Dating back as far as the original Universal Studios version of “Cape Fear” in 1962, Savannah has been a destination for the entertainment industry. In 2019 alone, the Chatham County, Ga. city logged a whopping 185 film and television productions that accounted for $125.6 million in direct spending. But like the rest of the state, business came to a halt back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been proceeding with caution since June.
“It’s been a waiting game for us,” said Beth Nelson, executive director of the Savannah Regional Film Commission. “We just kept seeing that dangling carrot. Shows that started (shooting) in March thought they’d be back up and running by June. Then it would get pushed to July, August, and beyond.”
Because revealing the names of specific movies and shows that were shut down, or first to resume production, could draw unnecessary attention to those projects, Nelson instead confirmed that several smaller productions, like commercials and reality shows, have started back up in the last month, and larger ones are beginning to knock.
“We’ve had a lot of interest, and a lot of people are talking to us, they’re just waiting on a start date,” said Nelson. “Fall is going to be busy, but we think it’ll be October before we actually see a feature or TV show hit the ground here in Savannah. We’ll hopefully be moving forward soon.”
Back in June, Gov. Kemp’s office declared Georgia “open for business” for film and television production, outlining an 18-month plan that expected 75 production projects would invest over $2 billion into the state’s economy, including plans to buy goods and services from over 17,000 small businesses.
“We’re slowly getting there,” said Steve Weizenecker, the vice chair of Gov. Kemp’s Advisory Commission on Film, Music and Digital Entertainment. “As with all industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a rocky climb, and not the quick re-open we’d all hoped for.”
Weizenecker said that commercials have been the most active, and have gotten back to work sooner due to the small size of their productions. He also pointed out the success story of Tyler Perry Studios’ Camp Quarantine, where cast, crew and talent live on the studio campus, and said that animated movies and series are “ramping up” due to their already-distanced nature.
“Things have slowly started to happen,” said Weizenecker. “I think the majority of our action will probably be in September, once we figure out testing so people can safely get back to work, and feel safe going home to their families. Like with schools re-opening, it’s an experiment. We’ve never had to do this before.”
“Emperor,” a period piece filmed in Savannah before the shutdown, was released for streaming rental and DVD this week. Inspired by the true story of Shields “Emperor” Green (played by Dayo Okeniyi from “The Hunger Games” and “Terminator: Genisys”), an ex-slave who aided abolitionist John Brown (Oscar nominee James Cromwell) in the raid of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.
Savannah-lensed biopic “The Glorias,” based on the life of feminist leader Gloria Steinem, is schedued for release on September 30th. The film, directed by Julie Taymor (“Frida”), stars Julianne Moore as Steinem, Alicia Vikander (“Tomb Raider”) as the activist in her younger years, Janelle Monáe as Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Lorraine Toussaint as Flo Kennedy, and Bette Midler as Bella Abzug.
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