- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

MACON, Ga. (AP) - As moviemakers take more interest in Macon-Bibb County, ideas are afoot to make shooting on local locations a formal process, perhaps with creation of a local government film office.

The issue literally exploded Jan. 11, when during predawn shooting of the movie “The 5th Wave,” filmmakers blew up a bus on Cotton Avenue. The explosion shattered nearby windows.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas mentioned creation of a film office soon afterward. Then last week she asked in a commission meeting for creation of formal rules, and possibly a government oversight body, to handle moviemaking requests in Macon-Bibb.

Lucas said she doesn’t want to supersede the existing all-volunteer Macon Film Commission, but she noted that cities such as Savannah and Atlanta have successful film offices that could serve as models.

“I just want to make sure that we nurture that industry,” she said.

In recent years, Macon has been the filming site for scenes in a handful of Hollywood movies, including “Trouble With the Curve” starring Clint Eastwood, “42” with Harrison Ford, “Need for Speed” featuring Aaron Paul as well as lesser-known movies such as “The Crazies.”

Mayor Robert Reichert’s administration is reviewing the idea of a government film office, seeing it as an opportunity to gather suggestions for improvement and further explain the current process, said Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore.

Floore met Thursday with Elliott Dunwody of the Macon Film Commission. The Telegraph’s efforts to reach Dunwody after that meeting were unsuccessful, but Floore said Dunwody wanted details on the discussion so far because film commission members weren’t in the committee meeting when the idea was brought up. Floore said Dunwody also received an update on repairs to Cotton Avenue from “The 5th Wave” blast.

The Macon Film Commission is an all-volunteer arm of the decade-old Macon Film Festival, and most of its members are on the film festival board. The film commission’s website says the group exists as a liaison to filmmakers, working to make production run smoothly with location assistance, acting as intermediary with businesses and Macon-Bibb government, and helping find crew and actors.

According to the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office website, agencies in just 15 of Georgia’s 159 counties require permits for filming, including around Savannah and Atlanta.

Savannah has had a city film office — and a separate 17-member advisory commission, appointed by mayor and council — since 1995. The Savannah Film Office is a “one-stop shop” for people who want to produce films, TV shows, commercials, music videos or other media in Savannah, according to its website. It provides permits to film, help in finding locations, coordination with public agencies as well as aid in recruiting crews and services.

The number of productions in Savannah varies from year to year — nine in 2012 and three or four in 2014 — but over the long haul it has steadily increased, said William Hammargren, film services director for the City of Savannah Film Office.

The formal rules in Savannah are very short, leaving most details to be worked out case by case, he said.

“The city has an ordinance that addresses film production,” Hammargren said. “The rest of it we’ve kind of piecemealed together as we’ve developed the office over the last 18 years.”

Its main purpose is to make sure the government isn’t liable for any problems, he said. Filmmakers do what they can to head off issues in advance, but accidents can always happen.

Permits are required for any production, and those make producers responsible for any direct or indirect cost and damage from their work, Hammargren said. The Savannah Film Office has authority to close streets, and coordinates with police and firefighters on things such as pyrotechnics, he said.

“If you have a lot of filming, it’s certainly something I think is worth having,” Hammargren said. “I will be honest, I’ve never heard of a privately run or funded (film) commission.”

The Savannah office’s intent is to minimize civic disruption without making it too much of a hassle for would-be filmmakers, he said.

“It’s definitely a sort of a balancing act,” Hammargren said.

Macon-Bibb government already meets with moviemakers to close streets, arrange security and handle other needs just as would be done for local festivals, Floore said via email.

“When the location scouts get to a point where they are seriously considering Macon-Bibb as a location and need to begin the logistics component, the film commission schedules a meeting with us,” he said. “Once those meetings begin, we become the lead agency on logistics, with the film commission providing assistance as needed with community outreach, promotion and announcements. The movies provide us with a deposit, and the contract they sign requires them to repair any damage that wouldn’t be considered normal wear and tear.”

Makers of “The 5th Wave” are covering repair costs for the Jan. 11 damage, Floore said.

The idea of creating a government film office is due to be discussed in the commission’s Economic & Community Development Committee on Tuesday.

Commissioner Larry Schlesinger is chairman of that committee. Currently, film commission members work as “point people” on attracting productions to Macon-Bibb, and hand things over to local government officials to work out details once those deals are secured, Schlesinger said. He doesn’t think that system is “broken,” but there is a need to discuss the process more fully, he said.

“The thing that I think we don’t want to do is to chase away or scare off future opportunities for the film industry to use Macon as a site,” Schlesinger said.

Lucas said she hasn’t spoken with Macon Film Commission members, but she expects to hear from them Tuesday. Right now she’s not proposing legislation to formally create such an office. She said she wants to review what other cities do and consider its potential.

With Macon-Bibb having greater success in attracting filmmakers, she thinks it’s past time to talk about formalizing the process — especially for licensing things like pyrotechnics and ensuring that appropriate fees are charged for city services.

“I think this accident down there, with the bus blowing up, was kind of a wake-up call to all of us to put something in place to protect everybody,” Lucas said.


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