Key rigging grip creates opportunity for himself, others in Georgia film/TV industry

For Francis Harlan of Atlanta, Georgia’s film and television production industry has been a game-changer.

“The Georgia film industry has changed my life,” says Francis, a key rigging grip. “It’s allowed me to pay off credit card debt, build my own company, explore other entrepreneurial avenues and give back to others. I never would have been able to do that without this industry.”

Francis started as a lighting and equipment rental warehouse manager, where he learned the intricacies of the equipment, picked up film industry-specific vocabulary, forged relationships with industry people and did freelance work setting up lights for productions.

Today, a big part of his job is hiring the best crew possible. He’s built a solid group of high quality, dedicated grips. Francis firmly believes that diverse people with a plethora of backgrounds and skills make the best crew, but most people never have the opportunity to even try so Francis gives people with potential but no experience a chance. And his gamble has paid off.

“I’ve helped 10 guys turn into high-quality grips and several are working as best boys. This opportunity really changes their life for the better,” says Francis. “I hired a restaurant cook and kept him with the crew since then. He’s skilled with a phenomenal work ethic. He was able to buy a house.”

After earning a degree in photography from Georgia State University, Francis joined the union in 2009 as productions started ramping up in Georgia. They needed crew and Francis used his connections to get a job on the first season of “The Walking Dead.” Francis says he told himself this would be his career, and he was right.

Francis moved up through the ranks to Best Boy where he hired crew, estimated equipment needs, and procured equipment. His warehouse experience gave him the capability to fix equipment before returning it and saved the productions money.

He now runs his own company, Omega Grip Studio Rental, and operates a side business buying houses and renting them to people in the film industry.

“I want to continue growing my business and bringing other people into the film industry,” says Francis. “This work gives people pride in themselves and they would do a lot to stay in this industry.”

DeKalb County native puts creativity to work with Georgia-based production team

Scott Thigpen has always loved movies.

“When I was in grade school, Atlanta superstation WTBS showed old movies at 10 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. Going through the TV guide one day I noticed that two of my favorites were playing: “Double Indemnity” with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, and “Maltese Falcon” starring Humphry Bogart,” Scotts recalls. “I faked a stomach ache to stay home from school so I could watch both.”

Scott doesn’t have to fake illness any more to see a movie. He makes them as a producer, director and chief operating officer of Atlanta’s Crazy Legs Productions.

He began his journey as an early enrollee in Georgia State’s film program. Back then there weren’t many internships or jobs available, so he called every film production company in the Atlanta Yellow Pages until the son of the owner one firm happened to answer the phone and confessed he was moving to Seattle and that Scott could have a job as a part-time production assistant. He worked that job until graduation, when he was promoted to fulltime associate producer.

“For a couple of years I covered sports like water skiing and offshore powerboat racing,” says Scott, who now lives in DeKalb County, where he was born and raised. “It was great training.”

Still, he wanted something more purpose-driven than the formula coverage of sports. Back to the phones and another lucky break. CARE was moving its headquarters to Atlanta from New York and was hiring to replace someone who didn’t want to make the move south. Scott got the job, and for more than 17 years produced documentaries about everything from poverty and marginalized populations to sustainable development. In his time with CARE he rose to director of advertising and media productions.

In 2011 he joined Crazy Legs Productions, where he is now chief operating officer. Georgia’s film and television production has come a long way since Scott picked up the Yellow Pages to find his first job.

“Everything’s expanded,” says Scott. “The bench of talent has deepened, so there are a lot more crew and actors available. It’s all here: Studios, vendors and services of all kinds

“Every day people are moving here to take advantage of the growth and opportunities. And the local talent is benefiting from the expansion.”

The global pandemic has disrupted but not stalled production. When the crisis hit, Crazy Legs was in post-production on a feature film expected to be released in the next few months. To keep everyone safe, Scott recruited an advisory board of medical experts to help establish guidelines for operations. One strategy was to select scripts that were “self-contained,” that is, requiring fewer cast members and crew, fewer filming locations.

