If it were a Hollywood motion picture, the suspense would be building slowly as to whether or not Columbus can fulfill its goal of becoming a star attraction among filmmakers and TV programming producers looking to do business in Georgia.
After all, it has been eight years since the city became a certified “Camera Ready” community through the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, giving it the stamp of approval needed to throw out the proverbial red carpet for production decision-makers seeking unique and interesting places to shoot their projects, while also receiving state tax credits to offset expenses.
Now, with the script coming together — including Columbus State University expanding its film production curriculum and W.C. Bradley Co. opening a sound stage facility in north Columbus — it’s time to start pouring on the effort to land a steady flow of productions in the city and surrounding area, said Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau, also known as Visit Columbus GA.
“That’s really what we’ve been looking to do is for Columbus to be in the game,” he said earlier this week. “We’re in there now and there’s a lot of prospecting going on. But the goal is to have production after production happening, where we’re coordinating calendars with the sound stage, with the (Georgia) Film Academy, with the Georgia film office.”
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Bowden said his small staff at what is officially known as the Columbus Film Commission is now working hard to let film and TV production people know that the city is prepared to help them find unique spots in the area to shoot their drama, action or comedy movie or recurring series.
“Back in the early summer we hosted a director for Hallmark. He was here for a week scouting and looking around at different places to see if he could bring his project to Columbus,” he said. “We haven’t heard a definite yes or no, but those are the kinds of things we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes we have dry spells and sometimes there are constant inquiries.”
A couple of weeks ago, a crew reached out to the local film office, saying it was scouting locations for a film with a budget in the range of $13 million to $15 million, Bowden said. They had come across the city’s website, which led to a visit to the area to check out some possible locations, as well as the new sound stage.
The filmmakers were looking for historic homes and other sites that would replicate an area in the 1850s. It just so happens that the Westville Historic Village in south Columbus, which is moving toward completion and an opening later this summer, was on the itinerary. An 1850s-era attraction being relocated from Lumpkin, Ga., it would seem a natural for a film location because there is no modern visual clutter such as telephone lines, billboards and streetlights.
“They got super pumped when they saw the potential there for what they were looking for in their script,” said Bowden, noting the film people, like many who do the searching for locations, wanted to remain under the radar until they make a final decision on whether or not Columbus will be the place they choose to shoot.
It’s a fairly typical scenario, the CVB chief said, with prospects often giving his office a call out of the blue and saying they will be in town within a day or two to tour possible locations for filming. The last-minute requests and visits don’t faze his staff, he said, because the payoff can be major with film crews and members of the cast staying in the city’s hotels for extended periods, while also purchasing goods and services, all of it goosing the local economy.
A great example of that impact was the shooting of the faith-based movie, “My Brother’s Keeper,” by writer and producer Ty Manns, in June. A local resident, he assembled a crew of more than 50 people and a cast of nearly two dozen, while also using some Columbus-area residents as extras in scenes. He estimated spending more than $280,000 locally while shooting here.
Locations where filming took place included Rose Hill Church of Christ, the city’s Government Center tower, a local hospital, a security training center south of Fort Benning, and downtown on Eleventh Street in front of buildings that included the restaurant Mabella’s.
“We’re lodging all of these people in hotels throughout Columbus,” Manns said during the movie’s production. “Our catering is from Columbus. We’re spending money for our art department, our wardrobe department, all of it in town for those expenses. Transportation money was spent right here ... We’re spending money right here in the community, which is what I have always wanted to do.”
Looking forward, Bowden said a “film fund” is being created in a partnership between the public and private sectors that should help draw filmmakers and TV production people to the area. It would essentially be an extra carrot that would give Columbus an edge over other cities and regions in the highly competitive production arena in which California and Louisiana already are major players. The hope is that the fund will be in place within 12 weeks or so.
There also is talk about the possibility of Columbus focusing on a specific area of the entertainment industry, such as television and streaming-service original programming to include series that keep film crews in an area much longer, particularly if the shows draw a steady and loyal audience.
“There seems to be more return on investment, or value, if you can land a recurring series like “The Walking Dead” or some of the other programming that’s available through live streaming, like Netflix, Hulu and Apple,” Bowden said. “The Film Academy folks were telling us that Netflix has such a backlog with original programming that there are not enough sound stages in the world to handle their production load. So that’s exciting.”
Bowden, whose convention and visitors office operates on an annual budget of about $1.6 million, said the basic formula for generating momentum among the Hollywood production crowd appears to be networking at film festivals and sticking with the game plan of showing prospects the city, time and time again.
“Those are the kinds of things that we deal with,” he said. “There’s a lot of prospecting. There’s a lot of showing and reshowing things not only in the city, but the area, and we just stay in touch with them and see what happens.”