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Douglas County getting its on-screen closeups

Author: 
Michael Hunter

The surge of Georgia-created movies and shows normally is attributed to the state’s five-year-old tax credit for film and TV productions within its borders, but local community support is also a contributing factor and Douglas County is a prime example.

The county has been ahead of the curve in the metro area when it comes to luring film productions to the state. It’s had a volunteer film commission since 1993, the brainchild of two local film industry veterans, Shay Bentley-Griffin of casting and production company The Chez Group and Jerry Pece, an assistant and second-unit director.

“There was a bit of work filmed in that area and people started looking at it,” Bentley-Griffin said. “There was an opportunity for more work to go back in that area.”

Bentley-Griffin went on to serve as a member of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s commission studying the tax-credit incentive driving the boom in Georgia film productions since its passage in 2008.

Under the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, film or television production companies that spend $500,000 or more on either a single project or multiple productions receive a 20 percent tax credit. They qualify for an additional 10 percent if the finished project includes a state-provided promotional logo. Industry executives have told Atlanta Business Chronicle they plan to seek extension of the credit to post-production work this winter.

The commission is currently composed of Pece, Jerry Frost and photographer Bob Smith.

According to Smith, one of the advantages of Douglas County is “we have a lot of terrain that can double for a lot of areas.”

One of the sites that has been frequently utilized is Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, which stood in for Appalachia in the John Travolta-Robert De Niro action film “Killing Season.”

“We also have an old courthouse that is available,” Smith said. “The Last Punch,” a feature film that chronicles Muhammad Ali’s last fight with Trevor Berbick, utilized this location this year.

Douglasville also has a recently decommissioned jail that has become a popular location.

“Empty jails are a piece of gold around Atlanta,” Smith said. He took a scout on a tour of the facility to test out its allure as a possible location. “She said, ‘It’s creepy in there.’ ” The site has since been used as a location of the Jeremy Renner film “Kill The Messenger” where it stood in, with the aid of potted palm trees, for a Nicaraguan jail.

Most importantly, the invasion of Hollywood film crews has been a boon to the local economy, with film electricians and set builders often seen at the local Home Depot. “People have been making money off their property, local electricians and landscaping companies have been getting work.”

“Firelight,” a Hallmark production for ABC starring Cuba Gooding Jr., shot some firefighting scenes at a property in the southern part of the county and utilized a local propane company to provide the fuel for a gas grid system that created the effect of a wild fire.

According to Smith, while film productions would often bring behind-the-scenes talent from California when filming began to ramp up in Georgia three years ago, now “Atlanta is developing a real talent base” of the people needed to make a film happen.

Another key to the area’s success has been a minimal amount of municipal paperwork. While the county likes to keeps tabs on productions filming there, the process is permit-free.

Douglas County has been a member of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Camera Ready program since 2011. The program, which launched in 2010 with 16 counties, currently has 144 of 159 Georgia counties participating, according to Craig Dominey, senior film location specialist with the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment office.

“We have a photo database of thousands of locations,” he said. “That gives the broad strokes of what we have in Georgia.”

The Camera Ready program gives productions a contact person on the ground in specific counties to help show them around specific locations as well as introduce them to the local government officials who can help out. Jerry Frost is the Camera Ready point person for the Douglas County Film Commission.

The commission operates its own website that has photos of 119 possible locations in the county.

Several reality television shows also have filmed in the area.

An episode of “Tabitha Takes Over,” a Bravo reality show featuring hair salon makeovers, was filmed at Pat’s Hair Shoppe in Douglasville and Lifetime recently aired three hourlong episodes of “Catering Wars” featuring Atlanta’s Finest Catering owned by Douglasville resident Lori Bomar.

The county also hopes to help foster independent filming in Georgia with its two-day On The Reel film festival set for November.