Bring­ing film to Ge­or­gia is one woman’s mis­sion.

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick Stan­dard Jour­nal Edi­tor

When the pro­duc­ers in Hol­ly­wood need stars to fill the roles of their pro­jects turned Os­car­win­ning pic­tures, there’s some­one lo­cal they turn to in Polk County to match a face and per­son­al­ity with a char­ac­ter.

Polk County is no stranger to com­pa­nies who are mak­ing tele­vi­sion and film, since pro­duc­tions like“Jay ne Mans­field’s Car” and “Hap and Leonard” have come to Cedar­town.

Shay Bentley- Grif­fin knows all lead­ing fig­ures un­der the bright lights of stage and film.

“It has been an ex­cit­ing jour­ney, that’s the first thing I al­ways think about. I think ‘My good­ness. How did all this come about?’” she said. “I al­ways had an in­ter­est in movies and telling of sto­ries since as long as I can re­mem­ber, so com­ing up in Cedar­town there wasn’t a whole lot of op­tions for me to pur­sue that.”

How­ever, Bent­leyGrif­fin was born in Cal­i­for­nia, and came to Cedar­town when she was 3 af­ter her fam­ily moved back to Ge­or­gia. The idea of work­ing in film and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion ap­pealed to her, so Bent­leyGrif­fin de­cided that she wanted to get in­volved.

“I orig­i­nally was an agent, so I rep­re­sented ac­tors for a lot of dif­fer­ent things but I re­ally wanted to rep­re­sent them for movies,” she said. “I re­ally made that my goal, and I re­ally started go­ing out to Los An­ge­les and be­gan to talk to peo­ple.”

At first it was con­ver­sa­tions about how to get more young ac­tors from Ge­or­gia into parts in pro­duc­tions un­der­way, but then later Bentley-Grif­fin de­cided that it wasn’t just about sell­ing her tal­ent for spe­cific roles, but also the lo­ca­tion it­self.

“There’s some re­ally fine, good film­mak­ers here,” she said. “I think that was sort of an in­spi­ra­tion. I wanted to know how we could do this here (in Ge­or­gia.)”

To her, the state is at­trac­tive for film­mak­ers be­cause first their strong film com­mis­sion on the state level.

“My orig­i­nal goal was to sell tal­ent, but I re­al­ized quickly that if they wanted to come here it would have to be for more than one spe­cific thing,” Bentley-Grif­fin said. “There’s no se­cret to the fact that where it costs the least amount of money to pro­duce a film, that’s where the pro­duc­ers are go­ing to go. So we had some re­ally ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for us, but then it went away. Be­cause it was cheaper to film else­where.”

Bentley-Grif­fin said the state had op­por­tu­ni­ties, but lost them to coun­tries like Canada who had bet­ter of­fers.

But sell­ing the state on pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies has been only part of her vi­sion for mak­ing Ge­or­gia the film cap­i­tal of the south­east, and be­yond.

Help­ing to sell Cedar­town to those film­mak­ers look­ing for a small town set­ting has been just part of the over­all plan.

“A lot of us didn’t think that we’d get to do it right here on Main Street in Cedar­town, but we have,” she said. “This is Main Street Amer­ica. My goal has al­ways been about help­ing lift us up, and if I’m go­ing to live here for the rest of my life then I want to do what­ever I can to make that hap­pen.”

The other part of the strat­egy has been get­ting larger com­pa­nies to open up fa­cil­i­ties in the state as well.

Bentley- Grif­fin has been serv­ing on a va­ri­ety of ad­vi­sory po­si­tions for get­ting film pro­duc­tions, and un­der Gov. Sonny Per­due she served on a five-mem­ber com­mit­tee to pro­vide ideas for how to at­tract the in­dus­try to in­vest in Ge­or­gia.

Tax in­cen­tives was part of the equa­tion.

“At this time they were start­ing to lose to places like Louisiana, and I knew that we had the backup crew right here, the in­fra­struc­ture like no one else has. It’s here and ready to go,” she said. “You can shoot Ge­or­gia for any place.”

The op­por­tu­ni­ties have panned out. Tyler Perry con­tin­ues to pro­duce his films in Atlanta. A va­ri­ety of stu­dios have set­tled in Atlanta, from the an­i­ma­tors be­hind Car­toon Net­work hits to act­ing as the set­ting for AMC’s “The Walk­ing Dead” in most re­cent years.

The Ge­or­gia Film Academy’s cre­ation by Gov. Nathan Deal ad­di­tion- ally helped turn around the per­cep­tion to han­dle crew mem­bers needed for a pro­duc­tion as well.

She said there are at least 10 stu­dios in the state alone, in­clud­ing one of the largest ex­pan­sions for a pro­duc­tion com­pany in the United King­dom.

