant moving to Los Angeles or New York. “I was on dialysis three days a week and couldn’t drive, so I’d go to the campus, work on my studies and then just hang around the radio and TV stations,” he says.

Eventually he switched to peritoneal dialysis, which enabled him to treat himself at home instead of going to the clinic. Confined to his room for 8-to-10 hours for each treatment, he would watch movies and let his eager imagination dream about the film career he would have if he were healthy.

Things started to turn his way when his physicians recommended a kidney/pancreas transplant. “I was on a waiting list for about a year when one day I got a call from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville,” he says. “I had a special beeper and had gotten a couple of wrong numbers, so when it beeped a third time one day, I was surprised to hear, ‘ William, we have your organs. How soon can you get here?’”

Post-transplant, Will returned to Savannah State to graduate in 2004 and took a job at NBC affiliate WSAV. It was an opportunity to learn about shot composition, production techniques, script writing and editing. But his biggest lesson? Storytelling is universal, a insight that kept him anchored in various media –– including as an extra during the second season of “Underground,” then filming in Savannah –– while accepting a job as a program director in mass communication and journalism as Savannah State.

Then he met Carl Gilliard, founder of Savannah Feed the Hungry and now a state representative. Will wanted to tell Gilliard’s story, and actually started on a production, but soon realized he couldn’t do it himself. He needed a crew and a producer.

Enter Kareem McMichael, a classmate in the inaugural Film Academy class at Savannah Technical College. The two joined forces to create “Feed The Hungry,” the award-winning documentary released this spring.

Will says he feels blessed. “First, the transplants gave me a second chance. Then, while doing a story for WSAV about the new tax credits for films made in Georgia, I realized I didn’t have to go to L.A. or New York to find work in the film industry,” he says. “The film industry was coming to me.”

What’s next for this 36-year-old entrepreneur? “I want to be a director. I love the art of working with a crew and then editing what we’ve produced,” Will says. “I’m a good editor now. I want to be a great one.”

He also has ambitions for others in the film industry in Georgia: “I want to tell everyone that whether you’re a food vendor, costume maker or whatever, there’s a place for you in the industry here. Georgia really is that land of opportunity in films.”




Atlantan trades struggling real estate market for film industry career

Mary Louise Freeman grew up in metro Atlanta. As an adult, she worked in residential real estate. So it’s safe to say she knows the ins and outs of the city and its multitude of neighborhoods.

That intricate knowledge turned out to be invaluable after the real estate crash of the late 2000s threw Mary Louise a tough economic curve. With the market dwindling, she received a stroke of luck when a TV commercial crew asked if they could take footage of her front porch for a Georgia Lotto commercial.Mary Louise Freeman

From that, Mary Louise quickly built relationships and learned skills that brought her a new career in Georgia’s $10 billion film and TV production industry. As a location scout and assistant location manager, she’s thrilled to see the industry helping so many everyday Georgians.

Her first movie was “The Internship,” which any Atlantan could tell was filmed partly on the Georgia Tech campus.

She also worked on the current smash “Baby Driver,” which showcases countless spots all over town in a way that’s almost a love letter to Atlanta.

Mary Louise loves her work as a scout and an assistant location manager. Her real estate background helps her go into neighborhoods and talk to any residents who have questions. “We’re such a big footprint that some people will have concerns and want to talk to us,” she says.

To find locations, scouts read scripts, take direction from the production designer and director, and then do the shoe-leather work of knocking on doors, leaving letters, and looking for certain kinds of places.

Her real estate background was “huge” when getting started, she said. “It just felt very natural and easy to sit down in a living room and talk to homeowners and let them know what was going on” with questions about noise, traffic or other potential issues.

“It’s fun and it’s hard work,” she said. “But it’s also very satisfying.”

And the economic base of steady work in a growing industry has put her back on solid economic ground.

The benefits extend to homeowners who receive payment if their properties are used, and to local businesses that get an influx of revenue.

“It’s spreading the joy,” she said. “A lot of people and businesses are affected, and it’s very positive.”

McDonough resident finds key to opening Georgia’s film industry door

How does a local kid with dreams of creating movies get his foot in the door of Georgia’s billion-dollar film industry? Darrius Tucker of McDonough found a way.

Darrius Tucker 1“One day I was a fan of The Walking Dead, and the next month I was a locations assistant on set,” says Darrius, who graduated last year from the Georgia Film Academy’s program at Southern Crescent Technical College in Griffin, GA. “I wouldn’t be working on this caliber of show if it weren’t for the Film Academy.”

In addition to “The Walking Dead,” Darrius has worked on “Black Panther,” the newest “Avengers,” and several other productions as a locations assistant. The locations team readies the site for filming, including setting up parking, tents, catering, restrooms, trash disposal and air conditioning.

