The route to the former Putnam State Prison that now houses the offices for Tytan Tactical, as well as its parent and partner companies Tytan Pictures and Tytan Creates, takes you through the small town of Eatonton, Georgia. Like so many other communities in America’s heartland, Eatonton has fallen on tough times in recent years, but the bones of this once-thriving community remain: beautiful historic houses, a downtown that looks like the sort of place you might have taken your girlfriend for ice cream, and long stretches of dense, Georgia forest all offer a contrasting sense of community and seclusion, depending on where you choose to park your car.
As I passed through town, splitting my attention between my GPS and the scenery, my mind kept wandering back to my days as a Mustang-driving high school kid, putzing around the beautiful small town of Bennington, Vermont – back before the community I loved began to struggle under the weight of America’s economic downturn. Eatonton may not have the mountains my little piece of small town America did, but from the stoplight I sat at, it didn’t matter. The historic charm of Americana, the neighbors waving to one another as they passed on the sidewalk nearby, the friendly smile of the young woman I asked for directions… it all felt a bit like home to me.
When I was given the assignment to spend two days touring Tytan’s facilities, which include a sprawling prison complex, with a group of special operations professionals I’d never met, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of trepidation.
Travis Hall, the director of Tytan Tactical, is a former Green Beret and military contractor who has spent the better part of the last twenty years fighting for our country in some of the worst war zones imaginable. I knew, without question that this man was a patriot, and supremely qualified to operate a tactical training facility; what I didn’t know was how welcoming he would be to a journalist poking around the dark corners of his prison. Others, of course, were coming for their own chance to tour Tytan’s expansive facilities – representatives from various organizations that go by acronym alone in pleasant conversation, former special operators now serving their nation in the private sector as trainers or retailers, and guys that simply opted to politely omit the organizations they represented as we introduced ourselves to one another, were all present in the concrete floored conference room and offices we met in.
I challenge you to try to imagine a more intimidating environment to stroll into, than a conference room full of America’s most elite war fighters, inside the razor wired enclosure of a prison that’s been closed for ten years… and yet somehow, Tytan’s office, like the community that surrounds it, was so warm and inviting as soon as I walked through the door, that you would have thought Travis was greeting an old friend.
Tytan, I would come to learn, already has an illustrious history as a production company. As I took a seat at the conference table and exchanged handshakes, I couldn’t help but notice the desk to my left covered in Emmy’s and advertising awards. A poster on the wall beside it for the film “Storm Soldiers,” a Tytan Pictures production, served as a clue for what I was in for. Tytan Tactical’s prison isn’t just a training facility, it’s also an all-purpose film set, but the services born out of that unique combination proved to be even greater than the sum of their parts.
“Tytan Tactical is different because our parent organization is a movie production company. It means we’re capable of doing things no other training facility can. Not only can we film every aspect of your training event for analysis, our production team can produce marketing materials, social media content, or a great highlight reel of what you do while you’re here.” Travis explained.
Aside from the office space, Putnam Prison remains in the same state it was when Tytan acquired it through a deal with the town. After cleaning the entire facility, they chose to not refinish a good portion of it for multiple reasons.
“A lot of movies need sets that look just like the building does now, so we’re leaving a portion of the prison exactly as it is. We’re completely remodeling other areas to serve as different kinds of sets, or for training functions. Our solitary cells would be great for SERE training.” Travis explained as we toured some 60,000 square feet of concrete and steel.
“Thanks to our experience in the film industry,” Jim Wacker, Tytan’s Head of Production said, “We’re used to making sure everything is turn-key for our stars. We offer all of the services provided on major movie sets, like catering and concierge services, but we can also build inside our facility. The large open spaces can be set up in different ways using walls we can build out of wood or concrete to offer different environments.”
Those different environments aren’t only intended to serve as different sets for a movie or music video – the ability to change the layout of the facility offers Tytan’s prison an unparalleled value in terms of tactical training.
“Most law enforcement organizations are on a budget, so after they’ve come to train here once, they’d have to argue to justify a reason to come back,” one of the other guests said to Travis as we walked through the dimly let halls that once housed a very different kind of dangerous men.
“That’s where our ability to build sets comes in.” Travis responded. “We can utilize the open spaces here to build completely different hallway and room layouts to give you a different look every time you come.”
“We have the network to ask you what you want to do and how much you want to spend. If you want to do something on a low budget for a day, we can do that. If you want us to bring in five instructors, and drop into the prison from a helo, we can do that too. As long as the training you want to do is safe and makes sense, you’ll have to find a way to convince us to say no.” He added.
“That’s where we’re different from other venues. We can be as engaged or not engaged as your training requires.”
By incorporating Tytan’s movie production expertise into the training facility, they’ve produced two unique sets of services tailored for the tactical market. On the one hand, special operators can use the facility to conduct mock raids, with team leaders or commanders sitting comfortably inside Tytan’s planned control room that will feature live feeds from a variety of movie-quality cameras offering everything from 5k definition to the ability to film in such high speeds that you can actually watch the round leave a rifle’s barrel. The raw footage can then be used for analysis in real-time or during a training cycle’s after-action assessment. The film is such high quality, non-classified portions can even be trickled down into recruiting materials.
Conversely, companies that target the tactical market can use the same film and set infrastructure to produce Hollywood level marketing content, something Tytan is already quite familiar with doing. Their work for Nike and Redbull beat out advertising giants from New York City and Los Angeles, even winning out over viral ads like Old Spice’s Terry Crews commercials. The Emmy’s on the desk weren’t just there for decoration, they served as a reminder of the marriage they’ve forged between tactical training and the film industry – a marriage that could potentially reinvigorate the small community Tytan resides in.
“Fixing up this prison puts money back into the economy, and that’s just the beginning,” Travis said as we made our way back the air-conditioned space of the conference room. “The prison is only part of what we’re building here.”
I soon realized that, although Tytan is indeed developing a number of facilities within the Eatonton community, Travis wasn’t only talking about construction when he said Tytan was building there. As I walked back into the office, I shook a few more hands on my way, including those of Calvin Thomas, Amber Reese, and the town’s mayor, Walter Rocker.
I would have the opportunity to sit down with each of them over the span of the twenty-four hours or so I spent in Eatonton, and through my conversations with them, I learned more about what Tytan Tactical is offering beyond the scope of film and training.
They’re offering the community a second chance.
To be continued in Part II.