Georgia film industry helps turn one-man operation into expanding business

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Most Georgians welcome the occasional snow day when the weather forces them to shelter at home and the day’s biggest accomplishment is the miniature snowman built in the yard. Rusty Brown, owner of JUNKitGEORGIA, is not one of them.

This Georgia native does not like to be held up by the weather. His ever-expanding company, based in Fayetteville, picks up trash and recycling from productions filmed around the state.

“At the busiest time of the year, we’ll work on 30 productions at one time,” says Rusty. “The Georgia film industry continues to grow and it will keep you on your toes.”

Over the past 10 years, Rusty has expanded from a one-man operation to three full-time employees, one part-time employee and four trucks. The team has worked on nearly 400 productions.

A serial-entrepreneur, Rusty decided to start a junk removal business in 2007 while recovering from heart surgery. He had a life-long interest in scrap and flea markets, aptly renaming himself ”Rusty” as a precocious six-year-old because he felt his given name, Harry Dennis, didn’t suit.  JunkItGA 3.jpg

JUNKitGEORGIA started out as a junk removal service for residential homes. In 2008, Rusty got a call from the location manager on the set of “My Fake Fiancé.” He jumped at the opportunity to expand into the film industry. Rusty designed and built sturdy, portable dumpsters for trash and recycling that he installed at the production’s base camp, craft services and catering areas.

Rusty set up a system that worked well for the productions. Film crews appreciate the multiple dump sites so they don’t have far to walk.  JUNKitGEORGIA stays out of the way of filming, too, coming late at night or early in the morning to set up or remove trash and recycling.

Rusty credits his business for making a difference in the life of one Atlanta man down on his luck. While picking up trash at a downtown Atlanta set, a homeless man asked if he needed any help. Rusty hired him for the day. It turned out to be the start of a long, mutually beneficial relationship. The man is a hard worker and he has worked for Rusty on and off over the past decade. Now he’s off the street and doing well, Rusty says.

“Trash removal is a tough business, no one wants to pick up trash,” says Rusty. “He turned out to be industrious and dependable. We helped each other out.”

The film industry has kept Rusty so busy that he’s ready to expand again — this time returning to where he started, business and residential junk removal.

“This year we hope to continue to grow,” says Rusty. “More studios are being built and more productions are being filmed in Georgia. It’s a great state to do business in, and it’s given me the opportunity to provide work for other Georgians.”


HBO series provides opportunity for middle Georgia artist

Andrew Henry has always had a passion for the arts.  An accomplished artist, his work is featured around Barnesville, the middle Georgia town he now calls home, and beyond. His work includes a train mural in downtown Forsyth, chalk drawings in Macon, and a painting on the side of a brewery in Greensboro.

His impressive artistic resume now incudes murals for the fictional town of Wind Gap, Missouri, the town in the upcoming HBO series “Sharp Objects,” starring Amy Adams.  The production was filmed in Barnesville, which doubled as the town of Wind Gap.

Andrew worked on set creating murals for the show, enlisting the help of additional artists for other details, such as lettering.

“Working on this project gave me the opportunity to work with other artists, and I really liked that — I’m just not cut out to be in an office,” says Andrew. “This is a perfect fit for me.”

As a young adult, Andrew worked his way through art school as a fast food employee, and then decided to take the leap to turn his passion into a profession.

Barnesville has always been an important part of Andrew’s life. While he was born and raised in Griffin, his grandfather was the Barnesville town doctor for many years.  Some of Andrew’s other projects around Barnesville include murals at Gordon State College, sculptures for local business, and recently partnered with a local brewery to send craft beer and his murals into space.



SCAD grad sees the set as her canvas

Chelsea Lockhart came to Georgia to fulfill a dream: Combine her vision of becoming an interior designer with her passion for the entertainment industry.IMG_0458

It was a dream unlikely to be fulfilled in her home state of Kentucky, but there was a real shot at it thanks to Georgia’s booming film industry.

Following her graduation from University of Louisville, Chelsea’s dream led her to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). There she earned her Masters in Production Design and gained a true understanding of the ins and outs of the film industry. Chelsea began reaching out to any film that was looking for a production assistant.

“I knew Atlanta’s film industry was booming, but I hadn’t explored it yet,” Chelsea says. “I took any show that was looking for PA work just to get my feet wet.”

Her persistence paid off as she landed a couple of jobs early on that really gave her a deeper knowledge of the work she had always wanted to do. Now as a set dresser, the set is her canvas.


“We can take a room and literally turn it into anything,” Chelsea says. “Everything except for the actors, we put there — and everything means everything.”

No two jobs are the same. One day’s work might be turning a hotel ballroom into an old-school class reunion for “The Do Over,” and the next could be setting up obstacles on the beach for “Baywatch.”