“We’re ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the behind-the-scenes work on films,” says Darrius.

The locations team puts out fires before they cause problems, like ensuring everyone who is on set is supposed to be there. On “The Walking Dead,” they had to watch for “walker stalkers” — fans who sneak onto sets to take pictures.

His most memorable experience was working on “Black Panther” for six months. On one cold day he had to hide from the camera’s view and keep Black Panther warm. “You can’t see me on film, but it’s exciting to think I was on set for those scenes,” says Darrius.

“I’m really happy and excited that Georgia is the new hub for film. They’re hiring more and more Georgians on these productions. It gives me hope.”

Family-owned business makes a bet on the film industry and wins

Nearly 40 years ago, a small family-owned trucking company took a chance on the Georgia film industry. It was a good decision.

Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis

Thanks in part to the increase in filming since the 2008 film tax credits, Lightnin’ Production Rentals has doubled its product line and grown from 45 to 70 employees.

Talk about being struck by lightning.

Lightnin’ Production Rentals, located in Lawrenceville, is owned and operated by three generations of the Lewis family. The company began renting trucks to film productions in 1979 when the team filming “Little Darlings” in Georgia contacted owners Bill and Joanne Lewis. The set needed trucks with lift gates, and Lightnin’ had them.

The crew also wanted to customize the truck with a dark room, something the company was apprehensive about at first, but it all turned out well. The dark room was added to the truck, and removed before it was returned to Lightnin’.

“Ever since that first production, we’ve built our company by saying ‘Yes’ more than ‘No,’” says Gary Lewis, Bill and Joanne’s son who is now president of Lightnin’.

Lightnin“Our motto is: Whatever it takes. We meet the film industry’s needs and it’s been a mutually positive experience ever since.”

Now Lightnin’ Production Rentals is a premier Georgia vendor for production truck and trailer rentals. It invested in its first makeup and wardrobe trailers in the early 1980s for made-for-TV movies filmed in Georgia. These movies gave the company the opportunity to expand its inventory to honeywagons (bathrooms and dressing rooms), star trailers, and cast trailers.

“We realized these productions were having to travel with equipment and drivers from California,” Gary says. “We could provide local business and have local drivers. It saved them money and it was a win for us and a win for Georgia.”

Lightnin 2Lightnin’ continued to work with the film industry in the 1990s, but lost some business to New Mexico and Louisiana when those states created tax credits that drew the industry away from Georgia. But in early 2008, when Georgia introduced one of the best film tax credits in the industry, the state’s film market really took off.

“Even while the rest of the economy was in recession, we were thriving due to the film industry,” says Gary. “People weren’t building houses, but we were building trailers which not only helped our bottom line, but it also helped the steel industry and manufacturers that we work with.”

The film industry demands innovation and Lightnin’s proximity to the set enables it to have more interaction with its clients when they build and design equipment.

Greg Lewis, sales consultant and third generation of the Lewis family, designed a hair and makeup trailer for the TV series “The Walking Dead.” Creating an army of zombies requires a lot of spray paint from the special effects department. Greg designed a trailer that could filter the air without affecting the temperature in the trailer.

“With all our experience, we can react a lot quicker to each film’s needs and provide the support they need. Now our equipment is only a phone call away,” says Gary.

But for the Lewis family, the best part of their business is the relationships they’ve built within Georgia’s film industry.

“What’s neat for us is we’ve grown up with the film people in Georgia. We work with drivers whose dads drove for Smokey and the Bandit. We see people rising through the ranks and now they’re running the transportation departments,” says Gary. “And best of all, we’ve been able to keep our employees longer and employ generations of craftsmen.”

Movie props from a world of plenty go to locals with so little

Production of the movie “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” required countless boxes of baby supplies: food, diapers, formula, cribs and more.

When filming was completed, producers paid it forward to local charities by donating those and more leftover props to the United Way of Greater Atlanta.

The top-brand goods ended up going to disadvantaged women who would never have been able to afford them on their own, says Ann Daane, United Way facility manager of the 22,000-square-foot warehouse where donated goods are organized for distribution to charities.

“We had people crying,” Daane says. “That’s how happy they were to get this stuff.”

What to expect.png

Since then, a handful of other movies and TV shows, including “The Walking Dead” and some that deferred publicity for their donations, have given furniture, artwork, kitchenware and more props after filming wrapped.

Just like many businesses solicit cash donations from employees for the United Way, others donate physical goods. This year, the total from all company benefactors totals $2.7 million worth of items, including the Hollywood props.

The items end up going to homeless shelters, homes for women and children in dangerous situations, and others among the 5,000 non-profits in metro Atlanta.

