Lisa Ferrell and Patricia Taylor from Georgia Production Partnership: Atlanta Film Chat Episode 143

Patricia Taylor and Lisa Ferrell from the Georgia Production Partnership tell us about the history of the organization as well as its future, plus why every filmmaker should consider joining!

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Get to Know a Studio: It's Time to Put Doppler on Your Radar!

As a cinema sound enthusiast, I typically experience the most severe episodes of fangirl-dom whenever I’m in the presence of iconic sound facilities and the people who make the magic happen inside. Upon entering the lobby of Doppler Studios, in Midtown Atlanta, I was instantly drawn to a wall bolstering an array of gold and platinum records, including those by ATL music legends Outkast and Usher.

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Building Up Atlanta's Film Scene: Did North Carolina's Salary Cap Help Bring Hunger Games to Atlanta?

Making the first movie in North Carolina brought more than $60 million to the state, along with roughly 5,000 workers, many of them locals who appeared as on-screen extras.

The original film’s location got chalked up to the state’s film incentive, which offers filmmakers a 25 percent refundable tax credit. But the state only qualifies movie salaries up to the first $1 million while Georgia is more generous. That likely influenced the Atlanta decision, Syrett said, especially since the young actors’ salaries have ballooned since the first film.

The excerpts that lead this post are from the piece 'Hunger Games' sequel moves NC off stage that ran at the Charlotte Observer. The article brings up several reasons the sequel moved from North Carolina to Georgia, the locations featured in the second and third books being no small part of that. What definitely stands out to my eye is the point raised about salaries.

Since the 2008 tax incentives for film went into effect, salaries are more often mentioned in articles whenever an elected official opines on the fairness of pay being lumped into calculating a production's cost savings when that pay starts to climb up into the millions, as well as the resulting impact on revenues.

There was and is a perceived double whammy on state coffers when one also considers that, until recently, many states didn't tax those salaries as instate income. Several legislators around the country have made changes to tax the portion of one's salary that would have been earned from work done instate, while leaving the rest of it alone. If you Google it, you can find a few articles on what effect this could have on Californa's own revenue stream as more and more productions have left the state.

It's not unexpected that once a franchise is successfully launched, salaries of the principals including the major players behind the camera see a bump. A bump that's usually at a minimum double the first film for the actors.

In terms of industry building, should Jennifer Lawrence's paycheck have such a major impact on where a production shoots? What I'm really asking, in relative terms, are the potential negatives of capping salary inclusion worth it?

What many don't understand about film production is that it's not only the  productions themselves that are extremely mobile, it's the local crew as well. Most are freelancers and many work across multiple areas of production. Even those who aren't exactly freelancers are often so used to going from state to state, even country to country for a job, they'll often pull up stakes completely. As an example, the actor Idris Elba is working so much he currently he's said he doesn't own a home or rent an apartment, he just packs up and moves to the next production.

Overtime, this brain drain can have lasting affects.

As with any industry, even the most mobile want to root as much of their business to at least one location. You can't do that if you're not sure if there'll be work in the next few years. If you're coming up and you want to get training or experience, it can become near impossible to get that if the very folks who could be your mentors and teach you what they know have left long ago.

The impact on future productions can become quickly evident as the base becomes smaller and smaller. Because of Atlanta's rise, there are multiple shows and films shooting. There are cities and even states that can't handle more than two or three major films or shows in production at once without feeling the strain.

And of course, the ancillary businesses like equipment rentals, extras casting, catering and craft services, and construction, either dry up, reduce staff or move with the productions. With food truck(s), a resourceful catering and craft services company can be as flexible as the productions as long as they can find suppliers to stock up; which unless they're going to a state that has no restaurants and by extension no bulk suppliers, isn't impossible.

And let's not forget that most cast and crew have to work on multiple projects to earn a living. Even some of the highest paid positions sound like a lot of money, till you realize that one job could still only cover half a year's bills and it might be a few months before anyone can start or find their next job. In fact, around the country, the stories of cast and crew members who had their next jobs disappear as state legislators signaled their iffiness on their incentives got out, is numerous. Same with productions that suddenly became to expensive to shoot, or moved to reduce costs, or the failure of other movies forced the studio to make harsh choices--choices that a car maker would also make about a local factory when that shiny new hybrid fails to meet sales; or that new tablet only sales a hundred thousand and not the 500 thousand required.

