‘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.”


Film industry event donates thousands to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta


The foursomes scattered across the golf course would have made a pretty great team on a film or television set. But on this recent Sunday, the focus was fun, networking and giving back to Georgia’s children.

Hosted by Herc Entertainment Services, more than 155 people participated in a recent golfing fundraiser, and in the process raised $11,500 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). The annual event has raised a total of $42,000 for CHOA since the inaugural tournament four years ago.

“When the film industry family comes together, good things happen,” says Darren Callahan, Account Sales Representative for Herc Entertainment Services. Callahan coordinated the customer appreciation event, held at White Water Creek Country Club in Fayetteville, with the company’s Director of Entertainment Justin Padgett.

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Nathan Connor (left) and Darren Callahan are part of the account services team for Herc Entertainment Services.

Just about every part of Georgia’s film community was represented at the tournament, Callahan says, including producers, directors, prop makers, special effects, transportation, construction, rigging gaffers, grips, and more. The event had more than 30 sponsors, including Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance members Eagle Rock Studios and Third Rail Studios.

Herc Entertainment Services has supported film and television productions around the state, including Marvel’s “Ant Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Vampire Diaries.” Equipment provided by the company include aerial equipment, forklifts, carts, lighting equipment, generators, ground cover, and climate products.

“We’ve been supporting Georgia’s film industry for more than nine years,” Callahan says. “This is a great place to be — exciting things are happening in Georgia.”

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.”

Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance more than doubles its membership

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Group dedicated to investment in Georgia film and television industry
welcomes new members today

ATLANTA – Sept. 9, 2018
The Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance, the state’s only organization dedicated solely to representing local investment in Georgia’s film and television production industry, announces eight new members today, doubling its size since its creation four years ago.

Founded in 2014, the Alliance is anchored by a core group of studios that includes Atlanta Filmworks, Eagle Rock Studios, EUE/Screen Gems Studios, Mailing Avenue Stageworks, Third Rail Studios, and Triple Horse Studios. In recent months, the Alliance expanded to include infrastructure members — companies that provide support services to production studios and their clients. The Alliance also works closely with Georgia Production Partnership, founded in 1995 to strengthen and grow the film and television industry here.

New members include Cofer Bros., Crafty Apes, Enterprise Entertainment and Production Rentals, Herc Entertainment Rentals, Lightnin’ Production Rentals, Moonshine Post-Production, PC&E, and Sim Digital Inc.

“We’re investing in our business to support Georgia’s film industry, and that’s benefiting Georgia families,” says Gary Lewis, president of Lightnin’ Production Rentals. The company, founded in 1979 in Dekalb County, has doubled the size of its fleet and grown from 45 to 70 employees since Georgia’s film tax credit was introduced in 2008. “The film industry is creating opportunity for Georgians, and we’re doing our part to create jobs that add to Georgia’s tax base.”

Members of the Alliance serve the film and television industry in a variety of ways, including providing studio space, camera equipment, visual effects and post-production services, HVAC, power equipment, truck and car rentals and building materials — and all have invested in the long-term success of the state’s growing production business.

“Since 2008, the success of Georgia’s film and television industry has prompted our company to expand into an industry that’s new to us, yet consistent with the service and values we’ve been known for in the building supply industry since 1919,” says Chip Cofer, President and CEO of Cofer Brothers, a major supplier of construction materials to the industry. “The Alliance provides companies like ours a united voice about important issues affecting the industry.”

According to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office, Georgia-lensed feature film and television productions generated a total economic impact of $9.5 billion during fiscal year 2018, and the 455 combined productions shot in the state topped its previous high. The 455 film and television productions represent $2.7 billion in direct spending in the state, according to the Governor’s office.

“As a stand-alone organization, our laser focus is championing the long-term benefits of this industry for Georgia’s workforce,” says Kris Bagwell, chair of the Alliance and Executive Vice President of EUE/Screen Gems Studios. “These new members show how broad the impact of production is across the state.”

The Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance is a unified voice representing studios and other companies essential to the industry’s infrastructure to the Georgia General Assembly, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and any other state entities dealing with the regulation of the entertainment industry. A key initiative of the Alliance is its on-going sharing of stories about Georgians building careers and changing their lives through employment and opportunity in the state’s film and television industry. Read those stories on our blog page and on the Alliance’s Facebook page.

Bringing opportunity to Georgia’s small towns location manager’s mission

Dodd Vickers 1Small towns in Georgia are Dodd Vickers’ specialty.  A Georgia native, he took the time to admire Southern architecture as he moved around the state. Now a location manager and scout, he uses a lifetime of accumulated knowledge to find the perfect fit for film and TV productions.

“The film industry has been a boon to my family and me. It’s really changed our life,” says Dodd. “But, we aren’t the only ones who have benefitted. The small businesses we frequent when we’re in town filming have seen a significant boost too.”

Dodd’s wife Taylor Vickers is a location scout.  She scouted the quaint town of Barnesville for HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” which Dodd worked on as the location manager. During the shoot, the town saw a ten percent increase in sales tax revenue. From the hardware store to restaurants to antique stores, the HBO production frequented all of the businesses of Barnesville.

