What do big names like Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Travolta, Winona Ryder, Tyler Perry, and Jeremy Renner all have in common? All of these superstars have been involved in movie and television productions filmed, at least in part, right here in Douglas County.
By: Keely Sharp
Multiple production companies with studios and operations in Atlanta have discovered the diverse settings and structures available for their projects here. Word has spread about the willingness of the local government entities to accommodate them, and as the reputation of the county has grown, so has the pace of filming here. Couple these benefits with lucrative tax incentives put in place by the State of Georgia, and the right conditions are in place for the explosive growth we have seen, especially during the last few years.
Of course, nothing happens by accident, or overnight. It requires a great deal of planning and organization. Although some film scenes, such as the interstate car chase scene from Smokey and the Bandit, were shot here as far back as the 1970s, the real organization of the movie and television industry in Douglas County traces its roots back to 1993, when Jerry Pece and Shay Bentley-Griffin founded the Douglas County Film Commission. The Film Commission was a public organization that not only attracted media production, but also worked to offer support to these productions, so they could complete projects smoothly.
Both founders were, and still are, local film industry veterans, with experience starting in the 1980s. Jerry continues to work on television productions and volunteers at the Film Office. Shay is now a casting director, and has received many Emmy Award nominations.
From 1993 until 2013, the Douglas County Film Commission was under the authority of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners; however, in 2013, with the extensive number of productions flocking here, the Film Commission became the Film Office of the Douglas County Economic Development Authority. The Film Office has its own page on the Development Authority’s website at www.developdouglas.com/filmtv. The site helps assist production companies as well as local residents who are interested in being a part of the film industry. Appointed volunteer at the Film Office, Bob Smith has been a key figure in bringing many of the movie and television production crews to the city and county. Bob joined the board of the Film Commission five years ago to work as a liaison between the county and the film industry. Location scouts often ask for his assistance to find the settings they are looking for.
Many local residents will remember last summer, when a 1950s McDonald’s sprung up overnight in downtown Douglasville, with a banner reading “Minnesota welcomes Mc- Donald’s”. Bob recounts, “Late last spring I received a phone call from the location manager working on Michael Keaton’s production of The Founder. He had been driving around the old courthouse and along Church Street in downtown Douglasville. He began telling me that he needed a temporary location to build an old style McDonald’s restaurant with the old golden arches. He had already picked out a couple of potential empty lots, but he was going to need traffic control, and I knew it would be difficult for the city to assist at those locations. I suggested he look at the parking lot next to the old police station on Church Street, across from the old courthouse. That section had been used in other film projects. So along with a few other ingredients, that is how McDonald’s first film set came to life on Church Street last summer. It’s a good example of how the Film Office is involved when the movie industry comes to town.”
Georgia is home to more than 700 films and television shows. growing, with an extensive network of actors and casting agencies, but Georgia also offers huge financial incentives. The Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, signed into law in 2005, grants income tax credits of 30% to qualified productions. If a production company invests at least $500,000 per year on films, television shows, and music videos, then they have a flat tax rate of 20%. In addition, if those productions include the “Georgia Entertainment” promotional logo in the credits with a link to www.tourgeorgiafilm.com on their website, downtown setting, but also several unique locations like the old jailhouse, Sweetwater Creek State Park, and Foxhall Resort and Sporting Club. Jonathan Lynn, the Community and Development Services Director with the City of Douglasville, added, “There is a certain atmosphere that is welcoming to film companies such as a vibrant downtown business district, that has maintained its character and charm throughout the decades.”
While there are tons of potential filming locations in and near Douglas County, several seem to be the favorites of production companies. Interestingly enough there are three distinct government entities that work with movies, depending on the location they choose. The top locations are Sweetwater Creek State Park, (operated by the State of Georgia), the old jail (maintained by Douglas County), and O’Neal Plaza and downtown Douglasville (under the authority of the City). Sweetwater Creek State Park has hosted its share of A-list celebrities with films such as The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, and Killing Season, featuring Robert De Niro and John Travolta. The state park is 2,549 acres of beauty, located in the New Manchester area of Douglas County. Not only does it feature Sweetwater Creek and miles of wooded hiking trails, but it also houses the remains of an old textile mill. The mill was burned by General Sherman’s union troops, back in 1864, and has become an increasingly popular historic site.
