In a salmon-colored shirt with sweat stains, Brandon McCormick jogs up the steps of Pearce Auditorium. He tells the two dozen actors at the entrance to the historic Brenau theater, “Hey, good job, good job. A couple more and we can go home.”
Suited in the garb of a bygone era, the actors and actresses wipe at their brows as the director gives instruction. An actor holding a vintage camera doffs a bowler cap, fanning his face. Some of these folks aren’t from Georgia, and the 90-degree weather this morning is a killer.
But it’s worth it, said Karl Horstmann. Filming here — specifically in Gainesville — is a pleasure.
As a producer on the History Channel’s upcoming special “Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony” — which will air sometime in October — Horstmann joined a production crew outside Pearce Auditorium on Thursday morning to film scenes that pertain to the Dare Stones — a collection of historic artifacts housed at the local university.
A series of rocks chiseled with messages allegedly from the Lost Colony of Roanoke in North Carolina, the tombstone-sized relics have been in Brenau’s possession for nearly eight decades.
The stones have lured many film production crews in the past, according to David Morrison, vice president of communications at Brenau.
“But this is by far the biggest production we’ve ever seen over here,” Morrison said. “Brandon (McCormick) has been following the story of the Dare Stones for a couple of years now. He pitched it to the History Channel and got the green light, so he got in touch with us.”
Morrison said the film crew rented the auditorium and surrounding space because of the Dare Stones connection, but also for its “historic look.”
Horstmann said that’s true.
“Brenau University has a unique history,” Horstmann said. “It’s also just a beautiful place to shoot. We have nothing but great things to say. And we’ve shot in other towns, and we can’t say the same thing about those.”
Added Horstmann: “We’ll be telling all our producer buddies about Gainesville.”
Dave Weller, another producer for the television special, said the film crew’s time in Gainesville “couldn’t have been a better experience. We called (Brenau). They put us in contact with the police department, who put us in touch with street services. I got a call the next morning, and all these barricades were up and ready to go.”
The barricades helped divert foot and car traffic from the area during production.
As they prepared for a second take of the scene at Pearce Auditorium’s entrance, each actor and actress took his or her place. McCormick called for “quiet on the set.” He peered into the director’s viewfinder — a short telescope dangling from a lanyard around his neck — and somebody said “action.”
A group of well-dressed men in suits charged up the steps, through a gantlet of old-timey newspaper journalists — complete with blocky cameras, oversized notepads and cynical frowns. The journalists shouted questions as the men in suits maneuvered past them.
They finished the shot. A woman from the crew walked up the steps, dispensing single paper towels. Gratefully, the actors and actresses used them to wipe the sweat away.
One of the actors shed his suit coat, handing it to a crew member. He tore into a pack of cheese crackers, nearly inhaling the snack.
The actors swilled from bottles of water, which looked strange among all the nostalgic garments.
Others dug cell phones out of their pockets, awaiting orders. They plodded through Brenau’s thick lawn, stepping over clumps of wiring coiled like lazy snakes in the grass.
Horstmann walked over to McCormick and told him something. McCormick nodded and Horstmann shared the knowledge with a crew member.
Of course, the tax credits Georgia offers are a compelling force in bringing the film industry here, he said.
Georgia’s Entertainment Industry Investment Act provides a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend $500,000 or more on production and post-production in this state, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“A lot of producers have come here because of the tax incentives. But, I’ve talked with a lot of producers from L.A. in the past few weeks, and they say it’s more than the tax incentives. Georgia has beautiful scenery. Georgia has places like this,” he said, gesturing toward Pearce Auditorium.