Filming brings major economic impact to Rockdale

Rockdale News

jruch@rockdalenews.com

With metro Atlanta now known as “Hollywood South” for a bevy of major movie and TV show productions, Rockdale is among the places reaping the financial rewards-and gaining a bit of glamor along the way.

In the past five years, about 40 different productions have filmed here, pumping an estimated $20 million in the local economy, according to the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council.

Some stay briefly, like the new supernatural adventure show “Constantine” that filmed here over the summer and premiered this week on NBC. But the big impact comes from long-term productions that plant roots and spend big on wages, supplies and food.

“The Originals” is the best-known example. With offices in Olde Town-where it often films-and massive studio space elsewhere in Conyers, the vampire series has spent at least $2.5 million in Rockdale, according to CREDC. It’s also given part of Olde Town a long-term cosmetics job, with facades and storefronts altered to look like the show’s New Orleans setting.

Major movies often base themselves in local studio space as well, a trend that started in 2010 with the action film “Fast Five.” The horror films “Goosebumps” and “The Ring 3” are other recent examples. Those productions bring in or create hundreds of full-time jobs.

Still Lumber is among the local businesses heavily patronized by such productions. “It is always [the film industry’s] intention to try to buy locally, and they are very easy to work with and always pay their bills on time,” manager Jason Hill previously told the News. “As far as we are concerned, they are very good customers. We appreciate their business and think they add to the local economy by being here.”

A big reason Hollywood keeps coming to Rockdale: CREDC Project Manager Gina Hartsett, who also serves as the local liaison for the state’s Camera Ready Program, which certifies communities as willing and able to host film and TV productions. In several years in that role, she has established extensive relationships with location managers and production crews, making Rockdale a filming hotspot.

Filming also can have a negative, if short-term, impact on local businesses when it shuts down streets. Especially in Olde Town, filming has long been controversial for that reason, and the tensions still flare up from time to time. This summer’s filming of the HBO movie “Bessie” drew complaints, including some grumbling at Conyers City Council, for disrupting business outside of the planned schedule.

But overall, relations are improving. In part, that’s thanks to a new filming policy developed by the city and business leaders that lays down some ground rules and expectations of better behavior. Film crews are learning to treat Rockdale as a community, not a movie studio backlot. And CREDC began actively promoting some numbers to show that the movie business makes measurable contributions to the local economy.

Conyers Councilman Vince Evans has been among the toughest critics of ill-mannered movie crews, but recently also has praised the improved relations and economic impacts. As a pharmacist at Beasley’s in Olde Town, he sees any work there first-hand. He also worked on the filming policy.

“A lot of money has been spent [by] the film industry,” Evans said at a CREDC meeting earlier this year.

That money looks like it will keep flowing. Each year since 2009, Rockdale has seen more film productions than the year before. This year’s tally is around a dozen.

The following is a selection of some of the big productions to film here in recent years:

“The Ring 3” (about to start filming)
The latest sequel to the 2002 hit horror film, it will be based in a Conyers studio. It will spend big money on rent, supplies and hundreds of jobs.

“Goosebumps” (2014)
A major Hollywood movie based on the enormously popular line of kiddie horror books, this Jack Black-starring production was headquartered in a Conyers studio. During a 10-month shoot, it spent millions locally and employed about 400 people full-time. The movie is slated for release next summer.

“The Originals” (in production)
The CW’s successful vampire series is based in Conyers studios and Olde Town offices, first arriving last year. It frequently films on the streets of Olde Town and inside such businesses as the Celtic Tavern. Conyers is seeing increasing tourism from fans the show. Meanwhile, the production has spent at least $2.5 million in Rockdale.

“Selma” (2014)
Co-produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, this dramatic movie about the 1965 Civil Rights marches in Alabama-where Martin Luther King Jr. and others faced horrific police and KKK violence-filmed a key scene in the Rockdale County Courthouse. The five-day shoot for that scene may not sound like much, but its economic impact is estimated at around $135,000. The film is slated for limited release this Christmas.

“Prisoners” (2012-13)
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal starred in this thriller, which filmed in Rockdale for nearly a year and spent an estimated $4.4 million-not including fees paid to rent private properties. The film went on to be critically praised and was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.

“American Reunion” (2011)
This installment of the “American Pie” comedy movies starred Jason Biggs, Tara Reid and Alyson Hannigan. It contributed more than $4 million to the local economy during a 10-month shoot.

“Fast Five” (2010)
Part of the wildly successful “Fast and the Furious” action movie franchise, this film brought $4.5 million to Rockdale while its metro Atlanta production unit was based here.