It is easy to go to the movies and see a great film and not think twice about the details of the set. Creative minds turn the gears of set design, and Chelsea has been turning the gears in amazing ways.

From Kentucky to Savannah, then Savannah to Atlanta, Chelsea has followed a path of opportunity. What comes next will be even bigger, she hopes.

“Good things are happening in Georgia, and I am happy to be here.”

Georgia film industry helps Lawrenceville man find a new career

Luke Welden got more than cake at a birthday party he attended in 2014. He found a second career in the booming Georgia film industry.

He managed his family’s construction business in Lawrenceville for his first career. But the financial crisis in 2008 slowed down work and Luke was searching for something new.Luke Welden 1

“At a birthday party, I was complaining to a friend of mine that the construction business was slow,” says Luke. “He worked as a locations manager and needed an experienced manager to work for him. That was my first step into the film industry.”

Luke didn’t know much about the film industry, but he knew how to plan. “People working in locations are essentially big event planners,” says Luke. “We need to get a herd of people to where they need to be, every day, on set.”

He began his career on the set of an indie film called “Phenom.” He learned the responsibilities of each department and what was required of him. He worked hard, made mistakes and learned from them. Luke figured out that locations is a check-list business. Every location is different, but the tasks remain the same.

Locations turned out to be a good fit for Luke. His past experience, work ethic and meeting the right people opened up more jobs for him. His biggest film was “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” partially filmed at the Georgia Dome. The name of the film was apropos. It was the most he ever walked, walking more than 30 miles a day. He wore two pedometers because he couldn’t believe the distances he was tracking. He walked six miles just knocking on every actor’s door. The most he walked was an epic 47-mile day.

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Luke has been working steadily for the past three years in Georgia’s thriving film industry, and he always remembers the struggles of being a small business.

“I’m a Georgia guy so I try to use local vendors for trash, trailers, HVAC, tenting, lighting, and security,” says Luke. “It touches my community so I want keep the money in Georgia where I feed my family. I sleep better at night knowing I can help other Georgians.”

His Georgia roots show in other ways, too, like his Southern manners and courteousness. Even though he’s not selling windows to homeowners any longer, he’s still going into their homes and neighborhoods to film. “It’s the Southern way, how I was brought up,” says Luke.

Luke’s favorite show to work on so far has been the Golden Globe-nominated “Stranger Things.” All of the effort seems worthwhile on a show that so many people love. His only problem?

“When my wife mentions my work on ‘Stranger Things’ at parties, that’s all people want to talk about. It’s a fandom business, but it feels great to work on a well-loved show,” says Luke.

Film industry creates path to stability

For 32-year-old Dwight Abercrombie, life is good — newly engaged, four beautiful daughters and a paycheck solid enough to provide for a family. And he credits Georgia’s film industry for injecting stability into what, for him and some of his friends, has been an unstable world.

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Dwight and his fiancé Robin Duncan

“Opportunity created by Georgia productions has turned my life around,” says Dwight, who lives in College Park and attended Albany State. “Before I landed film industry work, I was in a dead-end job at a fast-food restaurant. This is really working out in my favor.”

Dwight is a rental agent at Manhattan Beach Studios Equipment Co., a global production equipment provider with a regional location in Atlanta. He’s part of a seven-person team working in the local warehouse fulfilling orders for productions such as Passengers, both seasons of Stranger Things, Barber Shop 3, Divergence, and Hunger Games.

His opportunity at MBS Equipment followed experience gained at EUE Screen Gems Atlanta. Every opportunity in the film industry as brought more responsibility and bigger paychecks, he says.

“Working at Screen Gems gave me a great start, and I’ve been able to keep building on that,” Dwight says. “I’ve really learned how to carry myself in this business.”

Dwight says he’s helped family members and friends find work in Georgia’s film industry, jobs that for some friends provide a path from street life to stability.

“Georgia’s film industry is changing lives,” Dwight says. “That’s true for me, and that’s true for my friends. I’m able to provide a good life for my family now.”

Georgia film industry creates path for Valdosta native to pursue film producer dreams

With money saved up from her job as a manager at a Valdosta Chick-fil-a, Tina Sauls was just about ready to head to Los Angeles to find work in the film industry.

And then the film industry came to Georgia instead.Tina Sauls

“I’m blessed that I get to work on films and pursue my dream of producing movies in my home state,” says Tina, a 2005 graduate of Valdosta State University with a BFA in Mass Media.

She wasn’t always so optimistic about her prospects in Georgia.

