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Local film industry rebounding after COVID-19 halt
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No, there isn't a new Hollywood sign on Sawnee Mountain, but there has been more and more TV and movie productions in the area as part of the film industry's rapid growth in Georgia. (Staff illustration)

Forsyth County has been the site of several film and TV productions in recent years, including ‘Ozark,’ ‘Freaky’ and Dolly Parton's ‘Heartstrings,’ but, like most industries, the COVID-19 pandemic caused issues for local productions in 2020.

Michelle Daniels, the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s director of tourism, said 2020 was a tough year for filming, with no productions filming from about March until November but since then, the industry has begun to rebound as safety protocols were issued and case numbers trended downward. 

“There was a ton of momentum just prior to [COVID-19],” Daniels said. “We had several productions that were actually filming right up until about March, 17 [2020], and then, of course, the world shut down, and film production shut down with it.”

Daniels said, following the dip, new guidelines were put in place before filming picked back up again. She said she was excited “to see how the film industry has collectively come together to come up with safety protocols.”

“Because film productions are relatively large in scale, you’re looking at anywhere from 150 to 300 people that are on set during a film production,” Daniels said, “So, it’s been really incredible to see how they’ve rallied together with the unions and the film industry and networks to come up with really safe protocols.”

Daniels is part of Film Forsyth, a partnership that began in 2018 between the Chamber, local businesses and members of the community. During the filming shut-down, she said the organization used the downtime in the pandemic to bolster the number of filming locations in the county.

“But, that’s where Film Forsyth, we kind of collectively came together because people were still scouting because they knew once they got the green light to start production again, they would need an arsenal of locations,” she said. 

During the shutdown, Daniels said she would get in contact with property owners to let them know about how to become a filming location.

“I try my best to educate the different owners that I come into contact with that if you have a unique business or if you have a business that is camera-ready or you are open to filming, send me an email, give me a call. We can put you on the database,” Daniels said.

The Film Forsyth website hosts a list of potential filming locations around Forsyth County, ranging from homes to businesses to government buildings. Along with a publicly accessible list of locations, Film Forsyth also has a private list, which Daniels said was popular for homeowners who were uncomfortable listing pictures of their homes online.

“My emails and my phone have been going off the hook a little bit for the last couple of months as people are more interested in having their houses or their businesses being part of the film database,” Daniels said.

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Daniels said while Forsyth County is a decent drive from many film studios south of Atlanta, the county’s warehouse space has also proved to be popular for film sets. 

According to the group’s website, there are 150 locations ready for filming in the county.

“In the film industry, especially location-specific filming, there’s a lot of locations that are incredibly difficult to be able to film at, and in Forsyth County, we’re very blessed that we have an abundance of locations in our database,” she said. “Specifically speaking, we have the courthouse available for filming, the jail is available for filming if different pods are available, but they’re not opposed to filming.

“We also have huge amounts of private residences when it comes to all sorts of shapes and sizes from small houses to large-scale mansions across Lake Lanier, then, of course, we have a variety of really beautiful businesses, places like Digital Ignition that are incredibly unique in scale.”

Along with finding locations, Film Forsyth also helps those involved with productions to find out information about the area and gives information on permits and applications needed for filming.

Daniels said the group’s efforts during the pandemic have led to unprecedented levels of success for filming in the county.

“In the last month, we’ve had 32 different projects that have scouted, which is the most that have ever scouted our community for upcoming filming projects, and right now, we have seven projects which are currently filming, which is amazing,” Daniels said. 

“We’ve never had that many filming at one time, we’ve never had our community being scouted as frequently as it is, so since there is such a demand for content right now and because our team worked so hard to make sure we were still at the forefront of these production companies’ minds when they went back into production, because of that, we’re seeing the biggest increase in filming in our community that we’ve ever had.”