Tytan Tactical, an offshoot of the movie production company Tytan Pictures, has more to offer the training industry than its immense prison and surrounding grounds – it also offers a massive 640-acre range just a few minutes down the road from the prison’s front gate. Travis and his team have already begun clearing areas of it for everything from pistol and machine gun ranges to an airstrip that can be utilized for filming or training purposes. Tytan Pictures also has another large facility in the area that they’re planning to convert to sound stages, and of course, an indoor firing range. Downtown, they’re working to convert a former bank that has sat empty for years into a casual bar for locals and Tytan’s customers alike.
We recently passed city ordinances to make it easier to film here,” Mayor Walter Rocker Jr. told me after explaining how Eatonton found itself struggling. Its two primary employers, a coal plant and mobile home manufacturing facility, both closed down during the recession, resulting in 2,000 of the town’s 6,000 inhabitants finding themselves out of the job. “Tytan Tactical gives us the opportunity for growth through the movie industry, and we support them one hundred percent. What we’re looking for is greatness.”
Mayor Walker isn’t the only member of the community to see the benefit Tytan is carrying in its ruck sack. Calvin Thomas, a 47-year-old former convict that now works for Tytan, credits the opportunity Tytan has given him with keeping him from delving back into the destructive life that sent him to prison in the first place.
Jim Stone gave me a chance,” Calvin told me about Tytan’s executive producer. “I’ve been in and out of prison all my life. When I got out four months ago, everyone there was taking bets on how long it would take me before I was back. If Jim hadn’t hired me, I probably would have just ended up selling drugs again and they’d be right, but when you leave prison, they teach you to change your life, and change your friends. That’s what I’ve gotten to do here.”
Calvin may not have imagined he would have left one prison to begin working in another, but in the room full of special operations guys, Hollywood caliber production staff, and one Marine turned writer from Vermont, Calvin seemed right at home. He may have been an inmate at another prison, but at Tytan’s, he’s an important part of something bigger than himself.
Amber Reese, another Eatonton local, found her way onto Tytan’s staff in a very different way. She had been working at a local bar when Jim Stone approached her manager to help him with casting for a music video Tytan was producing. Jim needed to find good-looking young guys to play opposite the female models the record label was flying in, and he figured Amber might know some. She agreed to come on board to help cast some local boys, but when the team arrived to start filming, the director took one look at Amber and decided she was perfect to play the female lead in the video.
I was bartending and a supervisor of a construction crew when I came on board. Then all of a sudden, I was in hair and makeup, getting ready to star in a music video,” Amber told me. She’d go on to star in another music video for the immensely popular Latin singer Juan Carlos Coronel as well. “The next day, I was back here at the prison, helping with demolition and supervising the crew. They liked my versatility, so I came on full-time.”
“Tytan Tactical means a lot for this community. Even before the job losses hit, there weren’t many career options for young people in Eatonton. To me, Tytan means our town will have more versatility, and more opportunities.”
Tytan already employs a number of local residents for daily labor as they prepare the prison and other facilities, but Travis and Jim Wacker explained that as the business grows, so too will the employment opportunities.
Eventually, we’ll be able to bring in a lot of blue-collar workers,” Travis said, “We’ll need full-time carpenters, landscapers, and production staff. We also want to train role players to participate in training operations, but our business won’t be the only source of employment as we grow. The hotels, gas stations, and restaurants around here are fantastic, but they don’t have anything to draw business to them. We’re hoping to serve as the catalyst that changes all that.”
At just about an hour away from Atlanta, where major motion pictures like Marvel’s series of super hero action flicks are filmed, Eatonton offers a filming location near to entrenched Hollywood assets that not only offers the dramatic scenery of the prison, but the contrasting beauty of small town America. The town itself, which has worked hand in hand with Tytan through the Mayor’s, local police, and Sheriff’s offices every step of the way, also offers military and government organizations that come to train with a friendly and unassuming community, eager to rebuild their economy by offering newcomers their business.
Tytan has already announced plans to build a playground for the nearby neighborhoods on the front lawn of what was, until just recently, an eerie and foreboding abandoned prison. Travis also intends to hold events for the town on the grounds of the prison, as a thank you for their hospitality, but even despite all of his community outreach efforts, Travis has not lost focus on the primary goal of his organization.
We offer a training opportunity like you can’t find anywhere, and when we make movies and videos, we want to be above reproach. The movie and advertising industries both need the tactical expertise we provide, because once your footage hits the internet, it’ll get picked apart if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Travis has appeared in some of Tytan’s productions already, and likely will again, because he offers a credibility to tactical scenes often not offered by traditional actors.
It’s not that I’m a good actor, it’s that I’m good at my job,” Travis, who only stopped contracting in war zones last year, explained. “I want to get veterans into the movie industry, and I want to help make sure they’re represented the right way. I want to shake up the market.”
The marriage of tactical training and movie production may not seem immediately intuitive, but as you stroll through the dark hallways of Tytan’s prison, or the grassy fields of their 640 acres of ranges, it becomes easy to imagine the same style of adrenaline packed filming Tytan offered Nike and Red Bull going toward producing footage of training, or effects driven combat, that you’ll likely soon see making its way into movie theaters and TV screens around the world. As exciting as that possibility is, however, even Jim Stone, one of the men most responsible for Tytan’s creative success, always brings the conversation back to what they can offer to America’s real war fighters.
“These guys are in charge of our national security, and they deserve the best training and equipment in the world. That’s what we’re here to give them.”
As you drive through small towns in parts of our country like Georgia, there’s often an air of sadness. Communities that once bustled, but now struggle to stay afloat are, unfortunately, a common facet of a drive through the parts of America that went untouched by the Obama era stimulus packages that helped to revitalize larger urban communities. As a guy who hails from one of those small towns, I know that the community sense of the “best being behind us” has become a common trait for the Americans living in them, but as I drove through Eatonton one last time before starting my trek home, I felt something different in the air.
That foreboding sense of a town that’s long passed its expiration date doesn’t seem to permeate from the folks of Eatonton as it does in so many other communities, and in its place, the seeds of optimism seem like they’re beginning to sprout. Maybe that’s why this town felt so much like home to me as I arrived. Eatonton doesn’t feel like my home town today, it’s starting to feel like the one I left so many years ago. The one you’d want to raise a family in. The one that still believed in its own future.
Who knew a Green Beret with a passion for training others and an abandoned prison could do so much for a community? I know I didn’t. Eatonton, like Tytan Tactical, may still have a long road ahead to accomplish all they intend to, but after spending a few days with Travis and his team at Tytan, I’m confident that they have the right people, the right facilities, and the right town to make something great.
And I can’t wait to see it on the big screen.