During college and right after graduation, Tina worked on several projects for FOX News, TLC, CBS and MTV. But eventually the projects dried up. Determined to pursue her dreams, she doggedly sent her resume to any film opportunity she could find in the Southeast.

Though she wanted to stay in Georgia, Tina had decided to move to Los Angeles to find work in her field. She set a goal to save enough money to fund her move to California.

As fate would have it, as soon as she reached her goal and was set to move, she got her break into the Georgia film industry.

She was hired as a locations production assistant on the set of “Zombieland” filming two miles from her Valdosta home. Tina helped scout locations and used her local knowledge of people and places to get things done for the production, even convincing the fire department to spray water on location to test it for rain.

Tina’s insider knowledge of Georgia has helped in other ways on set.  On “Footloose,” wardrobe personnel couldn’t find the right T-shirt to represent the South. Tina found the perfect look from the Smok’n Pig B-B-Q restaurant in Valdosta, and a lead actor wore the shirt in promos for the movie.

After her fateful break on “Zombieland,” Tina found steady work on film and television productions in Georgia. Her film resume includes work in the costume department on “Drop Dead Divas” and “Footloose;” as a director’s assistant on “Endless Love;” as an assistant to executive producers on “American Made”; in accounting on “Good Girls;” and as a production assistant on several other films such as “The Internship”, “The Hunger Games” and “Lawless”. Her goal is to learn all aspects of the film-making process from locations to accounting to eventually work as a creative producer.

“I’ve always had a big imagination, and now I have a creative passion that allows me to play pretend for a living with some of the most creative individuals in the world,” says Tina.

Brunswick native finds opportunity in Georgia’s film industry

Behind every great executive is an assistant that keeps the trains running on time. That is no different at EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta, where Margaret Joiner is tasked with not only making sure the train is on time, but that it also remains on the tracks.

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Between keeping tabs on dozens of productions, including Hunger Games, Black Panther and The Founder, and helping the hundreds of people that come along with them, Margaret stays busy. Ask her to name her title and she may say Assistant to the Executive Vice President, but when it comes down to it she is one thing … a problem solver.

Long before Georgia was the No. 1 filming location in the world, Margaret knew the entertainment industry was where she wanted to be.

“I’ve known I wanted to be in the entertainment industry since I was in middle school,” says Margaret, born and raised in Brunswick. “I’m excited to be able to do the work I love right here in Georgia.”

It was a middle school career class that sparked a series of events that would lead this small-town girl from coastal Georgia to the bright lights of the film industry. As usually happens, Margaret had to serve her time as a “button pusher” while learning the ropes at a local rock station in her hometown. It didn’t take long for everyone to realize her potential, and she was soon hosting her own late-night talk show.

The radio gig in high school was just the mouth of the river — the entertainment industry was the ocean it would lead her to. While in school at Georgia Southern

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University, Margaret studied production and worked on various projects while earning her degree, but she couldn’t walk away from radio completely. To stay versatile, she continued working with radio throughout college by helping produce radio talk shows on campus. When it was time to find an internship, GSU’s internship director Reed Smith knew a great fit for Margaret. Enter EUE/Screen Gems.

EUE/Screen Gems opened its Atlanta studio in 2010, and although Margaret had not yet become a full-time problem solver, she was certainly learning the ropes. Today, as the Assistant to the Executive VP, no two days are the same, and that’s just how Margaret likes it.

“Being on-call to do whatever is needed definitely keeps it interesting,” Margaret says. “Office hours and studio hours can be very different, but I live close and am always one call away.”

31-year-old coastal Georgia company spurs growth with film insurance

It was a perfect storm of opportunity: An established coastal insurance company, an experienced film producer, and an industry bringing billions of dollars to Georgia.

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That’s the situation Savannah-based Sapelo Insurance embraced this year, adding an insurance division focused solely on Georgia’s film industry. The company has handled insurance needs for a number of productions in its first year, including Brooke Shields’“Daisy Winters.” Filmed in Savannah, the movie opened in New York in October and will open around the country — including a local showing in Savannah for crew and extras — on Dec. 1.

“The way things are flowing now, we’ll be looking at tremendous growth,” says Chris Helton, a leader of Sapelo’s film initiative. “Production in Georgia is just not slowing down.”

Helton, whose film work includes being a producer with the upcoming film “Runnin’ From My Roots,” recently joined Sapelo to add film industry knowledge to the decades of insurance experience already rooted in the company. Sapelo, founded in 2004, is the insurance arm of Savannah’s The Sullivan Group, a 31-year-old human resources outsourcing company.

For the film industry, Sapelo’s insurance coverage includes the basics such as rental insurance and auto insurance, plus industry-specific needs like travel insurance for stars, camera coverage and insurance for inclement weather that interferes with filming schedules.

