Look out Hollywood–Here comes Birmingham

Felicia Willson
Felicia Willson

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Felicia Willson.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I’m a Southern California native. I’ve worked on one of the best shows in television history: NBC’s The West Wing.

I’ve spent the last 20 years immersed in the land of lights, camera, action, and I’m here to tell ya, if you want to make a movie or a television show, the place to do it is… Birmingham, Alabama.

When I say that to people here in Los Angeles, they furrow their brow and question the availability of crew, equipment, actors, and sound stages. These are legitimate concerns, as the city does not have the same film making infrastructure as Hollywood, New York, or Atlanta (yet). It does, however, have vital qualities those cities do not equally possess: character, originality, and a friendly, welcoming spirit.

My producing partner Josh Daugherty and I are seizing upon the blossoming world of short-form digital entertainment by producing a web series. We both live in the City of Angels with ample access to actors, equipment, and crew, so it would seem a no-brainer to shoot our series NOBODY in our own backyard. In the early stages of writing, that was indeed our plan, but upon our first visit to Birmingham, we threw those plans out the window. We experienced first hand that the city was exactly what it claimed to be: Magic. It was clear that “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham” is more than a slogan; it’s a genuine sentiment.

With a Birmingham native as our guide, we were introduced to a myriad of folks, who upon hearing about our project, eagerly responded with “What can I do? How can I help?” Our meeting with Create Birmingham assured us that despite the town not yet being a Mecca for film making, it has every ability to get the job done. Their knowledge and willingness to assist in location scouting, acquiring crew, and securing permits left us with the utmost confidence that making Birmingham the home for our series was the right decision.

L.A., New York, and Chicago are rich with all the necessary film making tools, and consequently each of those cities have been represented ad nauseam on the screen. Our series is set in Birmingham because it’s a part of the country people rarely see, and they should see it. Not as it was, but as it is.

For some, Birmingham conjures up images of racist bombings, Bull Conner, and fire hoses, but that was not the image in my mind. I’m not one to condemn current reality based on past sins. In all honesty, I had no perception of Birmingham – it simply was not on my radar.

It is now.

Yes, there is a history of a persistent culture of segregation, but within that history there was also a tenacious culture of determination, courage, and an unquenchable thirst for justice. That courage, that ability to overcome, remake, re-brand, and revitalize is the spirit I see in Birmingham, which makes it an ideal location for us to shoot our project.

NOBODY is an independent endeavor that requires passion, enthusiasm, and a willingness to roll up one’s sleeves and dive in.  I’ve spoken with other producers who have shot projects in the city and, independently of one another, they relayed that their crews were the nicest, friendliest, most hard working people they have ever worked with.

Those producers used Birmingham because of the state tax rebate, inexpensive locations, and the uniqueness and variety of scenery allowing them to replicate other cities. The upcoming film Let There Be Light shot in Avondale, Cahaba Heights, and at the Lyric Theatre – all doubling as Manhattan and New England. Bigger, a new film shooting in Birmingham this month, will use the city to double Montreal, New Jersey, and Los Angeles.

Urban, suburban, or rural, Birmingham can be whatever it needs to be. But it’s the people of Birmingham that are the true appeal. I have no doubt that Birmingham will soon rival Atlanta in beckoning film crews to the Southeast.

Sound stages can be built in a year’s time. More prop, camera, equipment, and post houses can be established fairly quickly. Character, charm, and enthusiasm and are not so easily constructed. Birmingham has spent decades cultivating those qualities.

“If you build it, they will come.” Birmingham built it, so we are coming.

Felicia Willson is a television writer and contributor to The Federalist. When she’s not writing, she’s running. Depending on the day, she does one to avoid doing the other.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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