“They are pop­ping up ev­ery­where,” she said. “And you have to think that we’re build­ing them with the state of the art tech­nol­ogy.”

“We are our own best PR peo­ple,” she said. “And there will be that at­ti­tude that ‘yeah, well maybe t here are t oo many.’ Or the idea that maybe you can go even cheaper. But the fact of the mat­ter is that we have such a sold in­fra­struc­ture in Ge­or­gia.”

How­ever, Bentley-Grif­fin’s job re­mains to place tal­ent to the right role. While work­ing to pro­mote film in Ge­or­gia through gov­ern­ment ser­vice on com­mit­tees and boards, she moved from agent work­ing on a star’s be­half to a cast­ing di­rec­tor work­ing on the pro­duc­tion side of the busi­ness.

It’s a role of­ten cred­ited in a movie, but not one well un­der­stood by the gen­eral pub­lic.

In sim­ple terms, Bentley-Grif­fin’s job is to take a script for a new movie or show, break down the char­ac­ters and their de­scrip­tions by the creators, and then find the ac­tors or ac­tresses to fill and em­body the role.

She said much of the job is know­ing both the peo­ple and how a pro­ducer might see a cer­tain per­son in a cer­tain role, but also about know­ing ex­actly who is avail­able and open for a pro­duc­tion dur­ing the time­frame needed, and what they are will­ing to do.

“At this point, we know the ac­tors,” she said. “We’ve been book­ing them and cast­ing them for years now. So we have an im­me­di­ate knowl­edge of who may be right. But some­times films are tricky, and it may not fit in our tal­ent pool at the mo­ment. But just be­cause it’s not very easy doesn’t mean it’s com­ing out of the script.”

With the in­creas­ing role of tech­nol­ogy in the film in­dus­try, part of her job has got­ten slightly eas­ier and one where big names like ac­tor and di­rec­tor Clint East­wood can sim­ply make a phone call and find her hard at work in her home in Cedar­town in­stead of an of­fice in Los An­ge­les.

Cast­ing calls th­ese days still re­quire some­one look­ing to land a lead­ing role to read a script with a live per­son, but more fre­quently Bentley-Grif­fin is able to stay at home and watch the in­ter­ac­tion on a small screen of her com­puter in­stead of hav­ing to be there her­self.

How­ever, she said a per­sonal touch is still needed in or­der to find the right per­son.

“Not ev­ery­one can do this,” she said. “It isn’t pos­si­ble. Ev­ery­one in one day, in one mo­ment of time can do it. In that re­spect I can make any­one an ac­tor, for a mo­ment... But that doesn’t mean I think they can be in this busi­ness for­ever. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think that’s the truth of it.”

Though not ev­ery­one can be an ac­tor, or fig­ure out who will fit right in cer­tain parts, Bent­leyGrif­fin said that many peo­ple are needed in the film in­dus­try in Ge­or­gia. They are needed to work jobs as elec­tri­cians and car­pen­ters, to de­sign cos­tumes and work cam­eras. All kinds of roles can be filled, and as the in­dus­try ex­pands and op­por­tu­ni­ties grow, so will the over­all im­pact on the econ­omy.

Even as she con­trib­utes in one way to help­ing Cedar­town by pro­mot­ing it as a place where the film in­dus­try can bring their dreams to life in a va­ri­ety of set­tings, she’s done one more thing to help her home­town stand out even more.

The mu­ral on the side of Vase Flo­ral Ex­pres­sion — a build­ing Bentley-Grif­fin owns — was re­stored in re­cent weeks af­ter she de­cided it needed to be touched up. Lori Moore, who usu­ally does mu­rals in­doors, worked for eight days to make the paint­ing on the side of the build­ing vi­brant for driv­ers to see when they en­ter town from South Main Street.

She said it was just one of the many ways she wanted to give back to Cedar­town, which pro­vided her the in­spi­ra­tion to reach for the stars and bring them home.

Kevin Myrick/ Stan­dard Jour­nal

When Hol­ly­wood seeks to find tal­ent, the come to Cedar­town to find Shay Bentley-Grif­fin. Lori Moore, the artist who re­fur­bished the mu­ral on the side of the build­ing that’s home to Vase Flo­ral Ex­pres­sions, stands with build­ing owner Shay...

Con­trib­uted photo

Bentley-Grif­fin (right) with Gov. Nathan Deal and mem­bers of the Ge­or­gia Film and En­ter­tain­ment Ad­vi­sory Board.

Con­trib­uted photo

Clint East­wood dis­cusses cast­ing de­ci­sions with Shay Bent­leyGrif­fin dur­ing a meet­ing in some of her pre­vi­ous work with the ac­tor, di­rec­tor and pro­ducer.

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