By The Truckload
Life is good for Georgia's lighting and grip companies. From small operators to major players, the gear is moving by the truckload.
HUMPREY DOUBLES SERVICE
Grip and lighting equipment is moving out by the truckload throughout Georgia as rental houses and production services companies fill orders for commercials, feature films, episodic television and content for emerging streaming platforms.
In the last decade the lighting and grip business has grown so much in Georgia that Jarrod Humphrey now owns two grip rental and expendables companies, Atlanta Rigging Grips, Inc. and Anchor Rigging and Goods, LLC. Humphrey started as a best boy in 2008 and began working as a key grip in 2010 “before it was really busy here in the local market,” he recalls. “Then a lot of bigger features started coming in, beginning with the Fast and Furious series, and I developed contacts with people doing the larger productions.”
He opened Atlanta Rigging Grips, Inc. around 2011 and invested in his first 48-foot grip trailer with full studio grip package. He added a second 48-foot trailer to meet growing demand, and in 2015 launched expendables company Anchor Rigging and Goods, LLC., which also offers a 5-ton grip truck with full grip package. Humphrey believes his approach demonstrates how “independently owned, small business made in Georgia” can thrive as a result of “tax incentives, entrepreneurship and a little hard work.”
The two trucks at Atlanta Rigging Grips are available with standard packages and customized with add-ons. The equipment is typically used by feature film and TV productions such as the third season of Star on FOX, the first season of the live-action Doom Patrol, which will stream on DC Universe in 2019, and the recently-released feature Mile 22, starring Mark Wahlberg.
Humphrey makes his own rags in custom sizes and fabrics and has a metal fabrication shop, Carver Iron, run by Neil Carver, for custom set carts and truck builds. He also provides productions with certified rope access technicians, who are members of SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians), when productions need to rig hard-toreach areas where heavy equipment can’t be used. “Big features use this service,” he says. “We come in as stand-bys on a hot set and can deploy rope access to rooftops and other areas overnight or on the day of a shoot – it saves them money.”
Anchor Rigging and Goods’ 5-ton truck, available with a standard grip package and add-ons, is used by feature film 2nd units as well as TV productions. It’s currently on season two of the YouTube Premium series, Cobra Kai, which follows the original Karate Kid saga.
According to Humphrey Anchor is the only company in the world making digital green screen and blue screen rope rated for fall protection and lifeline applications. “My contacts had been working the big Marvel features as rope access technicians and found a need for lines and overhead diffusion rigs that didn’t have to be painted out in post production,” he explains. He had a light bulb moment and, working with his friend’s company, Highline Ropes, developed an undetectable green screen and blue screen rope rated to high industry standards. He took samples to productions and started selling the rope by the spool.
Humphrey believes that the market for “episodic television and streaming series will continue to expand in Georgia – streaming in particular is gaining momentum. Everything is here for them: the crew base, facilities and vendors.”
Quixote Fills Client Needs at Blackhall Studios
Quixote is the exclusive provider of grip and electric, production supplies, communications and expendables for all productions at Atlanta’s Blackhall Studios. “Our main focus is to service the lot,” says Quixote vice president Haryl Deason, although productions shooting around Atlanta and in Savannah, Brunswick and elsewhere in Georgia have also tapped Quixote’s extensive inventory. The company caters to feature films, episodic TV and streaming series.
Quixote fills client orders for cable and distribution gear, lighting fixtures, lighting support and, through third parties, truss, grids and rigging. Quixote’s lighting roster features a wide array of LEDs as the industry migrates to LED technology.
“There’s still a demand for HMIs and tungsten, although they are not the focal points they used to be,” says Deason. “There’s a high demand for the newer LED fixtures.” On the LED side Quixote offers versatile ARRI SkyPanel S60s, S30s and the larger S360s; Sourcemaker Blanket lights; and LiteGear Mirage Hybrid panels. Specialty lighting includes LRX robotic fixtures such as higher-output 18K HMIs and 12K tungstens. RatPac’s American made wireless dimmers are also popular rental items.
This year Quixote has filled lighting and grip orders from the Dwayne Johnson adventure film, Jungle Cruise, which asked for a large assortment of LRX fixtures; Sony’s new superhero film, Venom; and Warner Bros’ Dr. Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, all of which were tenants of Blackhall Studios.
