Small Town, Big Screen
Fitzgerald, Georgia is in the deep south, with a population of almost 9,000; it’s not somewhere you would expect for the film industry to appear next, but with the help of Alexander Kane, a Fitzgerald native, and his wife, Brittney, that was their exact goal.
At the age of 35, Kane decided that he wanted to leave his day job to pursue a career in acting, but once he started on the path, he quickly realized that if he wanted to work and find success in the industry, he would have to start by producing his own projects. With support from Fitzgerald Mayor Jim Puckett and other key figures within the town, they produced their first film, Lena and Snowball (2021).
Kane’s charismatic and inspirational personality has piqued the interest of Hollywood names like Bruce Willis, Luke Wilson, and Mel Gibson to sign on to film in the small and beloved town of Fitzgerald. Kane is producing at least two features a month now, which started this year with Reactor (2021), starring Bruce Willis.
These productions are boosting their local economy by supporting hotels and restaurants, and bringing hope to a town that previously felt like you must leave it in order to become a star. Kane doesn’t want any of his six children to feel that way, and he doesn’t want the citizens of Fitzgerald to either. His ambition is creating a ripple effect within the town, and his passion is giving people the chance to grow in an industry that they never would have imagined.
"I can stay in Fitzgerald, Georgia and I can accomplish my lifelong dream."
Oz: Tell me about the latest projects that you have been working on.
Alexander Kane: The big ones started with Bruce Willis. We filmed Breach (2020) where we built a 12,000 square foot space ship. We got an old high school gym from the ‘20s and ‘30s and, instead of tearing it down, my company and I bought it from the city and turned it into a movie studio. [We] built the 12,000 square foot space ship, to our knowledge, it’s the biggest one in the world. We reached out to the community and through donations and volunteers, we built this amazing set ... [Breach] really bolstered the community and sort of validated [Fitzgerald]. It’s one of those things where people go, “Are you really shooting a movie with Bruce Willis? So, Bruce Willis is flying in on a private jet, showing up in Fitzgerald, GA?” … My wife and I [were] taking the risk to say, “We’re gonna build an industry in Fitzgerald, GA!” So, then we started The Melanie Group after that with Mike Donovan, myself, [and] Vernon Davis.
COVID slowed us down obviously after Breach, and we had all these movies lined up and we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and then BOOM another year starts, we go into [production for] Reactor (2021) … The plan is everything shoots in Fitzgerald, because it’s about revitalizing the community, creating jobs in the industry, [and] driving money into the local economy. It’s a mostly Black majority, unemployed, economically depressed, tier one county, in the middle of south Georgia. If you cut Georgia in half, and stick your finger right in the middle … right in the center, that’s where Fitzgerald’s at. So it hasn't had the success like some of the other towns like Valdosta and Tifton, which are on the interstate.
It’s been a successful town for many years, but right now it’s in one of those spots where it needs someone to come along and help it out, and that someone is gonna be me, because that’s where I’m from. Instead of moving to LA or other places to pursue acting, I decided as an actor, I don’t like the idea that my career is in the hands of casting directors and directors. I said, “You know what, the hell with that! I’m gonna make movies and I’m gonna pick out the roles I want to be in and I’m gonna control my own destiny,” so that’s kinda what started the productions and then I thought, “Everytime I get cast in a role we end up in some small town somewhere; we might as well be in Fitzgerald every time and help one specific spot and then inspire kids.
Oz: What were some of the biggest challenges when you brought the film industry to Fitzgerald?
"The main thing was convincing people of the vision: this crazy idea that we're going to make Fitzgerald, Georgia as powerful as Atlanta."
Kane: The big challenge is that you’re talking crazy ... I had a meeting before I even did Lena and Snowball and said, “Hey guys, there’s a lot of old money here and if y’all want to really help out, you can really make this easy on me.”… [People said,] “You’ve never really been in a big movie and you’re talking about bringing Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis and all this craziness.” …
They didn’t believe it, so my mayor and his leadership team including Cam Jordan, the City’s Deputy Administrator, Brandy Elrod, the Director of Tourism, Arts & Culture Cam Jordan, Brandy Elrod and the team surrounding them, and a few select people around Fitzgerald said, “I believe in you.” The city wrote the first check to support the first small movie and it made that a possibility and then we had infrastructure problems, we don’t really have the best hotels, but we have some nice airbnb’s, so we had to take sort of an inventory … There are a lot of old cars, there are a lot of dilapidated houses, a lot of abandoned buildings. Hotels are cheap, food is cheap, lots of stuff is cheap … The main thing was convincing people of the vision: this crazy idea that we’re gonna make Fitzgerald, Georgia as powerful as Atlanta.