As I said, there are most definitely multiple reasons Lionsgate changed locales outside of paychecks alone. But, when a production can bring $60 million to a state and you can do that several times each year, it seems shortsighted to hyperfocus on one person's paycheck when the result can be a hit on thousands of paychecks.

In the 'Blood'

In the 'Blood' Lagrange, GA native Ben Watts recently successfully raised funds through the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter to create a short film. He shot near his home town with young actors William Harrison and Cooper Guy.

The film is titled Blood of Man and it follows a young man, a compulsive liar, and his older brother who battle boredom during the summer in a quiet southern town. When they take a shortcut through the woods, they are forced to grow up much quicker than they had ever planned.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Ben and ask him about his latest project.

Questions for Ben Watts (“Blood of Man”)

What made you want to make this film?

I was living in New York, working a job I didn’t really enjoy, and I was itching to direct again.  I wasn’t sure of the story yet, but I knew I wanted to cast children in the lead roles.  During my commutes back and forth to Manhattan, I started rereading a book of short stories by Flannery O’Connor, and something struck a chord in me that said, “This is how the film needs to feel.”  From there, I started remembering my childhood, growing up in the South and all those summers where my brothers and I had nothing to do, and the pieces fell into place.  I wanted to make a film that was steeped in that Southern culture that I grew up in and that shared the same characteristics of the O’Connor stories that I loved—the small-town sensibilities, the moral ambiguity, religion, violence—and I thought the best way to explore all of these ideas would be through the eyes of two brothers.  

How long have you been developing “Blood of Man”? Have you made other films prior to this one?

I wrote the script back in November 2011, but didn’t really pursue making it until February of this year, when my wife and I moved to San Francisco.  I started making phone calls and sending out casting notices in March, launched the Kickstarter in early April, and we just wrapped production on June 8.  I directed a few shorts in college (where I didn’t have a crew), and I’ve worked on different films in various capacities over the years, but this is my first professional short film where I got to focus on directing.    

You started a kickstarter campaign to raise the production budget, can you talk about your strategy and what you thought the key was to it ending successfully?

A friend of mine named Steve Gibson successfully raised over $11K on Kickstarter to fund a feature film in 2010.  Up until that point, I had no idea what Kickstarter was or how beneficial it could be to independent filmmakers.  When I started budgeting, I knew that crowd funding was the only way to go, and I purposefully wrote the script with the budget in mind (as I’m sure many independent filmmakers do), constantly asking myself: What’s the best story I can tell with the least amount of characters, sets, and artificial lighting?

Going into the campaign, I figured a key to being successful was giving as much detailed information as possible: who you are, where the money is going, who else is involved, etc.  A fundraising campaign is not the time to clam up and get coy about your intentions.  I think the other key to being successful was simply reminding people about your project; posting about it on Facebook, emailing, calling—whatever you can do to get the word out and keep your project name on people’s tongues.  But I can’t attribute our success to anything other than the incredible generosity of our family and friends.  In the end, they’re the ones who made this entire film possible.

What are you plans for the short once it has been completed?

We certainly want to try the festival route.  I’m knee-deep in post- production right now, and I would love to premiere the film in September, back in my hometown of LaGrange, where we shot it.  Then, after that, we’ll hopefully move on to bigger and better projects, like a feature.

Was it challenging to work with younger actors?

Believe it or not, no.  Working with the kids was honestly the most exciting part of the process for me.  I was a little nervous going into it because I was producing and coordinating from San Francisco, and I was only able to fly in a week before we started shooting.  We had almost no rehearsal time until we got on-set, and that scared me at first, but I couldn't have asked for better or more professional young actors.  All of my actors were phenomenal, but I got to work with our leads William Harrison and Cooper Guy the most, and they are both just amazingly talented.  Even at a young age, they (and Canon Kuipers, who has a supporting role), have a lot of experience in filmmaking (i.e., sitting around waiting for the next take and eating all of craft services) so they knew what to expect with the process. William and Cooper’s families have been friends for a while, so not only do they look like they could be brothers, but they act like brothers off-screen, as well; they were always trying to start fights, teasing each other--the same kind of things my brothers and I would do as kids.  Several times during the shoot, one of them would do something in between takes that was perfect for their relationship (slapping each other on the head or calling each other names) and I'd tell them to incorporate it into the scene we were doing.