Quixote has also serviced both seasons of the YouTube Premium series, Step Up: High Water. “It’s our first streaming series,” Deason notes. “Their needs are similar to smaller-scale feature films.”
Quixote strives to keep up with “changing technology to meet the needs of gaffers who are more savvy about using new technology,” he says. Deason sees business remaining steady as “Georgia continues to draw and maintain the film and television industry. The stage infrastructure has grown quite a bit along with services like rental companies. That’s all a good sign of building a strong, long-lived industry here.”
High Output Joins Savannah Scene
High Output, Inc. was founded in 1986 in New England and has become a leading supplier of production services and equipment for film, TV, theater and events. “The original Boston location was literally started in a garage by owners John Cini and Jim Hirsch,” notes Marty Bluford, southeast regional manager for High Output.
The company opened its Charleston, South Carolina office in 1996 and enjoyed steady success for the first ten years due primarily to commercials shot on location, documentaries and photo shoots. The Charleston office truly took off with the debut of Army Wives in 2007, which ran for seven seasons on Lifetime.
An office in Savannah launched two and- a-half years ago after the Charleston branch had “worn a rut in the road” servicing the area from across the state line. “We watched production explode in Georgia and felt we needed to open there,” says Bluford.
High Output is located five minutes from downtown Savannah and next door to SCAD’s Savannah Film Studios. It maintains a commercial lighting and grip inventory along with a full line of expendables. The Savannah and Charleston offices share a small fleet of grip trucks, vans and generators that constantly move between the two venues. "Whereas commercial clients usually prefer pre-loaded grip trucks and grip van packages, feature and television clients ask us to bid run-of-show orders separately for each department such as construction, grip, electric, locations or transportation,” says Bluford.
When it comes to lighting, “it’s all about LEDs and wireless control these days,” says Bluford. "ARRI’s SkyPanel line is king of the roost currently, while other key brands in our inventory include Quasar, Fiilex, Litepanels and Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC). On the dimming and control side we're seeing steady requests for gear from RatPac. But LEDs still have their limitations, which is why we pride ourselves on offering the latest in M-Series HMIs from ARRI: the M18, M40 and M90.
“We also pride ourselves on carrying professional camera dollies from Chapman/Leonard and J.L. Fisher, along with important camera support items, including field monitors, tripods and camera carts. Meanwhile the production and locations departments will use us for walkies and WiFi J-Boxes, make-up mirrors, work lights and tents. It's all part of being a one-stop shop,” Bluford explains.
“Even if we don't see rental activity for certain departments, they all need expendables: We are stocking dealers for Rosco and Lee Filters, endless flavors of tape, rope, sash, as well as lamps and electrical supplies from Ushio, Osram and Marinco,” he adds. "We also sell Savage Seamless background paper, which is an important reminder that we rent a complete line of Profoto strobe packs, heads and modifiers for still photographers."
According to Bluford, Savannah “has never been busier and is really experiencing a lot of success” with its recent roster of film and TV projects. New in town is the Walt Disney Studios’ feature, Goodbye Stranger, purportedly a live-action sequel to Lady and the Tramp, which is using dollies, grip equipment, expendables and WiFi junction boxes from High Output.
Soon to shoot at the Savannah Film Factory is Hulu’s The Act, a streaming true crime anthology series; it has asked High Output for dollies and professional photographic supplies. Also upcoming this fall is the new comedy series, Florida Girls, for cable and satellite TV network Pop. In the past 18 months High Output also provided lighting, grip, trucks and generators for indie features, including Galveston, The Peanut Butter Falcon and Backtrace as well as The Hallmark Channel’s original feature, The Beach House.
Bluford is “very excited about the prospects for Savannah” and believes the town has “an Austin-like flair for indie production.” He also cites the growing amount of programming for streaming and other emerging media platforms and channels.
Cinelease Serves Southeast
Cinelease, Inc. opened in 1977 and now boasts 12 locations nationwide for lighting and grip equipment, power distribution, grip trucks and expendables. In Atlanta Cinelease has its home base on Southwoods Parkway and another office at Eagle Rock Studios in Norcross; the offices service the entire Southeast although Cinelease also has locations in New Orleans and Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Our second-largest location is Atlanta,” notes Gannon Murphy, director of business development, an Atlanta native who has returned home after working in Los Angeles. “We maintain inventory at both Atlanta offices, and we adjust the fleet constantly since it changes over time and is dictated by the shows. Cinelease is the only lighting and grip company with over 40 years of experience so we stand head and shoulders over others in terms of longevity.”
