Episode 13: Eva Golson of the Mobile Film Office

Transcript:

Welcome to podcast episode number 13 of the Mobile, Alabama Business Podcast with Eva Golson. My name is Marcus Neto. I own Blue Fish, a digital marketing and web design company based in Downtown Mobile. I'm the host of the Mobile, Alabama Business Podcast, where we talked to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.

In today's show, I had the unique experience of sitting down with Eva Golson to talk about movies. You see, Eva has been quite the influence when it comes to getting legislation passed that encourages directors to film their movies here. She heads up the Mobile Film Office. She also helps scout locations for the directors. She talks about the process they go through when they receive a new script. She also tells us the economic impact that those movies have had over the last couple of years. And let me tell you, it is significant. So let's dive right in with Eva Golson.

Marcus: Today, I'm sitting down with Eva Golson. Eva is the Director of the Mobile Film Office. Welcome to the podcast, Eva.

Eva: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Marcus: So tell us a little bit about yourself. I know you've been here in Mobile for some time. Were you born here? Did you transplant here? How did you end up in Mobile?

Eva: No, I was born in North Louisiana, however, my husband had a career in IBM and he says that at that time, IBM stood for “I've Been Moved”.

Marcus: That's good. (laughter)

Eva: We've lived across the United States, Washington DC, and then France and Germany before we moved to Mobile.

Marcus: Wow. That is really cool. I know that a buddy of mine, and I don't know if he's listening, but if he is, he'll get a kick out of this but he's name is Charlie Wilson. Do you know Charlie?

Eva: Yeah.

Marcus: Okay, so Charlie and I go way back - his wife, Julie, was involved in the Eastern Shore Chamber. And we got together with them for dinners and stuff like that, but I know he's a former IBM guy as well, and he has very similar story as what you're describing. All over the world, wherever IBM needs you, you go, right? Did you go to college in Louisiana or did you go to school?

Eva: I did not go to college.

Marcus: You did not go to college.

Eva: Just high school.

Marcus: No. But that's really cool because I think no... so often times, people think that a college education is a prerequisite to being successful. And obviously it's not because you are a testimony to that.

Eva: I think a lot of times, moving around and being in different parts of the world and seeing a lot of different people is very educational.

Marcus: Absolutely. And I think life teaches you things, in that respect, you will never get from a classroom setting. Well, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on is because we have been made aware of the economic impact that your office has brought to this area and we know that that is quite substantial. Can you describe that for us? When a production company decides to film in Mobile, what are some of the impacts that you've noticed that they have in this area?

Eva: Over the years, it has changed so much. When I first started, we would get a script and take pictures and it would take a week to get everything resolved and send it to California. Now, first they check with our State to see how much money we have in incentive we have a cap, only so much can be spent each year. And I'd like to tell you about the incentives, because this is a big thing that has really pushed the industry here in the area.

Marcus: Please do, because I think that's very important.

Eva: I call it bringing Hollywood to L.A...

Marcus: I love it. “L.A.” is “Lower Alabama”. If you're outside of this area, you may not know that, but go ahead. 

Eva: Because I really cover Mobile in Baldwin County, but for many years we made movies here, but they weren't that well known and when I was running for candidacy for 25 years and the Governor in 1980 put me on the State Film Commission, and then finally in the 90's Mayor Dow said, “make that an official part of your job.” And then in 2001, he wanted me to come out and do it full time, and I was very, very concerned because I knew about legislation that had been passed in other cities and states and we did not have that and I was already working a little bit on it. So I came out in 2001 and started the Mobile Film Office full time. From 2001 to 2009, I worked day and night with our legislators and everybody I could talk to, to tell them about the film industry, and I am not in the entertainment industry, I am in economic development.

Marcus: Right.

Eva: Finally they voted on it, I think they sort of got tired of me, but the thing about the (luaghter) I think so, really...

Marcus: You are effective then...

Eva: And the thing is that people would tell me, we were sending that money to film when we could be giving it to our schools. And I said wait a minute what you don't understand is you have zero now, once they spend their money, they turn in their receipts, they turn it into the State of Alabama, the Revenue Department, it's determined by the legislation that's been written how much you will get in return. If you hire Alabama employees, on your taxes you get 35% back. If you hire out of state, it's 25%, plus you get incentive money on other things, but it's a refund of money you've spent. You get to keep the rest of it. 

