From the locations to the cast, almost everything in the new movie “Operator” might be recognizable by Newton County residents — and that is because the film’s team utilized mostly local resources for the action-thriller.
“Operator” follows 911 dispatcher Pamela over a period of 24 hours as she receives anonymous calls reporting disasters before they occur. What starts as something strange turns into something much more sinister as Pamela tries to get police to the scene to prevent each catastrophe before it happens.
“The film is going to be amazing,” said Taylor Owenby, the film’s producer and a Covington native. “‘Operator’ blends action with suspense to create an edge-of-your-seat experience for the entire film. If you like thriller movies, if you like action, if you like drama; this one’s for you.”
Owenby came on board as the “Operator” producer in May. The film’s directors were interested in shooting in Georgia and Owenby was able to point them in the right direction. The original plan was to film in Cobb County, but he felt they should switch locations.
“Because I grew up here in Covington, I am familiar with the people and locations here and I knew the town was film friendly,” Owenby said. “We moved the project here in June to begin planning for production.”
The crew is utilizing many areas and buildings, including the SKC industrial complex, locations in Oxford, streets in Mansfield, a bank in Conyers and the Covington Square. For example, the team set up the SKC building to look like a 911 dispatch center.
Several Covington businesses have also opened their doors to the “Operator” team.
“Everyone has been so incredibly helpful, especially Jenny McDonald with the Tourism Office,” Owenby said. “She has gone above and beyond in order to help us make this movie in Newton County.”
Each production company has their own location scouts who evaluate potential filming spots, but McDonald acts like like a property finder and liaison for them. The company then contacts each property’s owner to set up a meeting between the two parties, allowing them to sort out the details from there.
Local businesses have also extended a hand to accommodate the cast and crew. Boutique Southern Shinz has served as the film’s wardrobe office and Smiley’s as its caterer.
“It’s been a great experience being able to grab coffee from Square Perk and walk Mischa over there,” Owenby said of the film’s star.
“We try to have them use as many local businesses as they can.”
The great part about this, McDonald said, is that local businesses can make a profit. In the past, many film stars and crews have stayed in Atlanta and commuted to Covington to shoot. But having the team in town means more profit from the hotel-motel tax, which ultimately benefits Covington’s tourism.
With the exception of the handful of Hollywood stars, Owenby and the casting team selected Newton County residents for both speaking parts and extra roles.
“Many of the locals are getting a lot of screen time,” Owenby said. Extras were able to apply for upcoming roles by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I actually got my start in this business when I was cast in a Lifetime movie when I was 8,” Owenby said. “The project was shooting in Covington near my home and I was interested in what was going on. I walked up to the crew and they ended up letting me audition for a small part, which I secured. So, it is really awesome to be back in the place, for me, where it all started 17 years ago.”