In Atlanta, the company services primarily feature films and episodic TV providing lighting and grip packages for clients’ trailers. Commercials and indie films take advantage of the CineMini fleet of Sprinter vans, which require no specialty driver’s license and may be outfitted with a standard grip package and a la carte lighting.
"LEDs are now on almost every list we see..."
The move to LED lighting has “accelerated” in the last five years, Murphy reports, thanks to the fixtures’ versatility, light weight and low power consumption. “LEDs are now on almost every list we see. We’re constantly re-evaluating our inventory and adjusting stock to meet current demands.”
Cinelease has invested in LED lighting from most major manufacturers, including ARRI’s SkyPanels. It has also teamed with Cineo Lighting to introduce the proprietary Quantum 120 LED fixture, billed as the brightest soft source LED in the world, and the new C80, which has a smaller form factor and full RGB functionality. “The second season of the Dynasty reboot has a sizeable quantity of C80s as their workhorse lighting,” says Murphy.
Grip brands include Matthews Studio Equipment and American. Clients for grip packages number shows from “all the major networks” and feature films. Recent customers are the second season of the Netflix crime drama Ozark, the second seasons of FOX’s medical drama The Resident and musical drama Star, last year’s ABC series Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, YouTube’s new Cobra Kai, the 2019 feature edition of Shaft and the upcoming Melissa McCarthy feature Superintelligence.
“We aim to keep up with changes in technology and in content, and we’re excited about embracing those changes,” says Murphy. “The dynamics of traditional networks have changed with the advent of streaming services and other content delivery systems. More content means more work for all of us.”
PC&E Offers Unique Perspective
Thirty-five-year-old PC&E, a one-stop shop for camera, lighting and grip gear, expendables and soundstages, has its roots as a lighting and grip company. “We’re celebrating our fifth year as an employeeowned company, which is unique,” says general manager Mark Wofford. “Customer service is one of our core values, and that’s even more meaningful with an employee-owned company.”
PC&E’s 18,000-square foot lighting and grip rental warehouse is located within Atlanta’s DeFoor Hills Complex where the company maintains grip trucks, generators, lighting fixtures, grip equipment, expendables and camera support.
Rolling stock features a 10-ton grip truck; four 5-ton trucks, two each for CDL and non-CDL customers; five 3-ton cube trucks; and two 1-ton grip vans, including a new Dodge RAM ProMaster. “We’ll typically outfit the trucks with a basic grip and electrical distribution package then add on as needed,” says Wofford. “Lighting is provided a la carte, but typically goes out with grip packages.”
PC&E offers an array of HMI, tungsten and Kino Flo lights plus a growing selection of LED fixtures, including ARRI SkyPanels, LiteGear LiteMats, Litepanels, Quasar LED tubes and Kino Flo Celebs. “LED fixtures are almost like cameras with their continual firmware updates,” Wofford notes. “We have two of the bigger ARRI SkyPanel S360s; 18 S60s, which are standard with every job; and two of the smaller S30s. Every year SkyPanels have new firmware updates that give the lights even more capabilities. The gel and color correction looks, the wireless DMX control have made LEDs such flexible tools. They allow DPs to experiment and be more adventuresome.”
Indie film Only, which shot in and around Atlanta earlier this year, utilized PC&E’s 5-ton grip truck, and NFL Films is a frequent client for lighting and grip packages. Local ad agencies and LA and NY production companies shoot myriad commercials in town; spots for Home Depot, Delta and Gold Bond have used PC&E’s lighting and grip packages, and a Dwayne Johnson spot for Siri last year required the 10-ton package.
“We’re unusual in having a dolly inventory, and we compete well with it in the features market,” Wofford adds. “We have a total of 22 Fisher and Chapman dollies. The latest season of Dynasty has four Fisher 10s for the run of the show.
“We also have Fisher 23 jibs, which are hard to come by; there aren’t any others in town, and they rent for long periods of time. The show Legacies, a spinoff of The Originals on The CW, has one through the end of the year. Our Weaver Steadman jib is great for shooting tabletop commercials.”
