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.

Lifecycle Building Center helps productions spread value in Georgia communities

LBC_Both Buildings_New Signage

When production on a movie or TV show is over, the sets are taken apart and the raw materials – chiefly lumber – are often taken to landfills.

Rather than let hundreds of tons of good materials go to waste, Lifecycle Building Center has found a way to make the wood and more available for re-use by homeowners and small developers in the community.

Now its success is showing a new way for the TV and film industry to enrich the lives of ordinary Georgians by helping people improve their homes, organizations and energy efficiency.

The film and TV industry is “feeding the engine that is transforming communities,” says Shannon Goodman, Lifecycle’s executive director.

The non-profit aims to reduce solid waste disposal, promote energy efficiency, and stimulate economic development.  It takes materials from existing buildings that can be reused and saves them from the landfill, making them available to be reused in the community.

With the film and TV industry, Lifecycle takes apart movie sets and stages and then recycles the raw materials – chiefly lumber – by selling them at a deep discount to homeowners and contractors.LBC Warehouse Interior

The public can shop at the 70,000 square foot store five days a week. Pricing is between 50 and 85 percent less than new material costs.

The organization also gives away supplies to other charities, schools, and religious organizations, and teaches homeowners how to improve energy efficiency and use power tools properly.

Lifecycle, in southwest Atlanta, was formed in 2011 by a small, committed group of people who wanted to recycle building materials.

Within a couple of years, Lifecycle became involved with deconstructing sets and stages of “The Walking Dead” and “Last Vegas.” From that first movie alone, the group recycled 50 tons of wood and other supplies.

Goodman says a quarter of the organization’s donations come from the industry, and up to 15 percent of its sales go back to productions.

Lifecycle also has 11 full-time employees.

They bring in $56,000 in monthly revenues. That’s doubled from 2015’s monthly average.

Lifecycle says it has:

  • Saved 3 million pounds of materials from landfills;
  • Donated to 110 non-profit organizations;
  • Saved people more than $1.6 million in discounted and free materials.

It has deconstructed sets from about 25 productions, and even had its site used for the filming of a handful of others, bringing in more revenue to fund the charity.

“The productions have been important,” Goodman says. “The wood products that come off film sets are so very desirable” by families and small contractors who otherwise couldn’t afford the goods.

Tyler Edgarton’s company owns the facilities where the “Last Vegas” sets were built and then taken apart by Lifecycle’s volunteer crew. He was so impressed, he joined its board of directors.

“Recycling and sustainability are becoming more and more important to the studios,” says Edgarton, of Raulet Property Partners and Mailing Avenue Stageworks. “Lifecycle is a clearinghouse to connect people who have materials with those who need them.

“Just to see this waste – there’s no reason for it to happen. If we’re going to be a part of the film and TV community, we need to be a part of the solution.”

The Lifecycle Building Center warehouse is located at 1116 Murphy Ave. S.W., Atlanta, 30310. Hours are Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Film industry brings extra business to Rome restaurant

While filming in Rome, GA, the movie “Meagan Leavey” gave a local family-owned restaurant, the Shrimp Boat, an economic boost.

The crew stayed in Rome longer than planned and many of them came back to eat supper at the Shrimp Boat.

“They rented our facilities during our downtime. It was a real shot in the arm. Plus it was just fun because they were great people. We absolutely enjoyed them,” says Kenneth Payne, owner. “They loved our home-cooked food!”

“Meagan Leavey,” based on the true story of a Marine and her military combat dog, opens in theaters June 9, 2017.

Antique vendors get a financial boost supplying set props

The prop master for the production of the television movie “Kingmakers” had a problem. She needed a shopping list full of items for a scene in the movie being filmed in Rome, GA, but had only one day to find them.

To the rescue came Marsha Blevins, then the manager of Rome’s City Market.

marsha-blevins.png“The people working on the movie showed up at City Market with a long list of items they needed and a big truck to fill with props,” says Marsha. “Once I understood what they needed, I ran around and pulled items from vendors’ booths.”

What they needed was everything from a mannequin and antique armoire to handcrafted wooden pens and an antique trunk.

Marsha could help because “every morning I walked through the booths and memorized what they had for sale,” she says.

The prop team members were happy to teach Marsha about what they needed. She also learned that because movie viewers scrutinize everything on screen, every minute detail needed to fit the story and setting.

“The prop master really had an eye for exactly what was needed and I was her source to find it,” says Marsha. “I sent her to another store if I knew they had it. That way everyone in Rome wins.”

At least 10 vendors sold items for “Kingmakers,” including Leah Burnham, a teacher who sold furniture she decorated with chalk paint. She also sold a trunk, curtains and some accessory pieces. Leah used the money she earned from selling antiques to put herself through her master’s program.

“They needed fancy pens for the scene,” says Marsha, who now operates her business from Rome’s River City Antique Mall. “They couldn’t just have normal pens. So I showed them vendor Tom Canada’s wooden hand-turned pens. We sold three of them. I said to myself, thank you Jesus!”

Marsha stayed open late that night. “I didn’t mind at all,” she says. “They were a wonderful team to work with. They spent thousands of dollars that day, so I was happy to accommodate them.”

