Up to this point, Georgia film executive Lee Thomas believes Columbus has done the right things and been “very aggressive” in working itself into a solid position of being a major player in the state’s flourishing movie production industry.
That includes being an early adopter of the state’s Camera-Ready location scouting program that matches potential future film projects with structures and properties and historic places to be used in various scenes of a television or movie production.
Then came Columbus State University’s participation in the Georgia Film Academy, which uses the state’s colleges to educate and train students on the finer points of film production as they venture toward a rewarding career.
The next logical step is now being discussed, Thomas said, and that is stepping forward with incentive packages to attract producers to the Columbus area to shoot films. It would be upon those sets future CSU students could serve as interns that would give them valuable experience and future employment connections.
“One thing that Savannah’s done that’s really helped put them on the map is they started an additional incentive, in addition to what the state has,” said Thomas, deputy commissioner of Film, Music and Digital Entertainment for Georgia. She was in Columbus this week to speak about the future of the state’s $9.5 billion movie industry now attracting major film blockbusters and popular TV programs for production.
“It’s a two-part incentive,” Thomas said of Savannah, which is perhaps best known for being the location for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the 1997 Deep South murder mystery movie produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. “They incentivize shows to go to an area, and they do that to offset the cost of traveling with a bunch of crew people. But they also incentivize crew people to move there,” thus setting up a permanent community of set production staffers for use locally in future productions.
Richard Baxter, dean of CSU’s College of Arts, said an incentive effort is being discussed which would partner the university with local business leaders to recruit producers to Columbus on a regular basis. Part of that could include financial incentives, while things such as office space and other types of facilities likely would play a part in the attempt to lure more of the Hollywood-style film production action to the area. It would be private funding initially, he said, with perhaps economic development sought later as everything develops.
“If we do that successfully, the number of students is going to really explode,” said Baxter, noting nearly 50 people have gone through the film certificate course work at CSU within the past two years, while also enjoying accompanying internships on productions, with some participants traveling north to Atlanta, which long has been a hub for movie and TV sets.
“We have more than 100 students who are in the pipeline right now taking the Georgia Film Academy coursework with us,” the dean said. “But if we’re going to have 100 to 150 students (perpetually), they all can’t go to Atlanta for internships, either because of financial reasons or inconvenience.”
Thus far, Baxter said, the Georgia Film Academy and CSU’s efforts to nurture the industry outside the Atlanta area have exceeded expectations. Demand is “very strong,” he said, and continuing to grow.
That’s why the university plans to bring in additional faculty to teach in the areas of video and film production. CSU’s Department of Communications also added a four-year degree this fall with a concentration in film production.
“What we’re doing, basically, is saying if you’re trying to be retrained because of losing a job or being laid off or something like that, you can do the certificate program, which is the quick way into the industry,” Baxter said. “But now, with the (film production) concentration, a student who comes here as a traditional undergraduate can take the coursework, get a complete four-year degree, and then go into the film industry. That gives you training across all platforms of media because they have to take a writing course, they have to take video production, they have to take film production courses. We’re trying to prepare them for any job in this industry — for TV, film, writing and so forth.”
Behind the scenes in the Georgia film production effort is the Camera-Ready program, which has become very important. Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his staff, which works with film location scouts, has stayed busy fielding phone calls and helping out when needed.
“As a matter of fact, we got a call this week from someone looking for catering,” he said. “They had already secured their hotels. I believe it was the History Channel filming out at Fort Benning for a project, and they were looking for some support.”
Bowden said it’s never easy to predict what a producer or their location staff might ask for in terms of places to shoot scenes. Some may be seeking a particular type of housing, such as a log cabin, or perhaps a specific-looking tree. The CVB’s database has dozens of structures and areas that might one day be used on a TV or movie set.
“That’s the beauty of it,” he said. “When we looked at our application for Camera Ready, the only things that Columbus couldn’t emulate is a big city like Atlanta. And we can’t do mountains, and we cannot do the coast. But everything else in between ... We can do historic. We can do modern, even, with some of the technology that comes with the filming. We can do rural. It’s really to our benefit — out of all of those categories and there are about 24 categories — there are only three that Columbus really doesn’t fit.”
Georgia’s film industry has ramped up dramatically in recent years to make the state one of the top sites for movie and TV program productions in the world. In 2016 alone, there were 320 productions in Georgia, which included AMC cable network’s popular series, “The Walking Dead,” the Netflix suspense thriller, “Stranger Things,” and various Marvel blockbuster movies.
In recent years, hot movies shot in the state have included “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “The Blind Side,” the remake of “Footloose,” “Fast Five,” “The Conspirator,” and “Zombieland.”