If you plan on spending the weekend binging newly-released episodes of Netflix’s gritty crime drama, Ozark, keep in mind that the Blue Cat Inn and the Byrde family are right around the corner.
For those who haven’t caught up, Ozark is the story of a financial planner and his family’s descent into chaos after becoming entangled with a Mexican drug cartel. It’s set in a fictional lake community in the Missouri Ozarks. Through its successful two-year run, Ozark has been shot primarily right here in Forsyth County at Lake Lanier and previously at Lake Allatoona in northwest Georgia.
In addition to being shot locally, right off Ga. 400 at Exit 16, Ozark’s crew includes some local Forsyth County blood, a Forsyth Central High School graduate and county local, 26-year-old Josh McCormack who has now worked on both seasons of the show along with other high-profile productions like Avengers: Infinity War and Stranger Things.
To get an insider’s look at the Georgia film industry, Ozark and what film stars like Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are like off camera, the FCN sat down with McCormack for an interview on what he has experienced over his last few years working on set.
FCN: Did you ever imagine that you would be working on set right here in your hometown?
JM: "No, I had nooooo idea that that was going to happen. In fact, I had kind of committed myself to the idea of working in film and television when I was still in high school, and I guess at the time I hadn't really thought through what all it would mean to be working consistently in the industry. But I was fairly convinced that I would have to move to LA.
"It wasn't until I had gotten to college, was walking around and noticed the set of Anchorman 2 just like right in the middle of Woodruff Park. And that was the moment I kind of realized, 'Oh my god, I am right where I need to be,' and all these people I was taking classes with were working as background artists on the Hunger Games movies and different TV series like The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead — Atlanta staples when the industry was taking off here.
"It was kind of a crazy weight off my shoulder, not that I feared that sense of adventure to get out of my comfort zone ... I just didn't have to."
FCN: That seems like a dream come true.
JM: "It's insane. We will come up to Lake Lanier and shoot off of Exit 16 on Ga. 400 and we are 10 minutes from where my parents live. That just seems like such a ridiculous concept. Not only am I going to work in film, but it's going to come to me."
FCN: And aside from Ozark, what are some of the productions you have worked on?
JM: "Before I was doing crew work in the industry, I was doing background work a lot, so I have a full laundry list of titles. It's just insane. Ozark, we did Game Night. I just finished this movie with Diane Keaton. I worked on Stranger Things season two some. I worked as background on season one, I worked on Halt and Catch Fire. I was on Vampire Diaries, I worked a lot on Avengers last year.
"I mean the work is just non-stop. It’s almost frustrating how little time you get to yourself. But it's a good thing, transitioning from thinking that you are going to have to go to the west coast to work to having so much work that you aren't getting much sleep.
"We are about 1 hour 10 minutes outside of Atlanta for what I'm working on right now ... and with my position we are earliest in, latest out, and by the time you drive an hour and change there and back you are looking at like four-and-a-half, maybe five hours of sleep.”
FCN: And how long is that sustainable for?
JM: "Fortunately I'm working on a great production that recognized early that that is not sustainable for longer than two or three nights and has offered courtesy hotel rooms for the working crew, so it's nice that I'll be able to get a decent night's sleep tonight.
"We work 12-hour days typically, a 14-hour day is typical for someone like me and a 16-hour day is not uncommon either. I've never worked anything this long but I have heard of people working 22- to 23-hour days ... It happens.”
FCN: Is it worth it?
JM: "It can be. It depends on the production, it depends on the paycheck ... but I think that ultimately it comes down to the quality of the show that you are working on.
“When you are working on a show like Ozark, where the crew feels like family and everyone from the PAs to the executive producers all feel like they have some sort of hand in the making of that product, it really is."
FCN: Speaking of Ozark, can you talk about what the feeling was like on set? With its smash-hit success last year and the highly-anticipated second season that just came out, I'm imagining it feels like anything is possible.
JM: "Absolutely. You have these moments where Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are on set, and when you are around and just working in-between setups and what-not, they are just your co-workers.
“But then you are sitting there and watching the monitors and something happens and then all of a sudden everyone stops and looks at each other like 'holy sh--."
FCN: Is there an example of a scene like that you can tell us about?
JM: "So when you are shooting things on set, you never know what the final product is going to look like, which pieces are going to be used, because it goes through so many passes of editors and directors and producers all getting their cut ... you don't ever really know what is going to make it in.
"I think the real beauty of a show like Ozark is that we really try to incorporate a cinematic feel into a series format, but there are plenty of scenes that will all take place in a single shot, so what you are looking at is what you get.
“There are some scenes in episodes nine and 10 of the upcoming season that made me shiver watching it."
FCN: Switching gears a little, at your level what is it actually like in the Georgia film industry right now? The perception is that things are booming. Does that hold up?
JM: "We are kind of in a strange state right now. There's a lot of cool things coming to Georgia. HBO is bringing a really big project to Georgia and you have movies that have been really successful like I, Tonya that was shot here and got some Oscar nods, the Avengers obviously and most Marvel films ... they all shoot down in Fayetteville.
"But the rate of growth is at the point where it's almost surpassing our ability to find people to work on the productions ... There's so many productions coming here now that we don't actually have enough people to crew up these shows. So we are getting into a weird dilemma where the productions could either not come here or they can hire people that don't know what they are doing.
"And it's very obvious when you get onto a show where that is happening; it turns into a madhouse very quickly."
FCN: One last thing before we let you go. What is Jason Bateman like in person, Marty Byrde without all the money laundering and other scary stuff?
JM: "He is legitimately one of the most perceptive and thoughtful people that I have ever met. His sense of humor is uncanny. I mean the guy is so quick-witted, so nice, so loyal. A lot of my jobs have been on Jason Bateman shows, specifically because he's requested my team will come along and work with him. He's one of the good hearts in the industry ... it's cool to work with someone like that.
"I say that about him but Laura Linney is the same way, and that’s one of the beautiful things about Ozark as a show."