Watch the teaser for Blood of Man here: https://vimeo.com/44222508

Blood Ties sets Release Date

I like to do a follow-up on stories we’ve already done at CinemATL, it proves our instincts were true in discovering a local filmmaker who had the mettle to bring their project to fruition. I especially like the one I’m doing now because of how determined the filmmaker involved has been at getting his work completed and at such a high production value.

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Should the GA Tax Incentive Have a Local Hire Provision?

A new story about Georgia's film industry seems to come out every two to three days at this point. Although the names of the most recent films to shoot in town change, and the economic impact number grows with each new story, there's never terribly too much new info in them.  I'm not complaining that much though, because as a often repeated message, all that talk is likely insulating the incentives from any future political attacks for at least a good number of years. Getting to my main point, Decatur Metro commented on one of the AJC's recent pieces, highlighting the portions about Decatur's speedy, one permit process, among other things. Down in the comments section this caught my eye:

Steve W. says: December 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm Being in the industry, having the productions come to Georgia is a good thing. But, the issue is that the companies that come here are not required to hire locals. Yes, locals are getting some of the work, but with no requirement, a lot of us that are in the more specialized positions are often left out or get little work. Some states require that a percentage of the crew has to be local in order to get the tax cuts, but Georgia doesn’t fall in that category. As far as bringing money into the area, yes, tv/film does raise revenue for local businesses, especially hotels and restaurants. I think if the tax incentives were rewritten with a clause that they had to hire locals, it would be a win all around.

It took about six months after the incentives kicked in and Georgia started seeing an up tick in production for the first grumblings about local hires popped up. And on a base level, those folks have a point. The incentives are about job creation.

However, if people are really relying on outside productions to be the main source of new jobs, we've got a few problems.

First, we are getting jobs. Out of a 100 production slots on BET's The Game, 70 of them are local hires. And reports on shows like The Walking Dead and films like X-Men: First Class is that as they are seeing Atlanta as a true production town they've increased the number of local hires.

Second, film is a who you know, work with your core crew, kind of business. That's not a result of a cut throat world of backstabbing and David Mamet like rants. Nope, that's a result of the fact that when you're in a business where speed is the key, and you're going to be in the "trenches" for 14 to 16 hour days, in all manner of conditions--like a Marine in battle--you want to know the cat next to you has your back and will carry their load.

Third point, requiring companies to hire locally hasn't appeared to have been super successful in other states. In fact, it's scared off many companies. Okay, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence, hardly admissible in a court of law. Yet, looking at the states that have the clause, I challenge anyone to name me more than a handful that have used the requirement to fuel any meaningful improvement in the health of their production community.

Also, if you look at what's happened in other states, the"No Permanent Jobs" narrative has killed incentives before they've even started working. Now, those same folks who were complaining, are now going back to their legislatures and are trying to convince their elected officials to recommit to the programs they were bashing just months earlier.

Fourth, why should they hire locally? For positions that productions could hire locally, yet aren't, there are two possible reasons for that. Either one, they don't know about the people who are here. Or two, we don't have folks who have the experience or the training productions are looking for.

I have heard from more than a few people that it's not so much the former, as it's the later. Even companies that are based here have admitted they've run out of qualified applicants and they've started recruiting out of state for some positions.

For those spots we do have the crew, we definitely have to do a better job of making it known we've got the manpower. However, in the long term, we have to ensure we're turning out folks who are truly ready to be plugged into productions. If there are deficiencies let's not argue that outside folks are just looking for excuses to not bring on locals. We always need to take a deeper look and treat those concerns seriously.

Fifth, yet most important, we can't rely on outside production to bring "permanent" jobs, only on bringing a steady flow of projects and a state of near "permanent" work.