Oz: : In the long term, where do you see Fitzgerald in five or ten years?
Kane: I see it revitalized to the point where children will be able to grow up here and not feel they have to leave … I don’t want children feeling stuck. I can stay in Fitzgerald, Georgia and I can accomplish my lifelong dream. Whether that’s being an accountant, whether that’s running a Chick-fil-A, whether that’s being an actor, whether it’s working in movies, whether it’s being the head football coach ― that there be enough success here and enough business here that you can find a career and a life here.
I want other small towns to say, “Oh, it can be done! You just gotta work hard and have vision.” I really want to just show that in small town America, everyone doesn’t have to move into the big city. For me, Fitzgerald is going to be that example of, if you want it bad enough and if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything, anywhere, at any time.
Oz: I know COVID kind of slowed you guys down, but do you think that it stifled any creativity when it comes to your producing and acting?
Kane: It’s hard to say this because it sounds so positive in such a negative situation, but COVID was a blessing for us. It allowed us a full year to get hungry. It allowed us a full year to put pieces together, to figure out what wasn’t working, what was going to work. We didn’t have to come out of the gate and compete.
We used that time to really [get] a headstart on our vision; we didn’t have to do anything that we didn’t want to do. We were able to come out of the gate with plans to do it the way we wanted to do it. So for us, COVID was a year of planning that we didn’t know we were going to have.
Oz: Being that you are an actor and a producer, do you feel like it’s important for people to have all backgrounds in the film industry?
Kane: Being an actor helps me be a better producer, being a producer helps me understand acting better. I think when you put on multiple hats and walk in other people’s shoes, it certainly helps to understand how to be better at your job and better for other people so they can do their job. That’s what I’ve experienced.
Oz: What is something you look for in actors during the casting process?
Alexander: The major players in any movie are usually cast ahead of time. The big boys, the top three [or] top four, are usually already locked in because you need them to get the movie made. It’s a movie written for them, about them, with them in mind. Then we do as much local casting out of Georgia as possible; trying to give people opportunities, trying to reach out.
We try to look within the crew and cast and local people that are friends of ours that want to pursue acting … We try to give everybody a chance to audition, using local casting directors and regional casting directors, like Mark Fincannon and other people, to try to help us identify the right roles, the right actors.
Looking for an actor is no different than looking for a crew member, or looking for a camera guy. You want the right person for the right job that can do the job and is an asset to the movie and the team. That’s it. It’s not rocket science. I think that’s what people get caught up in sometimes, I notice. People get too artsy fartsy as I say and they get too married to the ideas that are in their head, instead of just using common sense like, there’s two actors, they’re both great. One’s in Georgia, one’s in LA. One’s cheaper and can get here faster, go with that one. If you are just picking an actor because of his face and his name and flying him out of LA, that makes absolutely no sense … We try to get the best actor in the best scenario for the film.
Oz: What has been your favorite experience so far coming into this industry and learning all of these new things?
Kane: Doing it on my own terms. That I came into an industry and went, “No thank you, I won’t do it your way, I’ll do it my way.” And taking the risk … that was gonna work or not work, and then so far so good, having it work. That’s been the best part: Saying, I’m not only gonna shoot movies, I’m not only gonna act in movies, I’m gonna make them my way. I’m gonna help people. It’s gonna be a fun experience and everybody’s gonna benefit from the way I do it and then being told it’ll never work that way, and then it working exactly that way! That’s been the greatest part, is the validation that it doesn’t have to be this weird, closed exclusive club where no one’s invited but the people that are already having success.
I’m enjoying changing it and going, “We’re not gonna do it that way, we’re gonna do it different,” and watching Hollywood come to me instead of me go to them. That’s been fun. I think there’s value and magnetism in showing people that an industry built on rejection and heartbreak and misery can actually be positive. You can do it in a positive and uplifting way, and have success at the same time.
We’re making money, we’re making good movies, we’re having good times and good experiences. I mean, what more could you want?