Film industry turns a hobby into a career

It takes a creative mind to see the potential in an animal that is no longer with us, and a keen business mind to see the potential profit in dealing with such inventory.

Diana Adelberg takes the niche of taxidermy a step further, turning her hobby into an innovative business that has found a sweet spot in Georgia’s film industry.

Taxidermy1Diana’s work as a visual merchandiser led her from California to New York and she’s now landed in the movie hot spot of Atlanta, where she has based her company, Absinthe Taxidermy. The art of taxidermy has been her hobby for many years, but only recently has it turned itself into a profitable business serving the booming film industry in Georgia.

Yes, set designers will come and ask for the typical deer head on the wall, but that is not what gets Diana up every morning.

“It’s the outside-the-box items that keep this job interesting,” she says.

Take one step into Abram’s Creative Space and your eyes are immediately drawn to Joe-raffe, a 10-foot tall, stuffed giraffe that tends to make his way all around the shop. A few more steps in and you’re faced with a basket of huge animal bones, near the creepy baby doll heads found in horror movies.  Taxidermy3

Diana’s taxidermy work has been used in productions such as Stranger Things, Manifesto, Ozark, Hap & Leonard and Adult Swim’s Your Pretty face is going to hell. But don’t think of the old stiff animals from films past. Absinthe is specializing in soft mount pets that allow you to mold them and make them more realistic.  

Her set supply doesn’t stop with what is in the store. If you need something off the wall, odds are Diana knows where to find it.

“It’s not the museum quality animal in demand as much anymore. People literally want things that look like road kill,” she says. “Friends will drive past road kill on the side of the road and immediately pick up the phone to ask me if I need it — and the answer is almost always yes.”

Location pays off for Douglasville restaurant

What is it they say about location? Just ask the folks at Hudson Hickory House, a landmark restaurant in Douglasville.

Located across the street from the city jail, the popular restaurant made its film debut in ‘Star,’ a Fox series starring Queen Latifah. When floods in Los Angeles shut down production on a Sundance series — Douglasville1Hap & Leonard’ — an assistant director who had worked here on ‘Star’ recommended a move to Douglasville to film the restaurant scenes. The restaurant represents the Texas Armadillo Diner in the series.

Hudson Hickory House, originally opened by Buford Hudson in 1971, is the place to go for hickory-smoked anything in Douglas County and was a perfect location in a town filled with perfect locations.

Douglasville has had several turns in the spotlight in recent years. “Stranger Things” has been filming there for several years, and two years ago a set was built down the street from Hudson Hickory House to represent a McDonald’s franchise in “The Founder,” a movie about the expansion of the fast-foot chain starring Michael Keaton.

That makes the Hickory House location good for business in two ways –– as a watering hole for the casts and crew from the parade of film and TV productions coming to Douglasville, and as a great location for filming.

“It’s great for the town and for our business, “ says owner Scot Hudson. “The movie and TV people have treated us very well, and we love having them here.”

Film industry gets credit for historic renovations

Cabin in the Pines during sunset.

Ever played the game “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon?” It’s a bit of a stretch, but … follow the link from the famous actor to President Theodore Roosevelt.

  1. Kevin Bacon starred in the TV series “The Following.”
  2. The series was filmed on the campus of Berry College.
  3. One of the college’s most beloved historic buildings is the Roosevelt Cabin.
  4. The cabin got its name after college founder Martha Barry hosted President Theodore Roosevelt for lunch at the Cabin in 1910.
  5. Renovation of the Cabin was completed in 2015.
  6. Production fees from Bacon’s “The Following” played a major role in paying for the renovation.

Ok, it’s a reach … but it’s not a stretch at all to connect Georgia’s film and television industry to preservation of historic buildings on the 115-year-old campus.

Teddy Roosevelt presentation at Roosevelt Cottage presented by Joe WiegandLocated in Rome, the scenic private college provides the setting for productions that include Reece Witherspoon’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Edgar Allen Poe’s Mystery Theater.”  The most popular selfie spot on campus is in front of Ford Dining Hall, part of the Ford Complex, which served as the football camp facility in “Remember the Titans.”

Lasting impressions from filming can be found in two buildings more than 100 years old. In addition to the renovation of Roosevelt Cabin, restorations were recently completed for Cabin in the Pines, a building that dates to the late 1800s that used to be referred to by students as the “kissing cabin.” Money to spruce up Cabin in the Pines came from fees paid by the television series “Constantine” and “Kingmakers,” a TV pilot that was never aired.

Where possible, local materials and businesses were used in the renovations. On the Roosevelt Cabin, Mike Crook Garden and Stone handled the work of “chinking,” a process in which mud is spread between logs to seal the walls. The mud was a clay mixture made up of local sand, quicklime and sawdust.Cabin in the Pines restoration

“There’s no doubt that Georgia’s film industry is good for our campus,” says Chris Kozelle, Berry’s Director of Public Relations, adding that site-location tours are now a regular part of her job.

“People in the industry come here, and are amazed at the beauty of Berry,” Kozelle says. “Even if we don’t get the production, we get great exposure every time a potential production group tours our campus.”