Although Wofford believes business in 2018 has been slower than the “spectacular” 2017, he’s seen orders increase over the summer and expects that pace to continue for the rest of the year. “It’s hard to try to predict the market, but Georgia’s incentives are firmly supported by those in politics and a lot more vendors have moved here,” creating a strong long-term production hub, he observes. “More vendors mean more competition but also more opportunities.”
JML Stretches Budgets in Savannah
Savannah-based JML Productions LLC is owned by Jean-Marc Lavigne, a 2016 graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) film and television program. A self-described “classic gear head,” Lavigne began renting his collection of film equipment to fellow students. Now JML boasts 3 and 5-ton grip trucks, a 2-ton trailer and an impressive array of lighting and grip gear as well as specialized items like the O’Connor 2575 fluid head, car rigging and speed rail.
As a hands-on production services provider Lavigne is a big asset to his rapidly growing company. “Since I work in the industry I understand the value of passion projects and am willing to work with low-budget and micro-budget productions to give them the best value for money on their packages,” he says. “I want to help customers stretch their budgets as much as they can.”
A perfect example of JML’s ability to work with minuscule budgets is The Silent Beat, an indie feature shot in Eatonton, Georgia that involved his DP best friend and other SCAD graduates. The intimate superhero origin story used a full grip and electric package out of his 16-foot trailer, a RED SCARLET M-X camera package and full camera support, Honda generators, and specialty rigging for car work. “I built a custom hood mount to run two REDs for cross-coverage with leveling heads,” Lavigne explains.
He says the production “made the most of the flexibility of the trailer package by having everything on wheels. It was an easy package to work with; it wasn’t too much truck. Too much gear can hinder a production as much as not having enough.”
"Too much gear can hinder a production as much as not having enough."
JML’s Honda Pioneer UTV proved to be “an absolute life saver” to the production for its ability to “be nimble and drive lights and a generator wherever needed,” including to a remote grain silo. “It’s great for limited-access locations or when you’re working away from base camp,” says Lavigne.
JML’s lighting inventory includes ARRI HMIs, larger tungsten ellipsoidals, Quasar LED tubes, and Litepanels Astra 1x1 LEDs. He’s looking at offering “topend ARRI M-Series HMIs and SkyPanel LEDs,” and also has his eye on Flowcine’s Black Arm vibration isolation arm for car rigging.
Lavigne just bought his own facility, which will allow JML to expand to include Avid editorial, color correction and a small production space for interviews or tabletop shoots. “We’ll be able to integrate the whole turnkey concept for ourselves and our customers,” he says.
This year JML has serviced regional commercials, a number of corporate projects and CNN’s HLN national news network for documentary interviews. Corporate customers enjoy the company’s “all-in-one package, including camera, LEDs and a 1-ton grip package – it makes it a lot easier for them to travel,” Lavigne reports.
His own circle of friends and fellow SCAD graduates are “trying to grow grassroots filmmaking,” he adds. “Georgia has been a fantastic place for big-budget productions, now we’re looking for low-budget and independent films to grow. When there’s such a talented pool of creative resources here it only makes sense to bring to your own content to life.”
Filmmaker Adds Expertise to Atlanta Market
Filmmaker Production Services Atlanta, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, opened in 2011 in response to the growing demand for high-quality set lighting and grip services in the region, says Jamie Crosbie, vice president of studio services at NBCUniversal.
The company offers feature films, TV series, streaming content, commercials and independent productions a full range of standard grip equipment with specialty gear including truss, motors and steel deck. “Over the past two years we have supplied equipment to Little, The Act, Ride Along 2, Night School and First Man,” Crosbie notes.
In addition to stocking a complete inventory of set lighting products, Filmmaker also carries the innovative NBCUniversal LightBlade LED production lighting line. “All LightBlade fixtures – the new Edge, the LightBlade 1K, the Ladder Light, and the LB800 – use proprietary phosphor-converted white light LEDs, as well as phosphor-converted saturated color LEDs, to create a balanced, natural-looking spectrum,” Crosbie explains. “The modular fixtures provide enhanced user functionality and easy rigging features.”
He says that, “Filmmaker Production Services is proud to be part of the Georgia production community. We look forward to continuing to support the talented creatives that choose Georgia and the Southeast for their locations.”