Film industry gives Clayton County an economic boost

Clayton County recently added a blockbuster to its niche in the competitive filmmaking business.

Parts of the second movie in “The Hunger Games” trilogy will be filmed over the next few months at Clayton’s International Park. The production brings with it demand for movie extras, moonlighting gigs for local police and work for local businesses.

It’s the latest in a string of big-budget films that have made their way to Clayton in the two years since the county opened a film and entertainment office. In that time, movies, television shows, commercials and other film production have created 100 permanent county jobs and injected between $5 million and $10 million into the economy of a county reeling from foreclosures and the highest unemployment rate in the 10-county metro area.

Hollywood isn’t going to solve Clayton’s unemployment problem, which is higher than the state as a whole at 11.8 percent. But the temporary work, which has been coming in regular waves, is having an impact.

“Because of the numerous assets of Clayton and its proximity to Atlanta and the airport, it has been and will continue to be a big player in Georgia’s film industry,” said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film Music and Digital Entertainment Office. “They’ll continue to get shows.”

As the state’s generous tax credits have expanded film investment in Georgia, Clayton has drawn Hollywood’s attention. While Atlanta landmarks will always draw the film industry, Clayton’s ability to be rural, suburban, historic or futuristic is useful to filmmakers. And Clayton is the one place in Atlanta that has a beach.

“Catching Fire,” the second “Hunger Games” film, will shoot at a man-made water park known as “The Beach” because it was built as the beach volleyball venue for the 1996 Olympics. The park is being transformed into a post-apocalyptic setting for the movie, which is based on a book about children forced to fight to the death for food. Other parts of the movie will be shot in Atlanta and Hawaii.

Clayton County will be paid $80,000 in the deal it reached with Project GGX Productions Inc., according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Additionally, off-duty Clayton police officers will earn $45 an hour for security, and a Clayton County Water Authority worker will be paid $75 an hour to drain and refill the park’s lake.

“It’s a really big deal for us,” said Grant Wainscott, director of Clayton’s Economic Development and Film & Entertainment Office. “There’s a lot of community pride when they can see the county on the big screen. It’s a great positive. There’s a lot of challenging economic news in the region, and when we can highlight something incredible … this is by all means a great success story for Clayton County.”

Pride notwithstanding, Clayton’s location and geography have helped snare big-budget movies and television productions. It’s closeness to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Atlanta, where Hollywood normally sets up camp when in Georgia, helped put Clayton among the state’s top three go-to sites for film producers seeking locations. Clayton also was among the first in the state to be deemed “camera-ready.” The state designation means film producers have essentially one-stop service in meeting their needs for things such as building permits, the leasing of props and finding extra help. That type of accommodation, along with the county’s flexibility and diverse scenery, has helped land numerous Clayton landmarks and landscapes on the big and small screens, said Craig Miller, co-president of the Georgia Production Partnership.

“They understand the business of making movies,” said Miller, whose organization helped create the tax incentives Georgia uses to recruit film production. “Clayton has got a great beautiful look. It’s attractive for a lot of scenarios. It allows you to be very close to all of the production center of Atlanta, but it has a different look of being out in the countryside. And that’s good for Clayton.”

When county officials recently learned that the “Hunger Games” shooting at International Park would conflict with the annual Lake Spivey Road Race and cookout on Nov. 3, they promptly moved the cookout to another spot. Project GGX has agreed to pay for the move, Wainscott told county commissioners Sept. 11.

Like a good character actor, Clayton has displayed a lot of range in roles that include:

  • The new NBC television drama “Revolution,” which debuted last week. The show’s producers leased an old air stair truck from the county’s National Museum of Commercial Aviation.
  • The upcoming Denzel Washington thriller “Flight.” Hall’s Flying Ranch in Hampton served as a site for the film, according to numerous websites that track Hollywood films.
  • This year’s film “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which used Southern Regional Medical Center as a hospital setting.
  • This summer’s Disney movie “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” which featured Historic Rex Village.
  • The upcoming comedy “Scary Movie 5,” starring Charlie Sheen. A former Ingles grocery story in Morrow was turned into a temporary soundstage for a scene. Lake City police officers also served as security for the film.

“A lot of people want to shoot at iconic [Atlanta] places like Piedmont Park and the Georgia World Congress Center,” Wainscott said. “But the Southside has been winning [business]. It’s something people aren’t expecting.”

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