Franklin movie producer Ken Carpenter films “The World We Make” in Franklin. / Photo courtesy of Nook Lane Entertainment
By MATT BLOIS
A group of filmmakers in Williamson County are starting to carve out a niche in the movie industry.
Many of the filmmakers in Williamson County make family-friendly or faith-based movies, and the entertainment industry is starting to take note of their success.
Ben Howard, the founder and CEO of Williamson County based Third Coast Content, said his company focuses on making content — mostly feature films — for people who don’t live on the East or West Coast, where most movies are made.
“I think over time because of the presence of Christian music and the presence of Christian publishing … this became the center of the Christian commerce world, including entertainment,” he said. “Nashville is a geographic center for much of that audience, spanning the Southeast and Midwest.”
Williamson County doesn’t have massive movie studios complete with sound stages like Hollywood, but Howard said local filmmakers can find everything they need to make a smaller movie in the Nashville area.
He also pointed out that filmmakers have access to more robust movie making infrastructure in Atlanta, Georgia, which has sprung up thanks to generous tax incentives in that state.
Franklin movie producer Ken Carpenter said his most recent movie “The World We Make,” which premiered at the Franklin Theatre in April, was filmed in Williamson County. The movie also featured Rose Reid, an actress from Franklin.
However, he said most movies made locally will require some help from Los Angeles.
“More than building a free-standing movie community here, I think our greatest success will be linking arms effectively with Los Angeles,” he said. “Any time I go into a production now, I’m doing precisely that.”
In many ways, that bridge already exists because of Nashville’s existing connection to Los Angeles’ music industry.
“It’s a seamless transition or connection between Los Angeles and Nashville,” Carpenter said.
The existing music industry in the Nashville area has also created a good talent pool for filmmakers. Carpenter said the Nashville area has lots of camera operators, sound engineers and production professionals who can easily switch from making music videos to making feature films.
Howard worked in the music industry before moving into movies. In addition to feature films, Carpenter has made music videos for Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman.
Carpenter called Nashville a place where ideas for movies can start. Producers might go to Los Angeles to find actors or distributors, and they might film in another location. But he said Williamson County has lots of talented writers, directors and marketing professionals.
Ash Greyson’s company Ribbow Media Group researches the market viability of movie ideas and also stages social media advertising campaigns for movies.
Greyson lives in Franklin’s Westhaven subdivision, within walking distance of a dozen people involved in the movie business. But he spends about five days a month in Los Angeles trying to drum up new business.
As more filmmakers move to Williamson County, he’s starting to spend less time in California. He estimated that 95 percent of his business came from Los Angeles five years ago. Now, about a third of his business is local, and he expects that number to be 50 percent by 2020.
“Our fingerprint isn’t overt and known throughout the universe, but trust me, Hollywood is watching. They realize what we’re doing is important,” he said. “Nashville is kind of like Hollywood’s secret, and it’s about to not be a secret anymore.”
Greyson and Howard both said more people in the movie business are starting to migrate from California to Williamson County for the low costs of living, creative energy and collegial work environment.
“People treat each other pretty good around here, relative to the rest of the entertainment industry,” Howard said. “I think they like that. It’s way more of a community.”
Jon and Andy Erwin, a pair of faith based filmmakers from Alabama, are planning to move their studio to Williamson County next year.
The Erwin brothers made a movie called “I Can Only Imagine” in 2018 with a $7 million budget. That movie went on to make more than $80 million, making it the most successful independent movie of the year.
This influx of creative talent is creating a virtuous cycle. The more filmmakers that move to Williamson County, the more viable the industry becomes.
Greyson and Carpenter said one of the best ways to boost Williamson County’s burgeoning film industry would be improved tax incentives from the state, much like the incentives that spurred growth in Atlanta. Although, it could be hard to compete with the incentives already offered in Georgia.
While Williamson County probably won’t turn into Hollywood, Carpenter said he’s optimistic about the future of the movie business in Williamson County. He said it’s only a matter of time before a movie born in Nashville becomes a major national success.
“More than shooting everything in Tennessee, things can take flight here. Nashville can become a home that gives birth to project,” he said. “It’s a great place to incubate projects.”