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Many locals have made the drive to LA looking for fame
With state tax incentives and a nice climate, Georgia is closer to Hollywood than you may think
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Ben Dixon recently got some runway experience as part of LA Fashion Week. The former Gainesville High student lives in West Hollywood.

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Lee Thomas, location specialist with the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, talks about her job.
Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office Hotline: A list of movies that are shooting in Georgia that are looking for actors.

For aspiring actors, dreams of stardom include walking down a red carpet for a movie premiere, performing on stage with hundreds watching or just heading to an audition in Hollywood.

But, as it turns out, Georgia is a lot closer to Hollywood than you may think.

There are several Hall County natives who have moved to the West Coast for a shot at stardom, but these days, because of several factors meshing together at once, rising stars can keep their tales of glitz and glamour right here in Northeast Georgia.

"It's very exciting, especially because the market is so tough ... I think people are starting to think that Los Angeles is shot out and you don't have to live in LA to make it," said Chandler Darby, a junior at Gainesville High School who was in two films last year. "Producers and directors are realizing that we'll take some work over here."

Darby appeared in "Dance of the Dead" last year, a film by Georgia native Gregg Bishop, which was picked up by Lionsgate and can be rented at your local video store.

He is scheduled to shoot three more films this year, two this summer, including "1.8 Days," which will be shot in South Carolina and, he says, "has a pretty decent budget and has a studio backing the production."

He also will shoot "Teenage Dirtbag" and "Floating Bridges," set to be filmed in Seattle later this year.

"I have an agent in the Southeast and one in LA ... these (films) are a step up from the independent movies," he said.

Other local Hollywood connections include child actor Isabella Acres, the daughter of Gainesville native Tim Acres, who has been seen in the new ABC sitcom "Better off Ted," along with "Heroes." And former Dahlonega resident Allen Earls, who is now appearing

as Pastor Brown in Tyler Perry’s "Madea Goes to Jail."

Chandler Massey, the grandson of Gainesville’s Abit and Kayanne Massey, has recently appeared in "One Tree Hill" and most recently appeared on the HBO series "Eastbound and Down," which was filmed in Wilmington, N.C.

Now Massey is in LA for pilot season and will stay through April 30 to try and get lucky with a part on a new TV show.

"Today I finished a commercial for U.S. Cellular and a commercial for Volkswagen," he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "It was really cool to be on the set for ‘Eastbound and Down’ and was able to meet some of the lead stars like Kenny Powers, who plays Danny McBride, and Steve Little, who plays Steve (Janowski) on the show. I was a pitcher during a high school game."

Massey is renting a room from a woman in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and has an agent who gets him one or two auditions a day; he said he averages seven or eight auditions a week.

Massey, the son of Lewis and Amy Massey of Norcross, was accepted to the University of California-Los Angeles and plans to attend if he can get finances in order, he said. During college, he said he plans to keep trying to reach his dream as a famous Hollywood actor.

Ben Dixon, another Gainesville native, is now living in West Hollywood and was a student of Pam Ware, the drama teacher at Gainesville High.

"Last weekend I finished a runway show for the LA Fashion Week, that is a new thing for me," said Dixon, who graduated in 2003. "As far as acting, I most recently did a webisode pilot production by Universal Music group and that should be out next month."

Dixon said he thought Gainesville natives are making more of a mark on the entertainment industry because of the city’s location and the theater instruction in the area.

"Gainesville is not quite urban, not quite rural ... there is access to Atlanta, which sparks and interest or an appetite for multicultural experiences," he said. "I think honestly that Mrs. Ware was integral in cultivating my interests and what direction I wanted to pursue ... many people have benefitted from her enthusiasm."

Dixon plans to stay in Hollywood to pursue his acting career and "doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon."

Ware keeps a wall of head shots in her Gainesville High classroom and can tell any visitor where her former students are, along with their accomplishments.

"I know former students who are out there are out there because of their involvement here, for sure," said Ware, who has seen many of her students advance to Hollywood and New York over the years.

And Georgia itself is really starting to make its Hollywood mark because of the climate, the array of shooting locations — and a huge tax break for movie and TV studios shooting in the Peach State.

"The big one is House Bill 1100 that passed last year ... and it is up to a 30 percent tax credit on qualified in-state expenditures," said Lee Thomas, a senior locations specialist in the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. "So that’s a credit that can be used against a company’s income tax liability and if they don’t have any income tax liability in the state they can transfer the credits to another company or they can sell them. That is probably our biggest incentive.

"And then we also had a smaller incentive ... that went into effect in 2002, so between the two of those it’s really a pretty competitive package."

That is the biggest reason why Steve Teachout, a producer with Ocean 10 Studios, has chosen Georgia and likely Gainesville as the location to film a new comedy, "Senior Camp," set to start filming in September.

"We picked Georgia over Michigan for the fact of climate and availability of crew members," said Teachout, who said the location was chosen two months ago. "Georgia actually has a very good infrastructure for production. When we roll into town, we don’t bring everybody with us; we use local production crews for lighting, some cameras, things like that."

Teachout said Georgia also was a winner because of the climate.

"The first thing for any filmmaker is in the location is the appearance of it," he said. "So this film calls for a lake setting. Hollywood has really narrowed down that Georgia and Michigan (are) the best places to produce a film, especially with the type of setting that we are looking for."

Coming to Georgia, he said, is getting more attractive as time goes by.

"It is now (a trend), it wasn’t so much three or four years ago because even though there were incentives in place before, it’s more appealing now because our investors are looking for more guaranteed returns on their investment as opposed to a speculation on the film."

Which Lee says she has seen already this year in Georgia.

"The first quarter of this year we saw more productions than we did the entire year for last year ... it’s huge," she said. "We have a history in filmmaking, so we have an infrastructure here, we have a deep crew base, a lot of experienced personnel. There’s a lot of equipment suppliers here, the temperate climate, the extensive locations — everything from the coast to the mountains."

With tax cuts and warm weather coming, just keep your eyes open and you might catch a glimpse of a star — or even your neighbor — filming for the silver screen.

"We will have a busy summer. We still have nine (productions) on the ground that are in various stages of productions," Thomas said. "We are really gearing up for June, July and August."

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