As an offshoot of their on going presence, we should be fostering an environment that allows us to further build up our production community with homegrown companies and indigenous filmmakers.

Even if we we're getting substantially more jobs from out of state, we should always be looking at creating more Turners, Rainforests and Tyler Perrys who are rooted here. It's these folks who will have a much more vested interest in what's happening here than anyone coming outside of the state. They'll also be the ones, hopefully, pushing to tell more regionally and locally based stories.

We should also be looking at our role in aiding production in other states. I'm one who firmly believes that a healthy Southeast and a healthy Georgia go hand in hand it when comes to productions. Film doesn't work only state by state, production doesn't flow like that. A Southeast that's production ready across the board benefits all of us.

No Little feat; Bret Wood completes another indie feature

Bret Wood is an example of an atypical filmmaker for the Atlanta scene. He’s a scholar of classic film and someone bold enough to make period pieces on an ultra-low budget. The fact that he’s also been an enthusiastic participant in the popular community film activities like the 48 Hour Film Project right next to the weekend warrior auteurs show that he’s also willing to have fun with filmmaking too.

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ATL filmmaker Joseph Stovall is Coming Correct in 2010

Independent filmmaker Joseph Stovall has said, “Atlanta has a GREAT Film Community.” I definitely agree with that sentiment, but Joseph is also quick to challenge that same community to do better while not being frozen by the daunting tasks of doing so that it keeps them from simply doing it.

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PushPush To Produce Stage-to-Screen Comedy Series

PushPush TheaterPushPush Theater has always been engaged in some interesting projects since their inception. There are few multimedia arts organizations in Atlanta who are as actively experimenting with the integration of film and theater, as well as other mediums, as the Decatur based outfit. For awhile, their Dailies projects--a series of mostly quarterly film challenges that were screened for audiences--were a vital part of the Atlanta film scene and helped spawn locally produced The Signal as well as several dozen film groups and productions. Now PushPush  has announced that they're doing a stage-to-screen comedy series that will go to the web. Coming a few weeks after they just had Brian Newman in town to talk about new media and new models for filmmakers, it's even less of a surprising announcement. Newman has been traveling the world over lecturing about the changing media landscape and how it not only affects filmmakers and content creators, but how it can empower them.

PushPush has always been about applying what they've learned to create new works and new experiences. It will be interesting to see how this new series comes to fruition and what the result will be. This is one we'll definitely have to do more followup on. Press Release is below:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

404-377-6332

PushPush Produces Original Stage-to-Screen Comedy Series New Series Performed Live in Preparation for Filming and Digital Broadcast

July 6, 2010 - ATLANTA, GA - This fall, PushPush will begin a new and unique project, Slow Down Atlanta, an original episodic series about a group of out-of-work stooges who've started their own paranormal services company. PushPush will stage the first episodes of the series live before beginning to film the episodes for digital broadcasting and distribution. Utilizing some of Atlanta's top talent in film, theater and improv, the first episodes will be presented to live audiences in August, with the first online broadcast set for the end of 2010. This series will pave the way for a new international project aimed at filming in Berlin and Atlanta.

According to PushPush founding member and Managing Artistic Director, Shelby Hofer, staging the work before filming introduces a new process for long-term craft and content development, which reduces film production time. She explains, "The serial aspect itself, along with the live staging, allows the characters and story line to develop into a richer experience over time."  Hofer continues, "The added element of a live audience can improve the content before the cameras ever start rolling.  It also provides the creative team with an outlet for the gritty groundwork that will develop over a longer period of time."

The title Slow Down Atlanta originates from the notion that dealing with our personal ghosts, both literal and figurative, sometimes slows forward progress. The Slow Down series has a unique blend of modern office comedy and creepy, genre-based mystery show. The themes range from internet gaming and marriage to immigrant culture, the new racism, strippers, and good-old-fashioned homophobia. The plot begins as two 30-year-old friends rent an old office, hire a secretary and start a paranormal services business for beer money.

