That was the explanation for the jumble of cars, tents, lights, cameras and action going on last week in front of the convenience store in the Corinth community. Indeed, Hollywood — or at least an independent movie company — was at several locations across Haralson County, all of which were chosen by the filmmakers for a rustic charm they said could be found nowhere else in Georgia.
And perhaps this is only the beginning, said Greg Poteet, who is the owner of Sister’s Superette, as well as a commercial photographer and the county’s point man in scouting sites for film companies.
Poteet said the county has already proved itself attractive to filmmakers, being only a few minutes away from Atlanta, yet without all of that city’s strict regulations.
“Shooting in Haralson County is kind of easy because we’re just starting out,” he said.
The film being shot last week is called “Grantham and Rose,” and stars the veteran actor Marla Gibbs, best known for her roles on the TV series “The Jeffersons” and “227.” Also appearing in the film is Tessa Thompson, a star of “Veronica Mars” and the upcoming BBC-America series “Copper,” and Jake T. Austin, who has starred in several Disney TV series, most notably “The Wizards of Waverly Place.”
The film was written by Ryan Spahn, who, like many of the independent film crew, wore several hats on set, including actor. Spahn, of New York City, has himself appeared on several soap operas as well as the series “Ugly Betty.”
“Everybody loves it,” Spahn said when asked about the crew’s impressions of the community.
The film, Spahn said, “tells the story about an 81-year-old African-American woman (Gibbs), and this 17-year-old Caucasian kid (Austin). He ends up performing a petty crime that gets him thrust into a detention center. She works there, and she is sort of feisty and odd, and they end up on a road trip together. They pick up this girl, Wallis (Thompson), who is sort of a nomad, and the three of them go on a road trip from their hometown to Georgia.”
The scenes shot at Poteet’s store are for that point in the film where Austin’s character and Gibbs’ character meet the young girl played by Thompson in a convenience store somewhere between Mississippi and Georgia. Spahn said the crew did not want a “typical” store to film the scene. They wanted something different — not the run-of-the-mill gas station that can be found on any interstate exit.
“This space was exactly what we were looking for, and we couldn’t find it anywhere else in Georgia,” Spahn said.
Poteet said that Haralson County Tourism Coordinator Gail Priest had contacted him when Spahn had gotten in touch with her. Priest is the Haralson contact person for the state’s Camera Ready Communities Program, run by the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, which coordinates with film companies to locate and produce movies in the state.
Because Poteet is a commercial photographer, he has worked with Priest in the past.
“I also shoot videos. That’s why it’s kind of easy for me, because I know what (filmmakers) need. I know locations; I know the kind of help they need; I know the kind of permissions they need, and the access.”
When he was told what kind of convenience store was needed for the film, Poteet thought his market on Highway 120 might fit the bill, and it did. So did another location Poteet had in mind for the key sequences in the film where the Gibbs and Austin characters meet – which is a youth detention center.
The disused boot camp on Highway 27 has been a bone of contention in county political circles for years. Built to house youths like “Grantham” who have been convicted of minor crimes, the building was abandoned by the state, leaving county officials with the problem of what to do with the place.
But when Spahn saw pictures of the facility online, he knew immediately that the boot camp could be a “star” for his movie. “We were all, like, ‘how do we get that?’” he said.
It turned out that Poteet literally had the keys to the facility, since he had previously shown it to producers of the AMC series
“The Walking Dead.” Poteet said those producers had originally wanted to shoot the show’s entire third season at the facility, since a prison was to be that season’s focal point. But ultimately, Poteet said, the boot camp proved too close to human activity – such as a major highway — and thus not suitable for a series about a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by zombie-like “walkers.”
But it was perfect for Spahn. “It was good for us, because it also looks more run down. We looked at a couple of other (jail facilities), but they were fairly heavily maintained.”
The boot camp stands in for its fictional counterpart, which Spahn says in the context of the movie is located in Kansas City. Since only the interior of the building was filmed, it did not matter that it was actually located in Haralson County.
Poteet said he had also recruited some “extras” from the Haralson community to play the role of inmates and guards. None of them, he said, were paid for their appearance, since the entire movie is being shot on a very tight budget. Only Gibbs, who played the role of Florence Johnson on “The Jeffersons,” alongside the late actors Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley, has extensive acting credits. Of her two young co-stars, only Tessa Thompson, of Los Angeles, has any previous movie roles. In 2010, she starred in the Tyler Perry-produced “For Colored Girls.”
“We only just met today,” said Thompson of Gibbs. “She’s very generous and quite friendly. I grew up as a kid watching her on ‘227’, before I thought I would be an actress, so it’s one of those moments when it’s like, ‘Oh, this is surreal.’”
Poteet said that because Atlanta has placed restrictions on movie companies, such as requiring movie sets being built to the same codes as habitable structures, film companies have been more interested in filming outside the metro area. He pointed out that Clint Eastwood’s film, “Trouble With the Curve,” to be released in September, was shot outside the metro area.
Carroll County is already listed among the “Camera Ready Communities” by the Georgia film office, but Haralson County also has a representative in Priest. Poteet said he and Priest intend to ensure that Haralson is ready the next time a film crew comes by. That, he said, includes having a legal infrastructure in place to protect property owners.
“I have a good contract; it’s actually the one that Rome city uses, and we’re going to use that here. Basically, it protects the property that’s here. If you damage something, you have to fix it; if you break something, you have to fix or replace it.”
On the day that the film crew visited Poteet’s store, it stayed open for business even as the crew set up lights and tested their equipment. Few of his customers seemed aware anything different was happening. But that may all change if more movies and TV shows start calling Haralson home.