Love for animals evolves into quirky film career

As a young girl from Jacksonville Beach, FL, Nicole Kanoy grew up around two things: Water and reptiles.

Her mom and sister were heavily involved in competitive swimming, while her dad was busy working at the popular Alligator Farm. Nicole took the best out of the two and turned it into something producers around Georgia are all interested in — animals willing and able to be on the big (or small) screen.

Early in her professional career, Nicole began a non-profit job to rehabilitate orphaned and injured wildlife animals. She found herself rescuing alligators and large snakes, as well as training non-releasable wild animals. Always looking for ways to make herself in high demand, Nicole took on a new task that would bring her to another level: Water safety. She couldn’t have done it without Daniel Ray, AKA Diver Dan, head of Water Safety Professionals. With those skills, Nicole has continued to make the sets safer for people and animals alike.

“You have to know the signs that each animal gives and you have to know how to get the best behavior out of each of them,” Nicole says.

Nicole’s entry into Georgia’s film industry came when she was approached about using one of her animals in a role for a small film. She trained and brought the deer to the set and everything just started to click. The person who approached Nicole for her first gig was Renee DeRossett, now a partner of Nicole’s in Savannah. They have been working well with animals — and each other — for well over a decade now, and together manage Animals On Set.

But keeping any business up and running can be a challenge.FB_IMG_1501895910034

There’s maintaining a 50-acre farm in Covington, three growing girls, and close to 150 animals, it can be stressful and expensive. When Nicole became a single mother, finances started to be an issue. That was not going hold her back. Nicole came up with ways to keep the operation alive. She began allowing families to sponsor and adopt animals while also having educational programs and petting zoos on the farm.

Today, that income is supplemented by Georgia’s film industry.

Animal training is only a piece of the skill set Nicole brings to each job. Before they even arrive on set, she has already read the script and chosen the animal that perfectly matches the personality of the role. Nicole takes a few weeks before filming to imitate situations like feeding an animal in the same conditions that exist on a film set so the animals know what to expect when they arrive.

When going on set, Nicole makes sure they have something to make them feel at home. It could be a stuffed fox to keep Roscoe the St. Bernard entertained during a break or black-out curtains to help him catch a quick snooze.

Nicole has worked on films like Who gets the Dog and Birth of a Nation; TV shows such as Vampire Diaries and Constantine; commercials for AFLAC; and music videos for rapper Rick Ross.

All animals, from roaches and raccoons to ducks and deer, can make it onto the big screen with a little help from Nicole and her team at Animals On Set. Whether it’s an exotic animal, a domestic pet, or even a local native species, Nicole can train them to do amazing things. Still shots, creative wildlife parties or big motion pictures, her team can do it all.

“The film industry allows me not only to continue to rescue animals, plus it supports my family,” Nicole says. “I get to do what I love.”


Exotic reptile collection breeds film industry success

Jeff Nix arrived on location two hours before the cast and the rest of the crew scheduled for the evening’s filming of MTV’s “Scream.” Looking around, he knew his expertise would be needed here at the auto parts center that would serve as the backdrop for the evening’s filming.

Jeff Nix 1Lots of tall grass and underbrush nearby. Water sources. Structures that have been in place for awhile.

Jeff’s assignment? Clear the area of snakes.

“I’ll be the first one in and the last one out,” says Jeff, who describes this type of assignment as snake abatement “My job is to look for the existence of snakes. Where do little ground animals go for food and drink? If there aren’t any, there are likely no snakes. But if there are? I’ll find the snakes.”

Jeff, a resident of the Ellenwood community in southwest Atlanta, is one of a handful of Georgians who has built a business off removing — or supplying — critters to the film industry.

His safety reviews encompass the primary set area, including craft services, base camp and cast and crew parking areas. The emphasis is, of course, where the people, equipment and film action is concentrated.

“I wear a bright green fluorescent hat so I’m very visible,” Jeff says. “The cast and crew associate that visibility with snake safety.”Jeff Nix 2

Jeff’s service to the film industry is a natural extension of his love of snakes, a love he has passed on to his daughter, Abigail, 15. She got her first snake at age eight, introduced to the care of reptiles as a volunteer at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge. Jeffand Abigail still volunteer there today, as well as manage an extensive private collection of exotic snakes and reptiles.