Another creative initiative was to compile a list of actors who were married so when a script called for a married couple, the already married actors could fill the roles safely. Scott was assisted in this project by his wife, Jessica Fox Thigpen, who is one of Atlanta’s leading casting directors.

His goal to tell stories and keep people employed is working through more than a little ingenuity and effort, including the production of podcasts that eventually can be expanded to documentaries or feature films.

“I grew up thinking that making films was the only thing I could imagine myself doing,” says Scott. “And I’m doing just that.”

Hitting Pause: Dodd Vickers

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

“During this pause in filming, I’ve enjoyed time with my family and helping my wife distribute homemade face masks. I took some time to study for and receive my General Class Amateur radio license. This allows me to communicate with people in numerous countries and to hear directly from them as to how the Pandemic is impacting their area. I also started a podcast called ‘Locations on Two’ in which I interview location managers from around the world including two members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. We talk about their backstories, experiences, and what we think things will look like when we do go back to work. It’s been incredibly rewarding to talk with people that I respect and share it with audiences inside and outside of the film community.” — Dodd Vickers, Location Manager, LGMI, from Cumming

Hitting Pause: Tina Sauls

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

“During this pause in filming, I’m enjoying downtime at the family farmhouse in Valdosta, Georgia. It was my grandparents’ home and I’ve been fixing it up. I’ve been remodeling and installing new electric throughout the house. It’s a great place to escape to. It inspires new ideas and talents in me to use when filming resumes.”  —Tina Sauls, Valdosta, producer’s assistant


Hitting Pause: Theresa Daniel

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

“These past few months I’ve been staying home working on my garden, hanging out with the animals, and cleaning out the attic. I’m also working on some ideas for a children’s book. When productions return, I hope to work on my goal of being on 100 different film sets. Right now, I’m up to 87!” – Theresa Daniel of Forsyth, background actor

Hitting Pause: Jason Benton

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

“I’ve kept all my employees on our payroll during the shutdown so now that things are opening back up, we started working again this week. We’ve been doing work like painting and roofing for folks who work in the film industry. We’re also doing equipment maintenance, so we’ll be ready to jump back in once filming returns. On a personal note, I got accepted into Notre Dame’s MBA program and I’m taking a preparatory math class right now. I’m keeping busy!” — Jason Benton, owner of Great Dane Production Services in Tucker

Hitting Pause: Charity Cervantes

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

Charity Cervantes is an Atlanta-based actress that has appeared in a number of Georgia productions, including “Insatiable,” “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” and “Robbie,” which premieres on Comedy Central tonight.

“My boyfriend and I bought a new house, and we’ve been using this down time to get settled in our new home. We’re excited to meet the neighbors in Intown Atlanta. It’s been a great time to explore our new neighborhood — from a distance, of course!”

Hitting Pause: Erika Doss

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

“For all you Crew Moms out there: I FEEL YOU! Can’t wait be out there in the creative world again! While I’m trying to remember 6th grade math and failing, Oliver (age 12) keeps reminding me that the teachers don’t sit with them in frustration and that he knows what to do …” — Erika Doss, set photographer, Marietta

At the start of this quarantine my son and I were still trying to find out how online school was going to work! While I’m trying to remember 6th grade Math and failing, Oliver (12) keeps reminding me that the teachers don’t sit with them in frustration and that he knows what to do …

Around Easter the weather here in Georgia started to look and feel very much like Spring and my trees in the yard looked so pretty! I couldn’t help but to take a Family Portrait with a twist: No one needs to dress up for it … and so we did it “Quarantine Style!”


Hitting Pause: Danielle Rusk

Georgians who work in the film/TV industry at home during the pandemic.

“During this break in filming, I’m spending my free time helping animals. I’ve groomed horses, rescued a pigeon, and spent lots of quality time with my dog.” – Danielle Rusk, Key Assistant Location Manager from Athens, GA