Unfortunately, due to safety reasons, the general public cannot enter the mill, except on certain occasions when the park opens it up for guided tours. Several scenes have been shot inside the ruins, as well as in the beautiful forests surrounding Sweetwater Creek.
Another increasingly popular filming location is the old Douglas County jail, built in 1981, on Church Street in downtown Douglasville. Douglas County has not yet secured a buyer for the property, so for now it is a popular choice for films needing a jail. Though most often used as a jail, it can be converted to a school, hospital or even a mental institution. It served as a Nicaraguan jail in “Kill the Messenger,” featuring Jeremy Renner and Georgia actress, Jena Sims.
O’Neal Plaza, outside of Douglasville City Hall, is also finding its place as a popular filming location. Known for its fountain and amphitheater, the plaza is located in the center of downtown Douglasville, and provides a great historic backdrop for many filming needs.
Other local locations used include the Douglas County Courthouse, Arbor Place Mall, libraries, schools, parks, other areas of downtown Douglasville, the Conference Center, and many private locations such as churches, farms and homes. If you are interested in submitting your home or property for future fi lm consideration, you can send a recent photo, the address, a brief description, and your contact information to email@example.com. You may also list your property on the State of Georgia Film and Entertainment website.
Douglas County, and the City of Douglasville, benefit in many ways from the increased activity. When a production company comes to town, they spend money here. According to Breezy Straton, project manager for the Douglas County Film Office, “While it is difficult to exactly measure the revenue brought in, there is definitely an economic benefit. Production companies utilize nearby stores for last minute supplies and the workers sometimes eat at local dining establishments, despite the fact that catering is provided by the studio.” Crews and movie extras also bring money to local businesses. Extras who come from other areas of Atlanta get a chance to look around, and may come back to visit something they saw, or may consider relocating here if they like the feel of the city.
Having major motion pictures filmed here is a great source of community pride and spirit. Another benefit is film tourism, which is rapidly increasing in popularity. Movie tourists travel to see the location of where one of their favorite movies was filmed. Bob Smith added, “I suspect that once The Founder is released, Douglasville could have its fair share of movie tourists who want to see the location of where the restaurant fi lm set was located.”
Not only has our county benefited, but according to Bob Smith, the statewide impact has been explosive. He stated, “As of the middle of last year, Georgia was ranked third in the United States for the most movies filmed and that means a lot of money was spent in the state.” If the state takes in more money, a share ends up in Douglas County.
Many websites have sprung up that focus on the film industry in Georgia. One popular blog-like website, www.tourgeorgiafilm.com features the “scoop” on filming in Georgia from local insiders and fans. It posts about local film releases and events on their calendar. Viewers can explore the many films that have been shot around Georgia, and can keep up with current filming and get the inside scoop on how to become an extra. While most social media outlets announce casting calls for extras, it is generally short notice. This website offers advice on availability, headshots, typical wages and explains what your duties will most likely be. The website also offers resources, such as external links and casting company information.
For those who are interested in being an extra, an informative website is www.projectcasting.com. Production companies can post casting calls for free, and the site posts videos and acting tips. As of press time, according to projectcasting.com, Tyler Perry Studios is holding open casting calls for new talent in Atlanta. What does the future hold for the film and television industry in Douglas County? One can only guess, but we can expect to see our community portrayed on the big and small screen frequently as word continues to spread about our ideal environment for the industry. And that’s a great thing for all of us who live and work here!
We would like to thank Breezy Straton, Jonathan Lynn and Bob Smith for their tremendous help developing this article!