The launch of Slow Down Atlanta marks the start of PushPush's new entrepreneurial phase, where the company will implement new methods, including transmedial marketing, to monetize results of their new development projects. PushPush, in its role as a hub for artistic development, works to create projects that enable Atlanta theater and film artists to connect, explore and refine their craft, create original works, and provide equal effort toward improving revenue while doing it.

PushPush achieved success with its film and theater hybrids, such as The Robbers, Cats Have Nine Lives, The Seagull, and Intersection of Dreams. The launch of Slow Down is part of a 5-year-plan to present two types of serials, including a multi-cultural project entitled GRFX.

PushPush will hold open workshops on Monday evenings in July for actors, directors and other film or theater artists interested in getting involved.

For more details on Slow Down Atlanta, PushPush, or their new phase of development, contact Shelby Hofer.

News Around the South - June 25

Mean Girls 2, which will start filming in Atlanta soon, has found it's cast.

Meaghan [Martin] will be the main mean girl, taking the place of Rachel McAdams' Regina. Her character, named Jo, will befriend outcast Abby because Abby's father offers to pay for Jo's expensive college education. We aren't going to question the plausibility of that, since realistic plots aren't what "Mean Girls" is all about, but will note that Abby and her father have not been cast yet.

[Maiara Walsh's] character is currently unnamed, but she will be playing one of Jo's followers, the Plastics. She was most recently seen on this past season of "Desperate Housewives" as the character Ana Solis, as well as on the Disney show "Cory in the House." "So it's official.. I will be playing the lead 'plastic' in Mean Girls 2! I'm off to Atlanta at the end of the month to shoot :)" she tweeted last week.

'Mean Girls 2' Casts Meaghan Martin And Maiara Walsh In Lead Roles

Several adult studios in Florida are being investigated.

Florida regulators, acting on a complaint by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have begun probing condom-less production shoots by Bang Bros Films, Hustler Video, Josh Stone Productions and Reality Kings Productions.

Officials are investigating "sanitary nuisance" complaints relative to 10 videos the companies shot in Florida. The AHF said that it filed the complaint with the Florida Health Department because the state does not have a designated occupational safety and health division.

"The Miami-Dade complaint asserts that the films demonstrate unsafe — potentially life-threatening — behavior in a Florida workplace, as the sexual acts filmed without participating performers wearing condoms depict the unprotected exchange of bodily fluids," AHF President Michael Weinstein said in a statement.

Fla. Regulators Probing 4 Adult Studios

News Around the South - June 22

Here's a quick hit of news from Around the South for June 22. According to Anne Thompson's Thompson on Hollywood Director Craig Brewer has found a cast for his Footloose remake. The film is slated to start shooting in Georgia this Fall.

Tonight Memphis Beat debuts on TNT at 10pm. Featuring Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl, Chasing Amy) as Memphis Detective Dwight Hendricks, as well as DJ Qualls as a fellow officer of the law and Alfre Woodard as his superior, the show actually shoots in New Orleans. Read Hollywood Reporters Review

Will it be listed as a green festival? The Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance in Charlotte, North Carolina has announced they're looking for some assistance in starting a Charlotte Bicycle Film Festival. Although a crazy notion, combining Charlotte's beauty with a cycling enthusiasts passion could be a winning formula for a destination event.

The call for entries for the 2011 Nashville Film Festival's  have opened. The Earlybird Deadline for the fest is July 23, 2010, with the Late Entry Deadline being November 26, 2010.

Pilot Shot in Atlanta, ABC's 1-8-7 Will Film in Detroit

Using Atlanta as a stand-in for the city it was named after, the pilot for ABC's DETROIT 1-8-7 was shot here last winter and there was great hope it would return if picked up. Quite a few people have been tracking its status and thanks to the magic of twitter, I regretfully can confirm that the show will not be setting shop in town. "Executive producer David Zabel ("ER") said a studio and stage sets for "Detroit 1-8-7" are being constructed in Highland Park [in Detroit] before filming commences in mid-July."

I hate to see us lose the show. On the other hand, Detroit can use the injection of jobs and cash. Truthfully, I wasn't ever sure having a show named after an infamous California code for murder is something you want linked to your city. Also, Atlanta standing in for Detroit hasn't always led to good things. See, or don't see better yet, ROBOCOP 3 for an example of that.

