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Film companies must play by Corps’ rules on Lake Lanier
Stiff fees, limits apply for productions like the Netflix series ‘Ozark’
0903 Ozark series
This image released by Netflix shows Jason Bateman in a scene from the series, "Ozark," which does much of its filming in Hall County around Lake Lanier. - photo by Associated Press

Editor’s note: This article includes plot points from the show “Ozark” on Netflix

Filming companies hoping to dip their toes into Lake Lanier and other Army Corps of Engineers property — like the one that recently shot Netflix’s “Ozark” series — have to dot all the i’s before shooting.

“We, the Corps, have been given the responsibility to manage it wisely for the public’s good, so when these commercial ventures come in ... and they want to film here, we have to look at what the impact is going to be,” said Nick Baggett, natural resource manager for the Corps at Lake Lanier.

For film crews, that means submitting a request at least 30 days before filming, following the Corps’ rules and covering production fees. The base cost is $2,500, beginning with a $500 nonrefundable application fee that can be credited to the final costs.

“Ozark” is one of the most recent projects to use Lake Lanier as a backdrop, an aspect of property management Baggett said is balanced with the public’s access to the property.

Baggett said part of the series’ production was at a private residence in one area of the lake as well as some limited filming on the shoreline.

The Corps at Lake Lanier receive a handful of requests every year, though there is usually only one or two productions annually, Baggett said.

Each request is unique, Baggett said, and are sometimes denied for potential interference with the public’s use of the property, such as the campgrounds.

“The shoreline is also a concern because we have over 10,000 private residences that adjoin Lake Lanier, and filming can often disrupt the privacy of those residents as well as the general public from the lakeside,” he said.

Baggett said he has heard from the film companies one of the main draws to Lake Lanier is that it is in the same geographical area as the company’s filming union, which would make it cheaper.

According to the Corps’ standard operating procedure for film production, filming is not allowed between May 15 and Sept. 15 “due to the high volume of Lake Sidney Lanier’s visitation during that time frame.”

The rules also lay out the costs, listing site rental at $500 per day. The administrative fee is $2,500, and a Corps monitor will cost $100 per hour, bumping up to $200 per hour if filming is on a federal holiday or Easter.

“Further involvement of the Lake Sidney Lanier’s staff for scouting, safety, site monitoring, securing the area, administrative work, etc., will be the sole responsibility of the grantee to cover the costs,” according to the policy.

There is a subsection in the policy for “unusual activities,” which includes examples of aircraft, stunts, livestock or explosives. A Corps safety officer may be required for these activities at $300 per hour. If the company adds a date or changes a time, the company is assessed a $100 fee per change.

“USACE must make a fair return from commercial activities such as filming or photographing to recover the cost associated with management and administration of the program,” according to the Corps’ policy.

In “Ozark,” the plot revolves around money laundering and later a drug distribution scheme on the lake. One of the characters explained that moving to the land would put distributors at a greater risk for being pulled over by law enforcement.

Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad Lt. Don Scalia said there have been arrests out on the lake, but he doesn’t think “it would happen with the frequency that goes on the major highways or major arteries in the state.”

“I think the vast majority of them are possession of meth cases and also the MDMA, the ecstasy-type cases,” Scalia said of his unit’s cases on Lake Lanier.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark McKinnon recalled a case one summer where an officer was checking a boat without lights and discovered a large quantity of drugs.

In July 2015, a man in a pontoon boat reportedly threw a bag with methamphetamine into Lake Lanier while talking with rangers. Three men were subsequently arrested, after the dive team retrieved the bag and officers found almost $4,000 in cash and firearms on the boat.

As McKinnon put it, the drug trade is “just about everywhere.”

Scalia disagreed with the notion from the show about the patrols on the lake versus on land.

“(DNR does) patrol pretty aggressively, especially if they get complaints on a certain area. There’s only so many places to go on a boat,” he said.

On holiday weekends, McKinnon said all hands are on deck with usually 10 to 12 officers. A regular weekend might have six to eight officers.

“The shoreline is also a concern because we have over 10,000 private residences that adjoin Lake Lanier, and filming can often disrupt the privacy of those residents as well as the general public from the lakeside.”
Nick Baggett, Army Corps of Engineers natural resource manager at Lake Lanier
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