“It’s very rewarding to match up the excesses of our business community and now the film and TV productions with people who never have any excess,” Daane says.

The film and TV industry’s contributions represent “an incredible bounty for non-profit organizations and the vulnerable clients they serve,” Daane says.

“If we can, say, provide furniture for a family, then they can focus on spending money on books for the kids, or food – all the ways that enable people to make better, healthier choices in their economic circumstances.”

For more information or to contribute, call Ann Daane at the United Way of Greater Atlanta, 404-558-7155.


Veteran nurse finds new calling on the set

Still a nurse after 38 years, Ronda Wallace thinks the lights, cameras and action of a movie set could be her next calling.

ronda-wallace.jpg“I was looking for something else to do before I retire from nursing when I read an article about how a state tax credit was creating a boom in the Georgia’s film industry,” says Ronda, a Savannah resident. “The idea of getting involved seemed exciting.”

So she signed up for a course at Savannah Technical College, which put her to work as a production assistant on “Mnemosyne” being filmed at the Masonic Home Camp in Townsend. It’s a movie about a Jonestown-like preacher’s cult on an island.

“Nursing was actually good training for being on the set,” she says. “I had to respond to skilled people who expected me to know how to do what they needed, and do it right away.”

Her training in the classroom and on location included everything from set etiquette (“I had to remind myself I wasn’t there to direct the movie”) to handling equipment like slates and dollies, and learning that a “stinger” is an extension cord, not a cocktail with créme de menthe and brandy.

“My nursing background of taking initiative in order to help others was also an asset on the set,” Ronda says. “I was low on the totem pole, but could still figure out how to be useful. Year of working with doctors taught me to be creative in new situations.”

Another project in her Savannah Tech program put her on the set of the second season of “Underground,” the popular TV series about runaway slaves and abolitionists fighting for freedom.

Ronda enjoys her work at St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital, but the pull from the film industry gives her choices for whatever is coming next. The lure also pulled her daughter, Tyler Wallace, back to town from Portland, OR, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree. This spring Tyler worked on “Living the Dream,” a British comedy about a family buying a trailer park in Florida. It was filmed in Savannah and Richmond Hill.

Ronda’s story is one more example of how the film business is becoming the “family business” all across Georgia.

Georgia film industry gave local medic opportunity to start business

Paul Lowe died on May 27, 2017, while on a medical trip to Uyo, Nigeria. He will be remembered for his dedication, professionalism and selflessness.

Paul Lowe picEighteen years ago, a one-time job on the set of “Remember the Titans” left Paul Lowe thinking, “I just got paid for this?”

Today, Paul, an award-winning paramedic and Registered Nurse with 30 years experience, is not only still getting paid for the film industry work he loves, he’s built a business that serves the film industry, too.

Epic Safety Systems, based in Paul’s hometown of Rome, is one of the 2,700 film film-related businesses now operating in Georgia. His business, started in 2005, provides medical equipment and medic training.

Paul, a warm and energetic personality, has a passion in life — helping people. “I get lots of satisfaction from helping crew members on set and training the amazing medical professionals who work in the industry,” he says.

Paul’s film career began on the set of “Remember the Titans,” shot in Rome in 1999. He was the medic for hundreds of extras on the set. He immediately fell in love with the energy of the film’s dynamic blend of creative people working together.

“It was a great experience,” Paul says. “It was amazing to see how every department was optimized to make this complex operation come together.”

After working on several films, Paul realized there was an opportunity to start his own company providing resources to the medical professionals who provide first aid and safety for the film industry. “I was able to start my company because the film industry in Georgia is booming,” says Paul.

Medics are the first ones on set and the last ones out. “If someone’s on set, we’re there,” says Paul. “We are there in case of emergencies and to help optimize medical response from 911. We help with small issues, too, like first aid and minor medical issues.”

In addition to medical care, Paul handles injury reports, safety assessments and paperwork for productions. He also steps in to help explain medical benefits to the crew when necessary. Sometimes crew members who have medical problems don’t know about their insurance benefits. “These are charismatic and skilled people. They don’t have time to read their contracts and know their benefits,” says Paul. “I get lots of satisfaction helping crew members discover what they need.”

Paul still works every other weekend as a paramedic for Floyd Emergency Medical Services in Rome. In 2009, he was awarded Georgia’s EMT of the Year for his outstanding work as a medic, including one memorable day when he and other medics pulled an unconscious woman from a burning house to safety. For these medics, it was just another day helping people in their community.

There’s no shortage of work in the film industry, Paul says, and he’s grateful for the flexibility and additional income this work allows him and his family.

“It’s been fun for the last 17 years,” says Paul.