Life after 'Bagger'
By Chris Bumgarner
The paint stays but the awning goes. While producers of "The Legend of Bagger Vance" hope the finished product is a good movie that does well at the box office, the legacy of the movie for Savannah residents will be lots of paint, a few thousand nails and extra money in cash registers and pockets.
Spending between $3-5 million, the "Legend of Bagger Vance" became an instant economic boom for Savannah. While "Bagger Vance" producers and accountants won't have final totals until January, the movie has made a healthy impact on the local economy.
"Most of the money was spent here because the film's office is based in Savannah," said Jay Self, director of the Savannah Film Commission. "Having the office based here is real important. Just about everything involved with the movie had to go through that office."
That "everything" includes food catering, set construction, renting antiques, removing parking meters and purchasing items necessary to make the film.
One of the biggest expenditures was paint. Gallons were used to spruce up old homes and businesses. Self was impressed with the amount of one construction item.
"Nails," Self said, "Lots and lots of nails. They spent more on nails than I make in salary in a year."
Nails were part of the mini-construction explosion that was "Bagger Vance." Saws, hammers, drills and other building necessities were purchased at local hardware stores, said Tommy Holland, a sales representative with Savannah Tool House and former film commission member.
"There were a lot of businesses that reaped the benefits from the movie," Holland said. "In return, we provided good service."
Here today, gone tomorrow
Some signs of the movie's presence in the historic district will remain indefinitely while others are disappearing. The Lane House, located on the corner of Gaston and Drayton streets, received a new paint job. City Hall council chambers were partially renovated to accommodate the movie. The film company replaced trees that were removed during filming and donated additional trees.
"One thing every filmmaker points to when talking about Savannah is the trees," Self said. "The tree canopy is a big attraction."
Some renovations made for the movie have been removed or will be in the near future. An awning attached to Chili Chompers' store was removed recently. Part of City Market parking garage was turned into a fake hardware store front and was brought down last week.
When filming is completed in January, the rest of the items constructed for the film will be removed. This has been received with mixed reaction by downtown residents.
"I can't tell you how many people said, 'I wish this could stay,'" Self said. "But 90 percent of everything built was done with removing it in mind."
Making movie improvements permanent would require approval from the Historic Review Board and the Metropolitan Planning Commission. Those organizations are cautious to maintain the historic integrity of downtown Savannah and usually proceed slowly in making decisions concerning renovations. However, getting a quick decision on whether an improvement can stay or if it has to go might be of benefit to the community in the future.
"It would be nice to have the ability to have some of the improvements become permanent," Self said. "Some good could come out of that."
One removal project downtown residents probably would like to remain permanent was that of parking meters. "Bagger Vance" producers will get a "ticket" from the city for approximately $14,000 for removing 180 meters during filming.
Approximately $1 million was spent on Congress and Bryan streets during the filming of "Bagger Vance." Most of that money was spent on painting and other cosmetic improvements.
Another large amount of money went into turning the calendar back from 1999 to the 1920s.
"This film was more difficult and expensive because it was a period film," Self said. "For example, the movie company rented an 8,000 square-foot space just for wardrobe. That, along with altering the look of parts of town to fit the period is where a good bit of the money went."
Getting Savannah to look like it did in the 1920s added time to the production of the movie.
"Because of its period nature, they spent a lot more time in Savannah than any other film shot in this area," Self said. "Bagger Vance" spent three weeks in Savannah before moving shooting to South Carolina last week.
With a budget of $70 million, "Bagger Vance" is a "very high budget" independent film, Self said. But the size of the budget is misleading. Self said it's difficult to get people to understand how a movie budget is allocated.
"A $70 million film does not mean $70 million will be spent in Savannah," he said. "Most of that goes to actors, producers and directors. Approximately $20 million is actually spent on production of the movie."
Unfortunately, some businesses have taken advantage of what is perceived to be unlimited cash flow associated with the movie.
"There were a few people who gouged the movie company," Self said. "About 90 percent worked out fair deals but some took them to the cleaners. That is the only bad feeling the company is going back to Los Angeles with."
Those are the feelings Self tries to eliminate, he said. "Most films made in Savannah did not make a lot of profit," Self said. "It's important that local businesses make fair deals with people and not expect to get paid more than they should. This is the first movie we've had a problem with that."
More to come
What effect recent problems will have on Savannah's ability to attract movies remains to be seen. But for now, the city's reputation among movie companies remains good. "The Gift," starring Cate Blanchett, is set to begin filming in February and there are other movie companies looking at the area for future filming.
Maintaining good movie relations is important if Savannah wants to keep the added economic impact associated with each film.
In 1998, filmmakers added $21 million to the local economy.
"(According to a state revenue study), $500,000 was generated in tax revenue (in association with) 'Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil,'" Self said. "In 1998, 'The General's Daughter' and 'Forces of Nature' were the largest occupants of hotels in the area for 2-3 months and totaled $500,00 in hotel bills."
Reputation is often a deciding factor in whether a movie comes to a location or goes elsewhere, Self said. He doesn't want Savannah to follow the path of Seattle, where movie production has dried up.
"Seattle had a lot of movie production for a long time," he said. "But they started to believe that was their given right and prices went up. As the prices went up, producers went to other locations."
So far, word of mouth reputation has been favorable for Savannah.
"When ('Bagger Vance' producers) were considering Savannah, they called people who worked here before and got good reports," Self said. "We've been good so far, we shouldn't do anything to jeopardize that."
"Bagger Vance" by the numbers