This column is in response to several previous letters that have been submitted to The Covington News, to clarify what the facts are about the impact to our community concerning the film industry presence in Newton County.
Covington/Newton County is highly respected in the state as a community that understands the economic impact the film industry has on an area. Newton County was recently recognized by the State Film and Television Commission as one of 16 counties in Georgia as being "Camera Ready". Clara Deemer, our Director of Tourism, was honored to speak as the local community representative at the unveiling of EUE/Screen Gems Studios' new sound stage complex at the historic Lakewood fair grounds. We are highly respected as a community that is willing to work with the industry, but never at the expense of local citizens.
Many of our local businesses profit from filming in Covington. Filming companies love to use R L's Off the Square, Bradley's BBQ, Plain Nuts, Amici, Treasure Thai Cuisine, Edwin Bean, Square Perk, Chick-fil-A, Scoops, Town House Café, and other restaurants for catering as well as eating at those places while setting up before actual filming begins.
Many local citizens are employed as extras, set builders, lighting crew, etc. Several Newton residents have started businesses by offering tours of filming sites.
"Vampire Diaries" also use the services of local exterminators, banks, grocery stores, florists, off-duty police and sheriff's deputies, property owners, hair salons, building supplies, hardware supplies and many, many other businesses. If they block parking spaces for a business for any length of time, that business is financially compensated. They started using the services of Covington Rental for tents, tables, chairs, or other items when filming in Covington but now use them exclusively for all their filming statewide.
They stay in our local hotels and several crew members stay at the same local hotel every time they work on different movies in the surrounding counties.
Gaither Plantation has been used numerous times in movies and television productions such as "Bobby Jones: a Stroke of Genius," "Madea's Family Reunion," and "Vampire Diaries." Newton County is paid for the use of this county-owned facility each time.
Although reluctant to share specifics, "Vampire Diaries" staff said they have invested well into six figures in the Covington/Newton County economy since they started their filming. They have made numerous donations to our community non-profits and civic clubs. Merchants tell us how much they have enjoyed having the film crews downtown and how pleasant they are to work with.
We realize that when they are filming, congestion may occur on the square and Floyd Street, and this is inconvenient for sure. But we will encounter at least two years of traffic inconvenience on Hazlebrand Road as DOT makes improvements that will benefit retail and commercial development for 30 years to come. The same is true with this filming downtown. A successful TV show like the Vampire Diaries, will pay 30 years of tourism tax dollars into our local economy. The impact this television show has on our local economy is overwhelming. Although everyone in the community might not directly profit, everyone does benefit by the sales tax paid by film crews when patronizing our local businesses.
We document everyone who comes into the Visitors Center and conservatively estimate that 75 percent of visitors to Covington/Newton County come because of "The Dukes of Hazard", "In the Heat of the Night," and now " Vampire Diaries."
That translates into visitors fueling cars, eating meals, sleeping in hotels, shopping for memorabilia, spending money in our community, 30 years after the General Lee jumped and Carol O'Connor strolled our streets.
The Chamber of Commerce appreciates the opportunity to correct some of the previous information and to set the record straight on the importance of the film industry to our local economy. Please feel free to call the Chamber at (770) 786-7510.
Hunter Hall is president of the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce.