Birmingham a "canvas" for films, spike in film shoots in city noticable

42  and  Woodlawn  are two popular feature films that were shot in Birmingham.

42 and Woodlawn are two popular feature films that were shot in Birmingham.

By Rachel Burchfield/BBA

More movies are being made in Birmingham, and that means a substantial economic impact for the city.

With production value in Birmingham totaling roughly $18 million to $20 million, that translates into about $600,000 to $700,000 in local tax revenue, in addition to money spent in Birmingham for hotel or apartment rentals for the cast and crew, vehicle and equipment rentals and meals eaten at local restaurants or catered by local caterers.

As more films come Birmingham’s way, there could be a growing need for new businesses to accommodate the industry, said Buddy Palmer, president and CEO of Create Birmingham. Create Birmingham is charged with recruiting incoming productions to Birmingham and, once the productions have chosen the city, to roll out the welcome mat and serve as the first line of communication the filmmakers have with the Birmingham community.

“There is a substantial impact [on Birmingham’s economy],” he said. “There is an ecosystem of small businesses that work around film. As we move forward and get more and more consistent work, new businesses will be able to launch that cater to the market.”

Celebrities like John Travolta have been making Birmingham their temporary home as they film movies in the Magic City. Travolta is currently filming his second film in a row in Birmingham, a Fred Durst-directed project called Moose. Travolta wrapped the film Trading Paint in Birmingham last fall and it is currently in post-production. Moose also stars former teen heartthrob Devon Sawa and is directed by Durst, the former frontman of the popular rock group Limp Bizkit.

State film incentives are likely the cause of Birmingham’s recent film boom, Palmer said. The incentives, along with the preservation of so many historic buildings downtown and the ability for directors and cinematographers to find urban, suburban and rural landscapes in close proximity, make Birmingham a hotbed for Hollywood.

“Birmingham is the canvas,” Palmer said. “Birmingham is architecturally diverse and offers ease of movement.”

Feature films, documentaries, music videos, web series and commercials have filmed here, Palmer said.

Palmer credits brothers Andy and Jon Erwin, filmmakers who work primary in the faith-based genre and have made movies such as Woodlawn, October Baby and Mom’s Night Out in Birmingham, for employing local crew members on their films. The local crew base has grown so competent that films that come to town use mostly local crews rather than flying them in. This creates an additional 50 to 150 jobs every time a production comes to town, which is happening more and more consistently.

“Consistent film work in Birmingham builds quality and allows crew to improve at their craft,” Palmer said. “It’s full-time work, and even though they are moving from project to project, they are pursuing their craft.”

Filmmakers are impressed by the city’s hospitality and its food, Palmer said, calling meals eaten here some of the best they’ve ever had.

The cast and crew of Moose filmed last week outside of downtown restaurant Brick and Tin. Server Amy Vines said she noticed more people flocking to the area. Customers chose to eat at Brick and Tin, specifically outside, so they could catch a glimpse of Travolta and Durst filming.

“It definitely drew more people to this area,” she said. “It was a scene.”

And this moviemaking trend shows no signs of stopping. Palmer and his team are working on a film now for late spring or early summer, and there is the potential of a series from a major cable network to be shot in town soon.

“The momentum continues to improve,” Palmer said. “We are just scratching the surface on awareness of Birmingham as a good destination and a cool place to spend a couple of months of time.”