By Lynn Hobbs
The Eatonton Messenger
January 21, 2016
The light at the end of the tunnel is shining in the eyes of several Eatonton and Putnam County officials, and it very well may be a Hollywood spotlight.
Many public discussions have taken place since the community lost two of its primary sources of tax revenue and jobs with the closures of Georgia Power’s Plant Branch and Horton Homes manufacturing plant. Horton’s facility was purchased by Legacy Housing Ltd. in November 2015, and the company already is hiring and training employees to manufacture prefabricated homes.
Before that plot even had time To thicken, a new company has Arrived on scene to create its own blockbuster. Executives with Tytan Pictures LLC, a full feature film division of Tytan Creates, is planning to make Eatonton a film production destination. They shared their vision with local officials Saturday, while at the same time shooting promotional video and photographs.
“This is a good start to the reinvention of Putnam County because manufacturing is gone here,” District 1 County Commissioner Fred Ward said as he watched the group work in the old aluminum plant. Our leadership has got to think beyond the ‘right now,’ and this is a great start.”
“Between Legacy Homes, the building at Cuscowilla, and this, we are seeing a turnaround,” Alan Foster, District 3 county commissioner, added. Eatonton Mayor Walter Rocker Jr., City Ward 2 Councilor James Gorley, Eatonton- Putnam Chamber of Commerce President Roddie Anne Blackwell and Downtown Development Authority Vice Chairman Scott Reaves also were there.
Tytan specializes in cinematography, film production, integration and company branding. Its goal is to transform the old aluminum plant into a shooting and post-production studio, with access to the old Eatonton prison and the rest of Eatonton/Putnam County as potential filming locations.
“This town is picture-perfect,” said Scott Jacobs, principal and creative director of Tytan. “Savannah has all the antebellum homes, but there’s room to breathe here.”
The “room to breathe” means there is room for trucks, cameras, lights and crews, he explained. Those sets will need to be built by carpenters and welders, and the lighting and sound will need technicians, hence more jobs for local residents. Tytan executives already have met with, and hope to build a working relationship with, local schools and technical colleges, Jacobs said.
A similar situation in Conyers increased business 120 percent for a lumber company there because of the amount of wood needed to build the sets, DDA Chairman Teresa Doster said, noting that all types of businesses could see profit increases.
“This is a project that will change Eatonton forever by changing the landscape of what people can make as far as income,” Principal and Executive Producer Jim Stone said, noting not only will the sets themselves need employees, but the filming crews, directors, producers and cast will need places to stay and eat, thus adding more to the local economy.
The executives and team members already are working with local realtors to buy and/or rent houses and apartments in Eatonton.
“Do you know that Eatonton has 3,000-square-foot houses that would be only $1,200 a month?” Jacobs asked. “That is unheard of in L.A. where we spend a lot of our time.” Noting he currently lives in Tybee Island, Jacobs added, “My favorite places are Tybee and Paris, France; now I am adding Eatonton to that list.”
When asked how the team, who had just flown in the night before from filming in Ireland, discovered Eatonton, Jacobs and Stone credited Walter Rocker III, the mayor’s son. They met Rocker III in Tybee, where they told him they were searching for a large warehouse in Savannah to set up shop.
“And Rocker said ‘we’ve got a bunch of huge warehouses in Eatonton,’ and we said ‘really? Show us.’ And here we are,” Stone said.
The plan is to transform the aluminum plant into a shooting studio, while staying true to the building’s history. Photos of the original plant and its workers will be displayed throughout, and it will be fitted with aluminum furniture. Pointing to the old brick columns that hold up the plant, Jacobs described excitedly what “a treasure” they were, and how the brick columns will stay, but the old walls with broken windows will be replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass for optimum natural light.
Other portions of the facility will be used for post-production – editing video, adding sound/visual effects, musical scoring, mixing, etc.
There is no particular show or movie in mind at the moment. Instead, Tytan will put Eatonton on the market for various and multiple producers to use. In addition to aluminum plant, the key drawing card will be Eatonton’s old prison.
Jacobs and Stone told how there is no other vacant prison in the United States, and film makers have to go through a lot of hassle to film inside prisons because the prisoners are there.
“So the prison, a vacant prison that is a shooting facility, will make Eatonton noted for something,” Stone said.
Eatonton City Council voted 4-2 (Teresa Doster, Chuck Haley, Chip Walker and Bill Mangum voting in favor; and Alvin Butts and Alma Stokes voting nay) at the Jan. 5 meeting to transfer the deed of the prison to the Downtown Development Authority for five years. The DDA will lease the prison to Doster said, noting the details have not been finalized. There are still other legal issues being worked out on the aluminum plant, so those details also are yet to be ironed out, Rocker III added.