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Tour shows film scouts county
Crews searching for settings
Tour WEB 1
Local businessman Tommy Bagwell gives a tour of his Lake Lanier home to film industry scouts. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Writer and producer Anthony Voorhees is developing a television series about a Southern mafia family.

While the show, dubbed “Dixie Mafia” is still being considered by various networks, locations in Forsyth County could be featured if it gets picked up.

“This would be like a Southern ‘Sopranos,’” Voorhees said while waiting to board a tour bus on a recent morning outside the Cumming Holiday Inn Express.

Voorhees was one of about 35 location scouts, producers and other film and television makers who spent a day touring Forsyth County to get a look at diverse settings that could be used in movies and TV productions.

The tour was organized Anna Barlow, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s director of tourism, as a way to attract more entertainment projects.

“We’re doing this to just give everybody more of an awareness of what we have here in Cumming and Forsyth County and introduce them to the venues, just from [Lake Lanier] to the mountains to the gorgeous homes we have and just the diversity of the things we have here,” Barlow said.

Some of the sites on the tour included Sawnee Mountain, the Cumming Fairgrounds and Playhouse, a home atop Sawnee Mountain that resembles a spaceship and Shady Grove and Mary Alice parks on Lake Lanier.

Other stops included two warehouses that could potentially be used as sound stages and the lakefront home of local businessman Tommy and Chantel Bagwell.

“We wanted to get a wide range of locations,” Barlow said. “If we can have a positive tour, then we can get more filming here and that means people coming up here with positive economic impact.”

Forsyth is not new to the film industry.

In recent years, several projects have used locations around the county, such as “American Reunion” in summer 2011 and “Hall Pass” in spring 2010.

Television shows such as “The Bachelorette” and “The Vampire Diaries” have also made stops.

Dave Horton, director of the Cumming Fairgrounds, has worked with several production crews that filmed at Mary Alice Park. He called the tour “a great idea.”

“We want to try to get the movie industry to keep an eye on us because it’s always a great economic impact for the county and I think we have a lot to offer,” he said.

Keeping the focus on Forsyth for filming may be a challenge as many other counties throughout the state have also played host to film crews for a range of projects, thanks largely to Georgia’s 30 percent production tax incentive.

According to Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Web site, film and television companies invested nearly $680 million in the state during 2011.

Barlow hopes to ensure that Forsyth receives its fair share of that investment.

In early 2012, Forsyth became a Camera Ready community through the state’s department of economic development.

Launched in 2010, the program seeks to train and certify Georgia counties to work effectively with production companies and provide one-on-one assistance for them.

About 135 of Georgia’s 159 counties carry the certification. Beyond the Camera Ready status, Forsyth has taken several other steps to attract the film industry.

In 2011, the county signed a contract to work with FLIPSFilm, an Alpharetta-based company that works to promote communities to film makers and help with logistical areas when film makers come to town.

The company’s founder and chief executive officer, Dale Sizemore, was among the recent tour participants.

“The tax credit is the same in Georgia for every community, so why would they pick one over another? Events like this are excellent for a community to send the welcome message out,” he said. “It’s a tangible demonstration that we want you here.”

Kevin Nwankwor, a writer and director with Kevstel Group, appreciated the effort.

“I just created my short film at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles and I’m working toward a feature film now,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here now is to check the locations and see what we have here. My locations have always been in L.A., so I’m trying to see what Atlanta has to offer.

“Many people are now moving to Georgia in terms of movie making so we’re trying to explore it and see how it is.”

Cheryl Smith with the Georgia Tourism Office said beyond the immediate economic impact of hotel rooms, restaurant meals, gas and other needs crews fulfill while in town filming, the movie business can have long-term economic impacts.

“Like with a show like ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ you have a long-term awareness by the public and they go there and they want to see where this star was,” she said. “Or people go to Savannah and they want to see the bench where Tom Hanks sat in ‘Forrest Gump.’

“The other part is businesses sometimes develop because of movies. Like with the movie ‘Deliverance’… it created three rafting companies that have been in business since the movie came out [in the early 1970s], so [film making] spawns business, and it generates people wanting to visit that area, so films and movies are really important for Georgia.”

Some filmmakers may think of Forsyth when they decide to shoot in Georgia. Nwankwor could be among them.

“[Something like this tour] helps a lot because it kind of lets you understand that you’re supported in terms of making things easier for you as a filmmaker,” he said. “It gives you peace of mind to carry out your project.”