Marcus: Right, so I think that's really cool, they're looking for places that they can film in that are less expensive than say going overseas or something along those lines, and the cost of living is less here, the hotels are less expensive here, the food is less expensive, everything is less expensive about, you know, living and doing business here. Not only are they seeing a savings with their production costs, but also there is kind of a kick back if they follow a certain criteria. But the benefit to us as people that live in this area is employment for whatever jobs they may need for those situations, as well as the hotels that they are staying in and the restaurants that they're spending money in. I just think it's really just fascinating how we kind of, you know, we’ve got the situation where, just by giving a little bit of incentive, they're bringing so much business here. 

Eva: And we're having a lot of jobs too, I'd like for you to look on our website, mobilefilmoffice.com at the many people that are now listed on our website for the different jobs they do.

Marcus: Oh very good.

Eva: So that's very, very good, and of course we have been there's another people in locations and things but we have really created a film family here. 

Marcus: That's awesome, so there's definitely an economic impact. I understood that even before going into this, that it wasn't just about, you know “schmoozing” with, you know, the latest entertainment folks, that it really is about bringing an economic development to this area. 

Eva: And if you'd like I will tell you we passed it in 2001, I mean excuse me, I came out of Fort Conde in 2001, and started working on it, we didn't have the legislation passed until 2009. And then you have to get the word out, so from 2010 to the end of 2014, the budgets that were qualified, a qualified budget is a budget over $500,000...

Marcus: Wow.

Eva: From that we had a budget total of over $73,000,000 and the total rebate was $19,000,000. 

Marcus: Wow.

Eva: So we're very proud of that, that shows you how over $52 million stayed in the area.

Marcus: Right, so if I remember correctly the first year or so there was a capital of $67,000,00 and then it now it’s capped at $20,000,000 a year...

Eva: Yes, and that is what is returned after they’ve spent their money, it's the return on their money.

Marcus: Right, yes, but to think that you're getting an investment in this area of $50,000,000 plus, you know, I mean that's a significant amount of money.

Eva: That's four years...

Marcus: Yes, that's a significant amount of money that you're bringing in.

Eva: Yes exactly.

Marcus: Yes I just, I love that, I mean I know that there's kind of a resurgence. I'm not from this area, as we discussed, but I think that there is so much that is beautiful about this area. There is so much that this area has to offer, that I love that there is a resurgence and that people are finding out about this area and bringing business here. Because I just, I think you know this area warrants it. So what else does the Mobile Film Office do? I know I spoke with Diane (Hall); I know she helps with some scouting. What are some of the other functions of the Office?

Eva: Well, first we have to see the scripts and we have to sort of know their budget, so we know what we're working with, some budgets are much larger than others and some it's because of the time of the age that you're printing in, not only locations but we have to talk to so many people. And first we have to know what they need, and how we can help them in Mobile. We are two people in my office, but we have a team. My first team are the Police and the Fireman and then other city departments that help me, but one of our biggest compliments that we can do is because the people in this part of the country that have worked with the film industry make them want to come back.

Marcus: That's cool.

Eva: They love the people here.

Marcus: Yes, the hospitality, the can-do attitude, I love it. I know you're mentioning the police and the fire department, is that because often times they are called on to do, like we were just discussing, that there is a film here that's going to be moving into downtown and doing some shooting and they have to shut down the streets and make sure that certain safety procedures are in placed and stuff like that? Is that what they're bringing brought in for? 

Eva: Yes. It's just like when you have they especially did downtown where there is a Mardi Gras parade or a big run anything you do like that the police have to cord off the streets and make sure everyone is safe, and that no one enters in with cars or personally into those areas at those times when it would be dangerous. 

Marcus: No, it's really cool, how many movies, you can estimate if you need to, but I have a feeling after our discussions here that you're going to know exactly, but how many movies have filmed here in the last couple of years?

Eva: I do have a complete list I can give you.

Marcus: Right, yes give us some names.

Eva: And when I say that, this is, these are the ones that qualified for the incentives. It does not list all the others, since the first of the year we’ve have had 10 projects.

Marcus: Wow.

Eva: And those weren't qualified, except for one...

Marcus: Wow. Yes give us some names because I think people, I don't know about others, but I find it interesting when I know that, you know say we're talking earlier to Nicolas Cage is filming here or Steven Segal or whomever...

Eva: Yeah. And we have TV shows, we have a reality shows, we have music videos, documentaries, all of these things are filming here, so we're staying busy all the time. But you know back when we first started in 2010, we had a company from Birmingham come down here and make a movie called “October Baby”; it was a faith-based movie. We don't get many of those, most of them are excitement and things that, I guess, action movies and horror movies, things that people seem to want to go see. 

Marcus: Wow.

Eva: But we did have “Sweet Home Alabama” that came to Mobile and Baldwin County.

Marcus: My wife loved that show.