Rob Jones_Sapelo“It’s one of those things every production needs,” says Rob Jones, CEO of The Sullivan Group. “The reality of it is that we are a normal insurance company that has entered a very specific space with a very specific competitive edge.”

That competitive edge, Jones says, is Chris Helton. His film experience has helped Sapelo win business not only from “Daisy Winters,” but other Georgia-based productions such as “Crazy for the Boys,” “An LA Minute,” and “The Best of Enemies.”

While major studios such as Marvel have decades-old relationships with insurance companies, smaller productions are willing to consider shopping local for insurance needs, Jones says.

“This is new money coming into Georgia,” Jones says. “A production with something like a $20 million or less budget doesn’t have to obtain industry-specific insurance from New York or California anymore. Now there is an opportunity to bring that money into Georgia.”

Film career is an intersection of good luck and hard work

Luck got St. Simons native Sara Alread into Georgia’s film industry, but hard work keeps her there.

Like many people, Sara was a fan of the movies. But what she really enjoyed was getting a peak at behind-the-scenes footage of the people who create films. Film production was her dream but opportunities were scarce in her hometown of St. Simons Island so she pursued graphic design instead.

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That changed in 2015 when filming began on Ben Affleck’s movie “Live by Night” in nearby Brunswick.

“Being from St. Simons Island, I had given up on the chance to work on film,” Sara says. “When ‘Live by Night’ came to small-town Georgia, it gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream.”

A friend of Sara’s who worked as a videographer looked into working on the movie. The production didn’t have a job for him but asked if he knew of any locals looking for work. He gave them Sara’s name. It was her first stroke of good luck to come.

Her good luck continued when the film’s location manager, Laura Bryant, decided to call Sara first from a long list of potential people. The deciding factor? The location manager liked her name because of a favorite Aunt Sarah.

“Luck got me in the door on that first film as a location production assistant. But then I worked hard and learned enough to keep the job,” says Sara.

“My background in graphic design helped me, too. The locations department creates maps of the set and sends them out daily with the call sheets. I can make the maps in-house which gives us more control over them.”

The growing Georgia film industry not only provided Sara with a new career opportunity at the perfect time, but it gave her husband opportunities as well. In 2015, she was freelancing as a graphic design artist from home while caring for their daughter. Working on films gave her enough income to allow her husband to quit his corporate job and freelance from home to spend time with their daughter.
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Sara found that locations work is a perfect fit for her. The locations department is the middle man between the crew and the local community. Her organizational and communication skills have served her well and she enjoys the variety offered by locations. She scouts for locations, spends time in the office to prep for filming, and then gets to go on set and be part of the movie-making process.

Sara has worked on “Baywatch,” “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” “Galveston,” “Underground”, and is now working on “Gemini Man.”

“I love my work,” Sara says. “I’m not ever looking at the clock and 12-hour days go by quickly.”

Film opportunity takes catering business from Mom’s kitchen to million-dollar enterprise

You think it only happens in the movies, but how about this real-life script?  A twenty-something culinary and medical school dropout down on her luck turns her big break into a million-dollar company within a year, thanks to the Georgia film industry.
Joy Merle

It happened to Joy Merle of Atlanta.  After running her catering business –– Finding Flavor –– out of her mother’s kitchen when she lost her biggest customer in 2015, she decided to explore the opportunities in film.

“I sent out about 200 emails to every producer, director, production coordinator or office assistant I could find in the Georgia film help-wanted hotline,” says Joy. Just one person wrote back, but it was the right one –– a production assistant on “Baby Driver,” a film then scheduled for shooting in Atlanta.

“They needed some office catering, and that job lasted about a week,” says Joy. “After they tried another caterer for a couple of weeks, they called me back and said they wanted someone to cater the rest of the movie.  They gave me a deposit so I could get out of mom’s kitchen and outfit my own.”

After that, the work came pouring in.  Within a year her company Finding Flavor, based in Sandy Springs, had 10 employees and a million-dollar revenue stream.

Joy says she loves the steady income, but even more, she loves the energy and passion in film and television work.  “I have great clients in this industry, great people who have been kind, patient and open,” she says. “But your dreams can’t be based on money.  If that’s all you want, you’ll have a short run.  The people in this business all have a passion.  But it’s not for the faint-hearted.  They work hard, 16-18 hours a day.  But they love it.”

In addition to “Baby Driver,”  her catering credits include “Stranger Things,” “Fast and Furious,” “Hidden Figures” and “Pitch Perfect 3.” 

Is there a secret to her success?  “Get the word ‘try’ out of your vocabulary,” Joy says. “It’s all about execution.  Either you deliver or you don’t.  If you can execute in the movie business you can win.”