ABC invests in new TV crime series 'Detroit 1-8-7

Is the LA Times Trying to Send a Message?

Hollywood has Georgia on its mind.

After beefing up its film incentive program in 2008, Georgia has emerged among the top five states in the country for film production, attracting such movies as the Academy Award-winning "The Blind Side," the Woody Harrelson horror flick "Zombieland" and the fifth installment of Universal's "Fast & Furious" franchise. - LA Times: Atlanta studio opens as filming in Georgia booms

There isn't much new in this LA Times piece about the current Georgia film boom. Even if you've only had one eye open and been turned slightly to the left, you've seen this info before.

What caught my eye was the insert that accompanied it. At first I thought it was a neat little map showcasing where all the Georgia productions were shooting. Nope, it's for the LA area.

Is the LA Times trying to remind their readers and industry folks that states like Georgia are on their ass? Or is this a pacifying tonic to help those worried about the status of the West Coast that production has seen an uptick. Honestly, I think it's probably neither one of those.

Georgianotes

Even as infinite as the internet is, space needs to be filled with something and Company Town's focus is on the entire industry, not just LA. Including an LA map, that probably also went in the print edition as well, with a Georgia story isn't really out of the norm. Still, it's a funny juxtaposition and if there are any hidden meanings in this, hey, it's a good sign. The devil only looks over his shoulder when he can hear the trumpets so to speak.

However, keep in mind, while bringing more work here should be a driver, we should be rooting for an industry that's healthy across the board. LA production lulls may be good for everyone else, including Georgia, in opening some doors and reestablishing old partnerships. As a prolonged condition though, it's a potential cancer that could spread in unintended ways.

Back to the insert. I'd love to see a map like this for Georgia. I especially would love to see something that has the number of production days for Atlanta, Georgia and the Southeast. Our numbers may not be as impressive, but it's a good gauge of how the industry is doing. Can it be done? Not sure. Does that data already exist? If so I wonder if holder of said data would be so kind to share?

Henry County Getting Into the Studio Game?

Hot off the internets and posted on AJC.com is the news that the Henry County Commission has started the process that could turn Tara Field into production space. The initial step was a 4-1 vote in support of an agreement with Big 5 Enterprises to setup the studio. About 40 minutes from downtown Atlanta, near the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the location and possibilities sound promising. Even at this preliminary stage, this is another sign of Georgia's growing film biz. On the other hand, coming so quickly on the heels of the Lakewood and Riverwood expansion announcements, it could be too much too soon. Having not enough space to shoot is troublesome. Having sound stages sitting empty, waiting to be used, could be problematic. Especially if local entities feel they've been hoodwinked when jobs don't come fast enough or a production lull hits. Let's also not forget, with the recent economic downturn, there may already exist plenty of space, closer to downtown Atlanta, that could be converted into filming space.

The Lakewood complex won't be fully in operation till 2011, while the Tara Field space wouldn't be ready till about that time, or even later, if I'm guessing right. That gives both complexes time to woo clients and book productions. In that time Georgia can also continue building a firmer base upon which companies will anchor themselves to the state for the long haul.

It's great to hear counties getting excited about production. However, what we can't afford is for short-term vision and excitement to displace long-term planning, viability and practicality. We in the Georgia film community also need to be careful that we don't spend more time celebrating these announcements, than we do developing the infrastructure to take advantage of them.

Read the Henry County article here

Note: 3rd graph edited to read more clearly.

THE WALKING DEAD Pics on Ain't It Cool - Updated

Someone sent in exclusive pics to Aintitcool.com from THE WALKING DEAD. Currently shooting here in Georgia, the first season of the series is set to debut on AMC later this year. Thanks to Frank Darabont's involvement, its post-apocalyptic setting and AMC's track record on MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD, the excitement has been building on this one. Hopefully these six episodes will give birth to a few seasons.  You can check out the other five pics on Ain't it Cool News. Update: You can also find on AJC.com Rodney Ho's set report from THE WALKING DEAD. There's a video of the zombie training school for the extras.