When Hollywood seeks to find talent, they come to Cedartown to find Shay Bentley-Griffin.
When the producers in Hollywood need stars to fill the roles of their projects turned Oscar-winning pictures, there’s someone local they turn to in Polk County to match a face and personality with a character.
Polk County is no stranger to companies who are making television and film, since productions like “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” and “Hap and Leonard” have come to Cedartown.
Shay Bentley-Griffin knows all leading figures under the bright lights of stage and film.
“It has been an exciting journey, that’s the first thing I always think about. I think ‘My goodness. How did all this come about?’” she said. “I always had an interest in movies and telling of stories since as long as I can remember, so coming up in Cedartown there wasn’t a whole lot of options for me to pursue that.”
However, Bentley-Griffin was born in California, and came to Cedartown when she was 3 after her family moved back to Georgia. The idea of working in film and television production appealed to her, so Bentley-Griffin decided that she wanted to get involved.
“I originally was an agent, so I represented actors for a lot of different things but I really wanted to represent them for movies,” she said. “I really made that my goal, and I really started going out to Los Angeles and began to talk to people.”
At first it was conversations about how to get more young actors from Georgia into parts in productions underway, but then later Bentley-Griffin decided that it wasn’t just about selling her talent for specific roles, but also the location itself.
“There’s some really fine, good filmmakers here,” she said. “I think that was sort of an inspiration. I wanted to know how we could do this here (in Georgia.)”
To her, the state is attractive for filmmakers because first their strong film commission on the state level.
“My original goal was to sell talent, but I realized quickly that if they wanted to come here it would have to be for more than one specific thing,” Bentley-Griffin said. “There’s no secret to the fact that where it costs the least amount of money to produce a film, that’s where the producers are going to go. So we had some really exciting opportunities for us, but then it went away. Because it was cheaper to film elsewhere.”
Bentley-Griffin said the state had opportunities, but lost them to countries like Canada who had better offers.
But selling the state on production companies has been only part of her vision for making Georgia the film capital of the southeast, and beyond.
Helping to sell Cedartown to those filmmakers looking for a small town setting has been just part of the overall plan.
“A lot of us didn’t think that we’d get to do it right here on Main Street in Cedartown, but we have,” she said. “This is Main Street America. My goal has always been about helping lift us up, and if I’m going to live here for the rest of my life then I want to do whatever I can to make that happen.”
The other part of the strategy has been getting larger companies to open up facilities in the state as well.
Bentley-Griffin has been serving on a variety of advisory positions for getting film productions, and under Gov. Sonny Perdue she served on a five-member committee to provide ideas for how to attract the industry to invest in Georgia.
Tax incentives was part of the equation.
“At this time they were starting to lose to places like Louisiana, and I knew that we had the backup crew right here, the infrastructure like no one else has. It’s here and ready to go,” she said. “You can shoot Georgia for any place.”
The opportunities have panned out. Tyler Perry continues to produce his films in Atlanta. A variety of studios have settled in Atlanta, from the animators behind Cartoon Network hits to acting as the setting for AMC’s “The Walking Dead” in most recent years.
The Georgia Film Academy’s creation by Gov. Nathan Deal additionally helped turn around the perception to handle crew members needed for a production as well.
She said there are at least 10 studios in the state alone, including one of the largest expansions for a production company in the United Kingdom.
“They are popping up everywhere,” she said. “And you have to think that we’re building them with the state of the art technology.”
“We are our own best PR people,” she said. “And there will be that attitude that ‘yeah, well maybe there are too many.’ Or the idea that maybe you can go even cheaper. But the fact of the matter is that we have such a sold infrastructure in Georgia.”
However, Bentley-Griffin’s job remains to place talent to the right role. While working to promote film in Georgia through government service on committees and boards, she moved from agent working on a star’s behalf to a casting director working on the production side of the business.
It’s a role often credited in a movie, but not one well understood by the general public.
In simple terms, Bentley-Griffin’s job is to take a script for a new movie or show, break down the characters and their descriptions by the creators, and then find the actors or actresses to fill and embody the role.
She said much of the job is knowing both the people and how a producer might see a certain person in a certain role, but also about knowing exactly who is available and open for a production during the timeframe needed, and what they are willing to do.
“At this point, we know the actors,” she said. “We’ve been booking them and casting them for years now. So we have an immediate knowledge of who may be right. But sometimes films are tricky, and it may not fit in our talent pool at the moment. But just because it’s not very easy doesn’t mean it’s coming out of the script.”
With the increasing role of technology in the film industry, part of her job has gotten slightly easier and one where big names like actor and director Clint Eastwood can simply make a phone call and find her hard at work in her home in Cedartown instead of an office in Los Angeles.
Casting calls these days still require someone looking to land a leading role to read a script with a live person, but more frequently Bentley-Griffin is able to stay at home and watch the interaction on a small screen of her computer instead of having to be there herself.
However, she said a personal touch is still needed in order to find the right person.
“Not everyone can do this,” she said. “It isn’t possible. Everyone in one day, in one moment of time can do it. In that respect I can make anyone an actor, for a moment... But that doesn’t mean I think they can be in this business forever. I don’t necessarily think that’s the truth of it.”
Though not everyone can be an actor, or figure out who will fit right in certain parts, Bentley-Griffin said that many people are needed in the film industry in Georgia. They are needed to work jobs as electricians and carpenters, to design costumes and work cameras. All kinds of roles can be filled, and as the industry expands and opportunities grow, so will the overall impact on the economy.
Even as she contributes in one way to helping Cedartown by promoting it as a place where the film industry can bring their dreams to life in a variety of settings, she’s done one more thing to help her hometown stand out even more.
The mural on the side of Vase Floral Expression — a building Bentley-Griffin owns — was restored in recent weeks after she decided it needed to be touched up. Lori Moore, who usually does murals indoors, worked for eight days to make the painting on the side of the building vibrant for drivers to see when they enter town from South Main Street.
She said it was just one of the many ways she wanted to give back to Cedartown, which provided her the inspiration to reach for the stars and bring them home.