Jeff has worked on more than 20 productions during his five-year career in Georgia’s film industry. While snake abatement makes up a good portion of his work, much of his work centers of supplying and “wrangling” exotic snakes, reptiles and insects on television and movie sets.

Think Madagascar giant hissing cockroach on the set for the Netflix series “Ozark,” filmed around Lake Lanier.  (A “nice big visual creepy thing,” Jeff says.)Or six colonies of roaches for the set of one of Netflix’s most popular series, “Stranger Things.”  And then there’s the seven-foot-long Australian carpet python, the Asian black forest scorpion, live rats, and the moray eels.

“The animals I deal with are those you wouldn’t be able to find at a pet store,” Jeff says. “They’re not form around here.”

What’s the strangest thing he’s ever worked with on a film set?

“That would have to be the Vietnamese centipede,” he says. “Six inches long, about as big around as your thumb — definitely the creepiest thing I’ve ever worked with.”

Lighting the way for future Georgia filmmakers

Film making may seem romantic to those who dream of a glamorous job, but with the glamour often comes sitting in the hot sun all day or freezing through cold nights on film sets around the world.

Just ask Atlantan Brian Gunter. The price for working on more than 150 films during his 35-year career was often months at a time away from his family. Brian has lived in Georgia all his life and never wanted to move his family to Los Angeles. When he would get a call to work, he’d just pack his bags and go. He lived out of hotel rooms for about 15 years. It was hard on his family, but they would come to the set to visit and his kids enjoyed the travel and their adventures with him, like learning to ski in Prague. So it was a blessing when work started to pick up in Georgia over the past eight years.

Now Brian has found a new career path that lets him stay in the film industry, requires little travel, and even allows him to take vacations. Thanks to the recent boom in the Georgia film industry, the next generation of filmmakers needs to be trained by people like Brian with decades of experience.

Brian has retired from the set to teach film lighting and electrical work for the Georgia Film Academy. He is also an adjunct professor at Kennesaw State University, which is a part of the Academy.

During his career on set, Brian spent about 10 years as an electrician (a member of the lighting crew), 20 years as a gaffer (chief lighting technician), and five years as a camera operator and director of photography, working with some of the most accomplished directors and actors in the world.

“After all those years, I lost my enthusiasm for the long hours on set. Teaching at the Georgia Film Academy gives me the opportunity to get off the set and pass on my knowledge,” says Brian. “What I’m teaching is something I’ve done for so long I could do it blindfolded.”

Brian knew the material, but had never taught it before. Aaron Levy, Director of Academics for the Georgia Film Academy, offered Brian this advice: Treat teaching like a performance. That made sense to Brian, who has a trove of stories to tell his students.

“One of my favorite stories is from the set of ‘The Newton Boys’ with Matthew McConaughey. I built a lot of my own lights to make them fit perfectly for tight, nighttime sets. These lights were made out of cardboard,” says Brian. “My crew was rigging five of these lights around McConaughey and I joked with him, ‘They’re paying you so much money I have to shoot you with cardboard lights.’ He was good-natured about the ribbing.”

Several of Brian’s students are now bona fide members of the film community. He’s proud of their hard work and perseverance, but according to Brian, it’s a myth that it’s difficult to get into the film business, especially in Georgia.

“Georgia is the best place to be if you want to work in the film industry,” says Brian. “The industry prefers to hire locals and the Academy is meeting its goals of increasing the labor pool in Georgia. I wish I had this opportunity when I first started in this industry.”

Revival of GM plant is part of stage manager’s future — and past

When Scott Mobley looks around Third Rail Studios’ Flex Space, he’s hit with a vision worthy of Bran Stark of “Game of Thrones.” It’s a flash from the past, when Scott’s dad Harold stood in the same room working on the General Motors assembly line in the late 1960s.Scott Mobley

The scene today for Scott, the stage manager at Third Rail Studios, is one of polished concrete floors, sound-proof walls and state-of-the-art lighting.

The studio is part of a bigger plan for Assembly, a new mixed use development including, dining, retail and more designed to transform the sprawling, obsolete General Motors Plant, which opened in 1947 and closed in 2008.

“We’re part of bringing this place back to life, and that’s exciting,” says Scott.

Scott is part of the growing team at Third Rail Studios, which opened in November with 60,000 square feet of stages, 30,000 square feet of production offices and nearly 70,000 square feet of open space used to build sets and props. Productions filmed at the studio include “Rampage” with Dwayne Johnson, scheduled for release next year, and “An Actor Prepares” with Jeremy Irons.

