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Why Lula hopes to lure movie, TV production companies

Lula is preparing for the camera.

The city is working on a film ordinance to encourage production companies to consider filming there and to set guidelines for companies to film while minimizing disturbance in the community. Hall County already has a film ordinance, and the city of Oakwood passed its own version last year.

Lula Mayor Jim Grier said the city’s history and natural beauty would make it a prime filming spot, and sites like the railroad tracks, the Lula Covered Bridge and Healan’s-Head’s Mill could be attractive to production companies.

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Healan's-Head's Mill - photo by David Barnes

“We’ve just got a lot of properties with character that I think would be very interesting to see in a movie or TV show,” Grier said.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, is Hall County’s Camera Ready liaison. All 159 counties in Georgia have a contact who receives certification from the Georgia Film Office. Dickson works with location scouts and production companies to coordinate filming projects in the county.

Dickson spoke at a Lula City Council work session June 11, where councilmembers were supportive of bringing filming to Lula.

Dickson said the first step is often a phone call from a location scout asking what sites may be available.

“The requests are far and wide — downtown drugstore pharmacies to a Dick’s Sporting Goods to restaurants to cafes that may have closed and still have the furniture in them — all kinds of requests,” she said.

Scouts then work with Dickson and the property owners to see the site and determine if it will work for the project. About one in 20 inquiries actually results in a project, Dickson said.

If the spot is selected, details such as housing, parking and security are finalized, and when the crew comes to Hall, Dickson works with them to protect their privacy and make sure everything runs smoothly.

“Site visits by regular people disrupt the flow of their activity and can cause time delays in shooting, which makes it counterproductive to being here. It is a balancing act,” Dickson said.

Dickson said production companies submit site plans with parking information, and she works with them to arrange for law enforcement presence and get permits for public spaces.

Hall’s film ordinance, passed last year, provides guidelines for getting a film permit. Permits come with a $75 application fee and a permitting fee of $100 per day. Conditions may be attached to the permit, including cleanup and restoration of the property, restrictions on time of filming and notification of nearby businesses and residences.

Local law enforcement agencies also help with traffic control and keeping everyone safe.

Capt. Brad Rounds with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office Uniform Patrol Division said the sheriff’s office goes out to the filming site to evaluate what may need to be done for the project.

“It all depends on the situation, where they’re at and the population,” he said. “We try and make sure that we keep disruptions to the actual neighborhoods and citizens to a minimum.”

Officers also help with crowd control if people want to come see their favorite stars in person.

“What we do then is set up areas where we cordon off areas for the onlookers and the fans, and we keep them in a certain location. … You have to keep the area secure and you have to have some organization, or else you’ll have chaos,” Rounds said.

Regina Dyer, manager of the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau, coordinates with production companies in the city. She said interactions with film crews have been positive, and filming helps boost the local economy.

“Most of the time businesses are happy, because they’ll have say, 400 crew members in town for a few days, and those people are eating, they’re spending money here, so it certainly helps us,” Dyer said.

Dyer said she works with local businesses to meet the production company’s needs so both can benefit.

“For example, (if) they have a need for gravel, I reach out locally to vendors in the community so they can gain the benefits from this filming,” she said. “I like to keep things local.”

Two recent high-profile projects include “Baby Driver,” which used the former Regions bank in downtown Gainesville as a post office and “Rampage,” which filmed scenes at Brenau University’s bamboo forest in 2017.

“Blended,” starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, filmed in Hall and North Gwinnett in 2013, with many scenes taking place at Lanier Islands in Buford. Missy Burgess, Lanier Islands’ director of public relations, said film crews coming to the park have been pleasant to work with, and the resort has built positive relationships with production companies.

“The experiences that we’ve had with film crews here over the last few years have all been very positive experiences to work with, from the film crews to the cast to production,” she said.

Filming also provides opportunities for tourism, which Dickson said is a growing industry, with people wanting to see the spots where their favorite movies and TV shows were filmed.

“Think about ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’ That shot 30 years ago in Conyers, and still people go there for events and to sightsee spots from that show,” Dickson said.

Grier said he hopes Lula could capitalize on film tourism, an industry he saw the success of firsthand when he visited Salzburg, Austria, where the “The Sound of Music” was filmed.

Dickson said the county hopes to continue drawing production companies to the area, especially for television shows that stay longer and have more of an investment in the community. The Netflix show “Ozark,” starring Jason Bateman, filmed in several locations in Hall, including private homes and marinas.

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