“Jimmy Carter said, ‘Do it,’” according to Barbara.
Spivia, who became Georgia’s first film commissioner, considered the state’s geographic diversity a major asset and thought it would appeal to producers. He started visiting Hollywood to build relationships and sell the state as a place to do business. A couple of years later, Reynolds called his friend as his film “The Longest Yard” was urgently in need of a prison where filming could begin on the story of a washed-up NFL player serving time and who is enlisted by the warden to lead a prison football team.
“He made things happen,” Barbara said of her husband. “What they wanted, they got. Burt would say if you need something done: Call Ed.”
Spivia helped secure access to the state prison in Reidsville, where the movie was shot. Over the next decade, some 200 productions were shot in Georgia. Spivia came to know the state so well that he became something of a one-man location manager/problem solver. If a director needed a covered bridge, Spivia would tell them where to go.
Ed Spivia (left) and Hollywood star Burt Reynolds remained friends in the ensuing decades after they'd met. (Family photo)
In 1983, Spivia broke out on his own and with fellow investors to form Filmworks USA. The company leased the Lakewood Fairgrounds in south Atlanta with the plan to turn the old state fairgrounds into a movie studio. But when the operation struggled financially, the group transformed the fairgrounds into an antiques market that became known around the country. Eventually, the city of Atlanta repurchased the lease to the fairgrounds and today it operates as EUE Screen Gems Studios. Today, Spivia's antiques market operates in Cumming, where he opened a second location in 2004.
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But his second act in the film industry was still to come. That same year, Gov. Sonny Perdue had tapped Spivia to head up a state film advisory board. It was in that role that he and a small group of film industry advocates pushed for favorable tax incentives so Georgia could keep up with other states that were competing hard for Hollywood’s business. Over the next couple of years, the state adopted a series of incentive packages that helped lay the groundwork for today’s booming film industry.
The industry has invested in a web of studios, soundstages and equipment now firmly rooted in Georgia. Direct film spending in Georgia reached $2.7 billion last year, and about 450 projects shot in the state in the past year supported roughly 92,000 jobs.
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Wilbur Fitzgerald, an actor and attorney from Georgia, was in that group who worked with Spivia to advocate for the new incentives. He said Spivia’s political insight and his relationships at the Capitol were instrumental in getting the proposal through the General Assembly.
“Ed really was the leader of that effort,” Fitzgerald said. “He knew everybody. He understood the business better than anyone. … He was the catalyst of the film and television industry in Georgia. He’s done as much for the state as some of our best governors.”
In addition to Barbara, his wife of 17 years, Spivia is survived by two sons, Rhett and Greg; a daughter, Cole; three stepsons, Philip Beegle, Brian Beegle and Kevin Beegle; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.