published Friday, August 26th, 2011

Movie likely shooting at Baylor School in fall helps put city on the map

Lights, camera, Chattanooga.

When news broke last week that a major motion picture, “Will To Succeed,” starring Helen Hunt, will be shot in Chattanooga this fall, local filmmakers and enthusiasts were pleased.

“This is a very, very exciting time for film in Chattanooga,” said Missy Crutchfield, director of Chattanooga Southeast Tennessee Film Commission.

Chattanooga is gaining ground in the film community. In 2008, hosting two scenes in the movie “Leatherheads” was a coup for the Scenic City. Then last year “Water for Elephants,” a film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, was shot locally. “Will To Succeed” would be almost entirely shot here.

This, Crutchfield said, “puts us on a map,” and opens Chattanooga up for stronger consideration for future feature films.

“We’ve grown up enough that we can handle it,” she said. “That sends a huge message.”

Dave Porfiri, owner of Mindflow Media and director of the Film & Television Training Program at Chattanooga State Community College, said he has noticed a major increase, both in local projects being gestated here and out-of-state productions selecting Chattanooga as a film location.

“I’ve never seen more production here than in the last six months,” he said, “so I’m very encouraged by what’s happening.”

Porfiri said he was approached about evaluating crew needs and what can be provided locally for “Will To Succeed.” In fact, he said, he will find it disappointing if at least half the crew is not local, citing the recent production of “Water for Elephants” as an example of a film that he believed could have taken greater advantage of the resources Chattanooga has to offer.

“It was so hush-hush that by the time locals found out about the production, everybody had been hired,” he said. “Virtually everybody on that film was either from LA or Nashville. It was kind of a slap in the face to those of us in the local production business who have worked so hard to attract filmmakers to the area in the last several years.”

Still, Porfiri contended, any filming that is done here, even with a fully imported crew, has positive economic impact on the city.

“However you look at it, it’s positive when a film shoots here,” he said. “It puts us on the map.”

And it puts money into local businesses, noted both Porfiri and Crutchfield.

“The impact is going to hit here no matter what,” Crutchfield said. “It’s better if they hire locally, but if they’re here they’re going to be staying in our hotels, they’re going to be eating in our restaurants, they’re going to be visiting our sites. ... It’s going to get the word out.”

Porfiri noted that the money spent in a community to make a film typically has a local impact of two- or three-fold.

“Will To Succeed,” which is set at a prep school, might film a large share of scenes on the campus of Baylor School, but spokesperson Barbara Kennedy specified that they are only “in talks,” as they say in the movie biz.

“They’re very interested in coming here, but we haven’t signed a contract yet,” she said.

If the decision to film at Baylor is finalized, Kennedy said the school’s first priority will continue to be to the students.

“Obviously, we are a school,” she said. “We’re not a Hollywood set.”

She believes, however, that the circumstance could provide educational opportunities.

“We were really excited about the possibility that this could provide a great learning experience. [Students] can have seminars with directors and producers. They can observe an actual movie being shot. I can envision some great conversation about all the work that goes on behind the scenes. So if you’re a student and you’re interested in the film industry, it would be a great learning experience. And [the production company] seems to be interested in working with us in a way that is not as disruptive as it could be.”

Bringing a feature-film production to Chattanooga could benefit other students as well.

“Through our [Chattanooga] State program and other means, we’re steadily building a qualified crew base here,” Porfiri said. “We can make the sell that this is a great place to shoot because we have the crew here. We can’t quite crew 100 percent yet, but a lot of the departments we can fully staff.”

“Will To Succeed” locations manager Lisa Wheelous is a recent graduate of the Chattanooga State program. Porfiri called her a “success story” and said he believes she played an active role in helping to entice the production to Chattanooga.

Wheelous and Kennedy help administrate the “Will To Succeed” Facebook page, posting updates and answering questions. Scores of people have posted, inquiring about casting and crew opportunities.

“This is really exciting for us,” Porfiri said. “It couldn’t have been timed better.”

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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