Long before Netflix and “The Walking Dead,” Georgia’s film-making force was Edwin D. “Big Ed” Spivia of Hall County.
“He worked hard, he played hard, he loved hard and enjoyed life to the fullest,” his wife Barbara Spivia said Tuesday, July 30.
Spivia, who helped develop the Georgia Film Commission and served as its first commissioner, died Saturday, July 27, at his home off Lake Lanier. He was 78.
“Ed is best known for putting the state of Georgia on the map as a great location for filmmakers and as a favorite destination for millions of tourists from all over the country and the world,” says his obituary.
Stacey B. Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she didn’t know Spivia personally, “but I can attest to his influence on the industry.”
“Following his passing, my social media newsfeed filled with posts and remembrances from my tourism colleagues from across the state,” Dickson said.
“He was pivotal in not only the production of film happening in Georgia but also in tourism development and the construction of visitor information centers. Ed's name will live on for a long time in Georgia tourism.”
A Murphy, N.C., native, Spivia came to Atlanta seeking better opportunities, said his widow.
With a background in radio, he joined the State of Georgia Department of Industry and Trade in 1968. He later visited the set of “Deliverance,” filmed in Rabun County and released in 1972, and was inspired to bring more of Hollywood to the Peach State.
“There was so much money being brought into the state and so many people working that he came back (from the filming) and said to his boss … and Gov. (Jimmy) Carter, ‘Georgia needs a film commission.’”
Carter gave his blessing, naming Spivia film commissioner. Spivia ended up “going to L.A. and New York, and there’s some incredible stories about that,” Barbara Spivia said.
He forged relationships particularly with Burt Reynolds, star of “Deliverance,” and Hal Needham, a legendary stuntman and director. Their collaboration led to the production of the iconic “Smokey and the Bandit,” released in 1977. Needham and Reynolds also have died.
Barbara Spivia said that when Needham’s widow heard that Ed had died, she said, “Hal’s on his way to meet him.”
Over 10 years, beginning in 1972, more than 200 films were produced in Georgia, including box office blockbusters “The Longest Yard” and “The Big Chill.”
Spivia also headed the Georgia Tourism Division, developing the concept of promoting the different regions of Georgia.
In 2006, retired from the film industry, Spivia was approached by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to serve as chairman of the newly formed Georgia Film Video and Music Advisory Commission.
He helped to “spearhead the effort to pass a package of incentives through the Georgia State legislature,” his obituary states. “This effort has culminated in Georgia being in the top three film, video and music production states in the country.”
In 2010, the Georgia Production Partnership recognized Spivia “for his incomparable leadership and support of the Georgia entertainment industry.” And in 2017, he received the “Outstanding Contribution to the Georgia Entertainment Industry” award at the Georgia Entertainment Gala.
In recent years, Hollywood has been huge in Georgia, including Hall County, where films and TV productions have been filmed.
“He was thrilled (to see it),” Barbara Spivia said. “He thought this state deserved it better than any state anywhere. He believed in Georgia completely.”