Is the film industry good for business in Georgia? Buck Meeks of Richmond Hill certainly thinks so.
Meeks and his brother John Meeks are owners of Myrtle Grove Plantation in Richmond Hill. Their antebellum plantation has been the setting for many of the movies and television productions that have brought jobs and revenue to Bryan County in recent years.
“I just wish that the movie folks who come here would pay suppliers and local businesses with red $10 bills so everyone would realize how much they spend,” Buck Meeks said. “Some of the production people from North Carolina who came here to make films decided to settle here, and that’s a lasting benefit to all of us.”
For Meeks and his family – including his mother, who still lives in the manor house – involvement with the movie business began in earnest in 1989 when Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman came to town to film “Glory,” the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first all-black volunteer unit in the Civil War.
The producers needed a scene with a classic plantation house, and Myrtle Grove was perfect.
Over the years, numerous high-profile productions followed, including “The General’s Daughter” with John Travolta and Madeleine Stowe; “Four Senses,” produced and directed by Ruediger von Spies; and the TV series “Underground.”
A big production that had a widespread impact in Bryan County was director Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation,” released last year. According to Christy Sherman, executive director of the Richmond Hill Conventions and Visitors Bureau, numerous local businesses were involved.
“A lot of local businesses were involved: restaurants, the Publix market, office-space rentals, catering companies and numerous local retailers and suppliers,” she said. “The cast and crew took up more than 30 hotel rooms for two and a half months.”
Film production also consumes a lot of supplies, especially lumber and hardware. Plantation Lumber and Hardware in Richmond Hill supplied thousands of dollars’ worth of cedar shingles, hardware and lift equipment rentals. Shearouse Lumber Company in Pooler stepped in when the producers needed custom-milled rustic siding to recreate plantations slave quarters next to Myrtle Grove.
“A 40-foot trailer showed up one day loaded with the kind of creatively milled wood you just can’t get at Home Depot,” Meeks said.
Other historic sites in Bryan County and beyond used as filming locations include Fort McAllister, J.F. Gregory Park, local waterfronts, swamps and the former Bryan County Fisherman’s Co-Op building.
The film industry spreads its economic impact across the state. More than 30,000 people are employed in film and TV production in Georgia, and more than 20 of the state’s colleges and universities offer certificate and degree programs supporting the industry.
But it’s the local impact that Georgians see first when production companies come calling.
“The producers and crews want to come back to work on other projects, and we certainly want them back,” Meek said. “They have helped restore historic buildings like Myrtle Grove and have used the public lands responsibly. I really believe that film people are good neighbors.”