Scott Mobley 3For Scott, Third Rail and Georgia’s thriving film industry is a chance to put his passion to work here at home. A native of south Atlanta — he grew up in College Park and attended high school in McDonough — he now lives in Cumming. He’s chased film work around the southeast, working on productions such as “Treme” in New Orleans and “My Fellow Americans” in North Carolina, a film where he built a replica of the White House Oval Office.


His Georgia work includes “Resurrection” and “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.”   His first movie was “Fried Green Tomatoes,” released in 1991 and filmed in Georgia locations that include Juliette, Fayetteville and Newnan.

“It used to be that if you wanted a career in the film industry, you had to travel, chase the work around and uproot your family to get work,” Scott says. “Now we’re able to set up roots in Georgia.

“That works for me — I love this business.”

High school program invests in film crew of the future

Jason Hanline, who has spent the last five years teaching English at Forsyth Central High School, says his love of film-making made him the go-to guy for anything film related that came up at school. Earlier this year, Jason was offered an opportunity he couldn’t resist: The chance to combine his love of film with his love of teaching.Jason Hanline

Traditionally, Georgia’s high school students select a career path that falls into categories such as technology, fine arts, or world languages. But now, with the help of high school teachers like Jason and the Georgia Film Academy, students have the opportunity to learn every aspect of the film industry from writing scripts to lighting and set design.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Georgia students,” says Jason. “This in depth look into film wouldn’t be available to my students if it wasn’t for the Georgia film industry.”

Thirty high school teachers from around the state have participated in a two-week course with the Georgia Film Academy that introduced film-based curriculum to use in the classroom. The materials cover everything from lighting and set design to storyboarding.

“The state of Georgia is really pouring resources into equipment and software necessary to teach these classes,” says Jason. “The goal is for these students to have all the skills they need to create their own feature film.”

Macon native puts learning-by-doing strategy to work in Georgia’s film industry

Kareem McMichael is one of those 29-year-old movie marvels who seems to have 40 years of experience. And it all started watching network news and Jack Nicholson playing the joker in “Batman.”

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“I loved watching the news and figuring out how it was done. That led me to a career in movie production,” Kareem says. “But I also loved acting. I even played boxing promoter Don King in a 4th-grade play.

The Macon native is a staff member in the department of journalism and mass communications at Savannah State University, where he graduated in 2009.  He manages web content and teaches through projects like the student newspaper and films outside the classroom. While a student at SSU he also worked at WJCL-TV handling the cameras and creating graphics and audio.

“I learned the business on the job, working in TV productions and making documentaries before I ever took a class,” Kareem says.

His learning-by-doing strategy has paid off. His professional biography includes 13 credits for acting, 10 for producing, seven for directing, seven for writing, two for cinematography and two for film editing.

“I used to think you had to go to L. A. to learn the business,” Kareem says. “I actually know people who went and came back because of the growing opportunities in Georgia.” The state’s tax credit, he says, “helps cut production costs and keep money local.”

He served on the Savannah Film Commission, which maintains a database for local people with different skills needed by the film industry, including hairdressers, makeup artists, construction workers, landscapers, florists and dozens of other professionals who have found jobs in the industry. While on the commission he advocated the inclusion of Savannah State and its students in workshops and other opportunities to get involved in 
film productions in Savannah.

He also sees a role for himself educating the general public about the value of film industry to the Georgia economy. Some cities aren’t used to film crews in the neighborhood, he says, but all those people and equipment mean jobs for Georgians, he says.

Kareem 3

“And that impact is spreading across the state,” Kareem says.

Among Kareem’s many successes along the way were “The Road to Desegregation,” which won awards at the Humboldt International Film Festival in 2015, and “Feed the Hungry,” an award-winning documentary released this spring about Rep. Carl Gilliard’s organization in Savannah. He produced that documentary with his friend Will Martin, another Savannah State graduate. The two of them have plans to expand it into a feature film next year.

What else is on Kareem’s agenda? He’s planning to continue teaching, finish four short films he has written scripts for and serve a term on the Savannah Cultural Affairs and Arts Commission.

In the movie “Batman,” the joker is asked what his plan is. His response: “Do I look like a man with a plan?” Clearly not.

But Kareem McMicheal. Now there’s a man with a lot of plans.

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.”