By Maggie Lee
Sandy Springs should be on the big screen more often, city leaders say.
Both the Sandy Springs Convention and Visitor Bureau and the Sandy Springs City Council are trying to make it a bit smoother for film and television cameras to roll in the city.
The city’s already been the backdrop for such productions as “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Warm Springs” as well as the television show “Vampire Diaries.”
Recently, Councilwoman Dianne Fries presented fellow city council members a production of her own: a straightforward nine-page packet containing a filming permit application, city contacts, the rules for making a movie in Sandy Springs written in plain English and the city’s noise ordinance tacked on back for good measure.
“The new part of this is making it easier for them,” Sandy Springs Convention and Visitor Bureau Executive Director Kym Hughes said.
Hughes gives Fries credit for creating a user-friendly document that shows “we are going to [filmmakers] and saying, ‘we want you here.’”
But she’s also got a pitch of her own.
Hughes hopes that some of Sandy Springs’ vacant retail real estate might be transformed into an indoor sound stage. And suggests filmmakers check out Morgan Falls Park and the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
She can even recommend private homes that could be used for sets and she promises moviemakers to keep their film locations private. Film crews “tend to like their privacy,” Hughes says.
To film in Sandy Springs, the city requires an outdoor filming permit, which costs $100 per day. The city also requires filmmakers to post a bond to cover the cost of cleaning up any mess left behind, insurance for a range of liabilities and emergency responders, who stay on site.
To get the permit, moviemakers also must arrange to make affected business and property owners happy, which could mean giving them a cash payment.
Mayor Eva Galambos and five City Council members voted Dec. 21 to keep the price of a filming permit at $100 a day, rather than raising the price to $500 a day.
“I want to applaud you and the hospitality and tourism board for getting out in front of this,” said City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny, who proposed raising the price of the permit and was the sole dissenter on keeping the permit price at $100. She suggested the daily film permit should be raised due to the “major inconvenience” to residents who run into movie traffic and clogged roads.
McEnerny saw it herself when a film crew, big trucks and all their gear parked in her neighborhood.
But Fries said that’s not the point. “We’re not in the business of making money off of these folks,” she said. “We want to encourage them to come in.” She says the benefit will come from crews spending money at city businesses.
Since 2008, Georgia has offered a tax credit of 20 percent to productions — movies, television programs, commercials, video games or animation — spending more than $500,000 in the state. Add a logo promoting the state and the tax break jumps to 30 percent.
Other jurisdictions weren’t slow to piggyback on the state. Decatur has already streamlined its permit application process, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed lobbied successfully to attract the EUE/Screen Gems Studios to the old Lakewood Fairgrounds in southeast Atlanta.