Eva: And you know they filmed here quite a bit and we had other things that you wouldn't know had filmed here. And the last big one that filmed were “The Elites”. It was a dancing group; they started before the end of the year and finished up in December, oh no, after the first of the year - January, February. 

Marcus: Is that the dance troop that took part in all the parades and stuff like that? I think I saw some press on that on YouTube or something along those lines; it's cool. 

Eva: Sometimes they didn't get permission to be where they wanted to be. (laughter)

Marcus: Yes sure.

Eva: And they had to realize that those parades are private, personal, and you have to go to that group and ask to be in the parade. 

Marcus: Right and I think they used that as a catapult and that's fine, you use what you can as a catapult to get the TV show that you're mentioning, so... but what are some other films that you’ve got?

Eva: Well some of them, like you say, you wouldn't know but “60 Minutes in Heaven”, or it was “90 minutes in Heaven”, “Nigel and Oscar”, and we finished one not long ago called “Aether”.

Marcus: Actually, Jared, the sound engineer here, and I both know somebody that was in that so yeah, that's...

Eva: And that was from local young man that started out here in Mobile and went out to Mudbrick Media and made their first movies, and they're Drew Hall and Horst Sarubin are both graduates of the University of South Alabama; we're so proud of them. 

Marcus:  Yes, they're doing some excellent work over there. I hope they get, yes, more recognition, because you know I'm a big fan of some of the stuff that they are putting out. 

Eva: I’ll give you this and you can look at it and see if something interest you...

Marcus: Well we know Danny Lipford is a...

Eva: Oh he is so good. 

Marcus: Is a local celebrity he is doing some really great things. 

Eva: He is really been able to increase his business with the incentives.

Marcus: Yes, there are a lot of really good names on here. 

Eva: I think one of those lists I gave you was 10 we'd had since the first of the year, I don't know if I brought that list or not. 

Marcus: So you mentioned that you just kind of fell into this, but I mean was there an educational process that you went? I mean it or is it just kind of trawl wild fire like I need you to do this and you just kind of took off and run with it? 

Eva: I am still being educated after this many years, like I said I went on, the Governor put me on the State Film Commission in 1980, but my first encounter was Jimmy Morris put me on the Mobile Chamber of Commerce...

Marcus: Sure.

Eva: Put me on his committee it was a Film Commission Committee. And we started with that and that's how I ended up being appointed to the State Film Commission. And we just worked through the years, that were just one of those things they call you and every time you do something you learn something new. I'm still learning something new with every movie. I could not make a movie, but I sure can help you make one. 

Marcus: Point them in the right direction. And what is that look like, so you get sent a script and you go through the process of obviously have to read through the script and figure out what the different settings are that they are going to need, and then are you going out and scouting these or is Diane going out and scouting these and sending them out suggestions as to where they might film and kind of pitching to them? Is it really a pitch or is it more like no, these are the ones that I found and they've already made their decision to come here? 

Eva: It goes through, it revolves, when I started many years ago, I would have to go take pictures, get them developed, tape them together for a long scene, fold them up, and send the folder to California. Now Diane goes out and takes pictures, comes and plugs it in her computer and sends it right away, but she also tells them that the film library is on our board. And so they can tune into that and see what we have and then ask her to take pictures may be of something else, but we have to find what they need and they check also with the State to see if they’re going to get the incentives; it's to make sure that when they film they can have the incentives. 

Marcus: Wow.

Eva: It has changed so much since we first started, you know here with being in technology, we'll understand that daily things change for us. We learn something new everyday.

Marcus: Absolutely, I mean that, I would imagine the film industry has seen a lot of the same technological advances that we have, but also that doesn't just, it's not just about the actual filming of the process but everything that goes up to that. So you're mentioning back in the day when, and I've shot film before I had started taking pictures you know in the late 80's, early 90's or something along those lines. So I remember film and having to get on developed and everything moves in a much faster pace now. I can take pictures and send them to somebody you know almost immediately. But yes, I would imagine things have changed quite drastically. As someone that heads up an organization, if there was a piece of wisdom, or like the one most important thing that you've learned, what would you distill that down to?

Eva: I'm not sure, I have seen so many people come through that want to be in the industry and we tried to get them to focus on what it is they're most interested in, because this is not a glamorous industry, it's hardworking. And they need to go maybe work on set as a volunteer or crew person or something to learn and make sure this is what they want to do. 

Marcus: Sure.

Eva: And once they are sure of that, then I would say get the best education you can. Of course technology has changed through the years. In the earlier years, they just learn by being there. Now you can go to school first, and then take some lessons and the things that you're interested in - if it's behind the camera or if you want to act, whatever it is you want to do. I had one young man tell me after work in a couple of movies, he said “yes, this is what I want to do, but now I know what it is I want to do.” 

