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Columbia County film industry takes shape

Posted: January 10, 2018 - 1:33am

Columbia County officials say they are learning the ropes of the booming filming industry happening in Georgia, and are working to get a piece of the $9 billion industry.

Tourism and development officials say plans are in place to make Columbia County ready for more film production opportunities.

"We've been fortunate that the last three productions, this (untitled) one, Detroit Crossing and Saving Zoey, all filmed parts of their movies or television shows here in Columbia County," said Robbie Bennett, development authority director. "They used the entire region as a backdrop, but we got a piece of that. And that's what we are trying to do. We are trying to get a piece of this industry, because it's such a large industry across the state."

Bennett is referring to a TV pilot that was filmed on a set constructed in the old Greenfield building off of River Watch Parkway. Other parts of the show were filmed in a neighborhood in the Farmington subdivision. Details behind the pilot are not being released at this time. But the building, Bennett said, is one example of how Columbia County is being shaped to welcome the budding film industry.

In partnership with the Development Authority, Bennett said, the county's Convention and Visitor's Bureau and the Board of Commissioners have banded together to create Film Columbia County.

"That allows us to work with the film industry and respond to their needs at a faster rate than any one of us doing it by ourselves could," Bennett said. "We each have a different connection to different aspects of the county. We can help funnel things through."

Convention and Visitor's Bureau Executive Director Shelly Blackburn has led the charge on helping make Columbia County "camera ready," serving as the liaison for Columbia County's part in the state film location database, which production crews can use to browse local options available for filming.

"The Camera Ready Program was put into place several years ago by the Georgia Film office, and basically what they do is, you identify a county liaison or community liaison, and that person is responsible for uploading images into a database the state can manage," Blackburn said. "So when they have a film scout that comes in and says ‘We are looking for something waterfront that is not developed,' they can narrow it down very specifically to what they're looking for, and then those sites will pull up and hopefully you will get selected as one of those sites for a visit."

Bennett said locals can get involved through the Camera Ready website. A call for volunteer locations was issued on the water bills for county residents and the county did receive good feedback, but they are looking for as many locations as possible.

"We need to have more locations, we need to have it on record so that we have a willing owner and this is what the location can be," Bennett said. "It's across the board: It's county-owned property, it's board of education property, it's private residential, it's working with neighborhood associations. So, so many elements of the county are touched by the film industry, and each one has a different budget."

"And it doesn't have to be pristine, or in perfect condition," Blackburn added. "A lot of times they're looking for (something) like a shack in the woods."

Interested property owners can learn more about the state location database at filmcolumbiacounty.com.

But the film industry is a regional effort, Bennett said, adding that just because a movie is not filmed directly in Columbia County does not mean the county will not profit.

"Just because you are shooting in Wrens doesn't mean Columbia County doesn't benefit. As the film industry comes around through the entire market, we are all going to benefit, with small businesses picking up and becoming vendors, sale of construction equipment and lumber, and catering and hotels. We are all going to have elements of benefit to this," Bennett said. "The question is how can we support it and get the word out as to what we are capable of and what happens next."

Bennett said the county is learning how to streamline the ability for filming in the county, and is eyeing ordinance revisions to streamline filming necessities, such as construction and certain permitting areas to be more fluid when the industry does come to the county.

"We will go through the establishment of a film ordinance at some point and do all that due diligence, but right now it's stuff that we're working on. It will come out in the future," Bennett said, adding the importance of the partnership with the board of commissioners. "We want to make sure that we're able to provide film a quick service. A lot of times you get into a situation where, if we go the normal process, it could take several weeks. Film doesn't have several weeks to respond. So how can we work with them to serve them."

In the meantime, Bennett, Blackburn and other county officials say they are learning as they go about how to best accommodate the growing industry.

"The full industry is definitely taking shape, the workforce development piece is going to be the next one. How do you get engaged in it, stay engaged, and what does that mean for you as an employee," Bennett said. "For the state of Georgia, the film industry has become a $9 billion industry. And we are just trying to get a small slice of that pie right now."

 

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