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“I’m proud to be a part of an industry that can provide a boost to the economies of small towns in Georgia,” says Dodd. “I have enjoyed living in these communities myself and I want them to thrive — to stay viable for generations to come.”

Like many Georgians, Dodd’s path to the film industry was a winding road. After studying architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology and serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to Atlanta and worked in hospitality, eventually as the manager of The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta.

While at his mother’s horse farm in Monroe, Dodd encountered a group scouting locations for the Jennifer Aniston movie “Wanderlust.”  Dodd became friendly with the location manager on the film, who then helped Dodd get his start in the industry.

Dodd’s first movie was “American Reunion.”  Maida Morgan, the location manager, liked to hire people with a military and hospitality background. Dodd discovered that much of location management is about logistics — skills he learned while in the military and at the Ritz. Dodd says he feels lucky that his love of architecture, story, and hospitality taught him the skills he needs in his current career.

As Dodd puts it, the locations team are “involuntary firefighters,” putting out fires on set, and are “professional visitors” as guests in someone else’s neighborhood. Dodd and his crew do everything they can to return the property in the same or better condition than when they found it.

“I studied film in college but never thought I could pursue it as a career in Georgia,” says Dodd. “My family has deep roots here and I’ll never leave.  I’m honored to have the opportunity to work in this industry here, in my home state.”

Dodd is currently managing the production of “Queen America” for Facebook Watch which stars Catherine Zeta-Jones.

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.”

‘Stranger Things’ production brings new life to suburban mall built in the 1980s

Gwinnett Place Mall opened in the 1980s, the days of big hair, “Back to the Future” and mega-mall culture. But since its heyday, the shopping center has seen changing economic trends that left much of it permanently closed.Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 2.51.18 PM

Now it’s getting an economic boost from a TV phenomenon set back in the ’80s. Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has been filming its third season there all summer.

That has meant plenty of work for extras willing to undergo an ’80s hair and style transformation. More importantly, it has brought financial support for the mall.

Georgia’s multibillion-dollar filming boom has been great for businesses and governments in rural communities as well as the state’s bigger cities. With examples like this mall makeover, it’s also providing new uses, and revenue, for places that have drifted out of the spotlight.

In this case, it’s unknown exactly how much money is being generated. The mall’s owners have declined to discuss details of the production, and Gwinnett County is trying to assess the broader impact.

“Stranger Things” is at least the third production to use the mall in recent years, since Georgia began its tax incentive program for film and TV productions. “I, Tonya” and “Den of Thieves” with Gerard Butler filmed there, as well. Gwinnett has issued more than 100 filming permits throughout the county in recent years, said Lisa Anders, executive director of Explore Gwinnett.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 2.50.44 PMMuch of the mall remains empty. The lack of use adds to its attractiveness for productions, along with it being an indoor, controllable space, Anders said.

The “Stranger Things” crew started moving into the mall around April, and shooting has been going on since June.

The production has taken up a wing of the mall that is permanently empty, so no businesses have been displaced. The crew has taken it back in time, with signs identifying Gwinnett Place as Starcourt Mall. Inside are ’80s era storefronts for Radio Shack, The Gap, Chess King, Waldenbooks and more. (Remember Spencer’s Gifts?)

The cinema has a Coming Soon poster for “Back to the Future,” which came out in the summer of 1985, giving a knowing ironic wink to the “Stranger Things” series. It is set in a fictional Midwestern town in the 1980s where a group of ’tween pals battle supernatural monsters.

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.”

With premiere approaching, Barnesville is still celebrating HBO’s ‘Sharp Objects’


It was Christmas in July last year for the town of Barnesville, Georgia.

Candy StoreThat’s when A-list actress Amy Adams and dozens of crewmembers came to film the HBO series “Sharp Objects,” which premieres this Sunday, July 8.

“The crew went up and down the streets and bought whatever they needed, so everybody in town was happy with that,” said Kathy Oxford, executive director of the Barnesville-Lamar County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s money in the bank – a nice, clean industry.”

The production meant millions for the state, she said, although figures haven’t been tabulated for just the local impact. The county’s sales tax revenue that month, though, was 10 percent higher than in the previous July, usually a slow month in the mid-Georgia town just south of metro Atlanta.

The production rented multiple spaces and paid local folks as extras. Buildings, signs, windows and storefronts downtown got a Hollywood makeover to serve as the fictional location of Wind Gap.

Muralist Andrew Henry got a lot of work out of it. Oxford said Barnesville kept one of the wall paintings with Wind Gap on it.

“We knew we needed a selfie spot,” she said.

Also, antiques shops, local gas stations, stores, restaurants and more saw boosts to their bottom lines.

At least one of those, The Pizzeria and Such, will throw a viewing party Sunday to see Barnesville’s debut as Wind Gap.

“This was our first time being involved in something like this,” Oxford said. “It was a really good experience.”

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.