Marcus: Absolutely.

Eva: I can go forward that way.

Marcus: Was it you mentioned so, I'm going to distill that down if I can, so it's not just the glamorous side of working in movies, it's the humbleness of somebody to come at something and know that you may have to start at the bottom. You may have to work hard and learn, you know being mentored and groomed and then you move up just like any other position, that's not the instant stardom that most people think of when it comes to film or the TV. I know a couple of guys from the Eastern Shore that are now working on documentaries and reality TV shows as camera, as camera men, but you know they started with a little digital slr camera and just doing, you know, special projects that they wanted to work on, you know, just recording video and taking it back and editing it, bringing it down and kind of perfecting the craft, you know, at that level. And then they did they went in as low man on the term pulling, as a matter of fact I think you know the most glamorous thing that they got to do was like hand the lens to the cameraman that was actually responsible for taking the shot. But then now they find themselves in a situation where they're actually given more responsibility and they've just kind of progressed through the years, so it's not an easy industry for sure. 

Eva: It's very interesting to watch and when they decide what they want to do, and they become so good at it. And you found there we have a film family, once you're interested at, you get going, you see somebody else that wants to learn, you help them, you bring them into the group..

Marcus: Absolutely.

Eva: And the film family has grown and grown and grown. And as long as you work hard and you do what you're supposed to do, everyone will include you as they’re making their movies. And we have some young men here, we had one that started a movie, “Hayride”, and you know, you want to try that get money from it, to recoup what you've spent and first thing he did, I didn't know how well it would go but they had it in the Redbox at Walmart selling. And it turned out so well, and he made “Hay Ride 2” and he’s making more movies. And he still a very small company, but he is making it. 

Marcus: Right and sometimes it's just takes a vision, a passion, to do it and you see that kind of success, it's really neat. Now we were talking a little bit before hand, and one of the things that we like to discuss on this podcast is hobbies, so I'd like to know, what do you like to do in your free time. Do you have any hobbies?

Eva: I do, I haven't been able to do my favorite lately, but my husband and I are avid scuba divers. He was in it many years before me, women didn't do that in other days. But I learned after we moved to Mobile in about 1980, I took some lessons and we started diving. We ended up diving all over the world, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, the Atlantic and the Pacific. We have just been everywhere diving and it's something I love so much. 

Marcus: Right and I know you were talking earlier that Alabama currently has the largest man-made reef I think in the world, is that...? 

Eva: As far as I know it is the largest and...

Marcus: Say, don't fact check us on that, but yes I think it is the largest in the world which I just think is the coolest thing. 

Eva: There's a young man, a gentleman down there, that's been working on it for a long time, Mr. Walters and he's been working on a good while, and now we have a foundation down there, The Reef Foundation, that is working and helping bring more money to do more things - we’ve sunk the second ship down there for divers to go on. And this will be very interesting to a lot of people, it will pick up more tourism on our coast and the whole state benefits from the tourism dollars. 

Marcus: I love that, and my boys and I love the water, the ocean. I've mentioned to you that we love to go snorkeling only because none of us were certified in scuba, but I've got a friend over in Panama City Beach that's been kind of putting the pressure on me to get certified. I don't know, I may, my oldest son is getting to the point now where we could probably go and do something along those lines together and I just think that would be really neat, I'll have to give that a ...I'll start to investigate that and seeing what's involved. 

Eva: I'll help you I'll tell you where to go, where to get started.

Marcus: Give me the scoop. Local businesses, can they register with you in some way to provide services or you know what, how does that work?

Eva: Yes, we have people come in to see us and we ask them to call first, because there is only two of us and we're all been out at meetings or we're scouting for another movie, but once they come in and tell us what it is, they'd like to do whether it's in the catering business, you know they have to have so many different things for the movies. And it’s not easy, you have to be a catering truck and everything, people need to know that if they want to get into it, but you know car rental, office equipment rental, if they come in and tell us what it is they want to do, we try to work with them then get them on our website. If they're interested, we need to make sure that they know exactly what the movie company would be asking them for. 

Marcus: Very good, so what types of businesses mostly are you looking for, for that vendor list?

Eva: We talk to real estate people...

Marcus: Oh cool.

Eva: And catering, craft services, automobiles, office equipment and all sorts of locations. You just have no idea, people think we're looking for beautiful places and they'd be surprised some of the places we’ve find that wouldn't be on the beautiful list. 

Marcus: You did mention horror films getting filmed here, so I would imagine we're looking for creepy places too. So Kara (Wilbourn), one the folks who works here at Blue Fish, used to work at the Saenger (Theatre), and so I've seen the under-carriage of that theater and it is not pretty; it is kind of creepy down there. And so...

Eva: Those are great places to film!

Marcus: Exactly so, if somebody wanted to get in touch with you, you mentioned calling, where can they find out more information about the Mobile Film Office?

Eva: We're in the phone book, especially under City, City of Mobile Film Office is listed. We'd love to have them call us if they'd be interested in doing something. Now a lot of people are interested, but they really aren't equip to do some of the things they'd like to do. And we don't mind helping them, you know, tell them what it is they need. 

Marcus: Right. Now there's, I'm sure there's, an educational process to that and you all have a website, is that mobilefilmoffice.com?

Eva: Yes, I would invite everyone to go to mobilefilmoffice.com, whether you want to be an actor, whether you want to be on there for a vendor or whatever, because we don't have anything to do with the acting. What we do, we post on our website when they're looking for extras, when they're looking for crew people. When they're looking for actors, whether they're looking for volunteers, we will always post it on our website, as soon as it is given to us. Many people call us and want something, the media will hear that there is someone in town, or something they're doing, but until we get a press release, we aren't allowed to say anything. 

Marcus: Right.

Eva: But as soon as we get that, they will post it on our website about what they're looking for. 

Marcus: No it's really neat. Can you say anything about what's currently filming, because we mentioned this earlier, but can you talk about that at all, the one that’s filming in Gulf Shores?

Eva: Yes, it's all in the news, so I'd be happy to tell you. The media was covering it very much, but we're making a movie an incident that happened in 1945, a ship sunk, the USS Independence, and it was a bad, bad story but the, a ship was delivering an atom bomb and it was a very secretive mission, no one knew about it. And as the ship is returning, a submarine finds it and torpedo's it and sinks it. 

Marcus: Wow.

Eva: So the name of the movie is “Men of Courage”, over a thousand people were on the ship, but just a little over a hundred lived, they were in the water many days, but they didn't, the army no one above them, knew that the ship was missing. So it was a few days before they found them. They've started out today filming over off the beach at Orange Beach. These people will be in the water and they've had to do a lot of work, a lot of research, a lot of equipment brought out there, there even has to be some fire on the water, and then all of these people - they will be filming few days out there. 

Marcus: I remember seeing something that I think they were looking for extras for that and one of the requirements was you know obviously they were looking for a certain build, and I don't fit that criteria at all, but the other thing that they were mentioning was, “must be comfortable in the water for long periods of time.” And I was like wow, you know that sounds like not just your chance to be in the film, but also, I mean it's kind of an adventure, you know to be doing something along those lines, so that's really cool. 

Eva: It's an adventure, but we want you to be safe in the water. 

Marcus: Right, actually.

Eva: And so they will have some expert people in the water there, some life savers on, the fireman and working with them. But it is something that you would have to be comfortable with being under the water like that. And once we bring them back to this area, they'll be on the battleship, USS Alabama, and then in some scenes, they will be downtown Mobile driving around in vintage cars, appeared around 1945 and we will look like San Francisco at that time. 

Marcus: I'm looking forward to seeing that because I'm a car nut, so I love seeing these old cars and stuff. And of course, I know that we'll have to stay out of the way, but it's just cool that to see what's going on in downtown Mobile and some of the resurgence of this area, again as I mentioned earlier. I just love hearing that, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up is there any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Eva: I would just like to thank the public for the support we have had from everyone. It's nice when they come to see, but most of them realize that there's cameras going, they have to stand back to a certain area. And like some of the streets have been marked off and instead of being upset that they couldn't get in and out of the business, they thought they have a front row seat looking at the window and see what's happening. So everyone has been a part of making movies here. There are only two of us in the (Film) Office, but it's the support of everyone that’s helped us and we call it our team in Mobile . 

Marcus: Yes and I know that I speak for everyone, but I think a lot of us just feel proud that there is something like that happening here, you know when you hear that Steven Segal is filming a project here, or Nicolas Cage or whomever, it's cool, you know, to think that L.A., Lower Alabama, is getting that kind of business, that kind of recognition, that kind of experience, because you know we're kind of far down here on the Gulf Coast, far removed from L.A. and Hollywood and stuff like that, you know, there are definitely some benefits to filming here so...

Eva: We can pretend we're any place. 

Marcus: Yes, very much so. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as the Director of the Mobile Film Office, and even more, I really wanted to just say I appreciate your efforts that you and Diane (Hall) and the others at the Mobile Film Office are putting forth to bring more business to this area. It was great talking to you. 

Eva: Thank you. I've enjoyed being with you today.