Sixty-four years ago Sunday, Cairo native Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond at Luther Williams Field and made history as the first black player ever to play against white ballplayers in Georgia.
As milestones go, it comes up a little short compared to his breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers two years earlier. But Robinsons presence is back on the minds of Middle Georgians as the national opening for the biopic 42, with key scenes shot in Macon, draws closer.
The movie helped boost the local economy and has put the city on the radar of other productions looking to take advantage of Georgias well-regarded tax credit program if they film here. One of those productions, Need For Speed, will begin shooting here toward the end of April.
But 42 also is a point of civic pride -- even if Macon is doubling for Daytona Beach, Fla. During Macon filming, many residents and businesses got caught up in the glamour of Hollywood by working on the production. Even those who werent involved got to stargaze at restaurants for the likes of stars Harrison Ford, Chris Meloni and Chadwick Boseman.
Restaurateur Cesare Mammarella said his restaurants, especially Bearfoot Tavern and Tic Toc Room, saw not only a boost in business from cast and crew members, but also from residents who wanted to catch a glimpse of them.
Obviously, it was a financial success, he said. But the exposure the restaurants and the city got out of it was very exciting.
42 shot in Macon a month after Trouble With The Curve, which starred Clint Eastwood as an aging Atlanta Braves scout. But while Curves presence in Macon was limited -- one day of shooting and just a couple of scenes in the movie -- the 42 cast and crew members spent weeks here, and parts of downtown and Luther Williams play prominently in the film.
Darryl Pryor, a co-producer of 42, said Macon fit its movie role perfectly.
Luther Williams was one of the principal reasons we came, he said. But the architecture in downtown Macon is such that it can replicate other cities, so we were able to work with our production design team.
We had a good experience there. The people working with us, their hospitality was wonderful. There were no major issues (shooting in Macon) than you have with any other film.
In giving a tour to economic development leaders from across the state last week, Mayor Robert Reichert noted that the movies are a great way to showcase the city, as well as serving as an indicator that Macon is starting to make its mark in one of the biggest industries in Georgia.
From 42 alone, the Macon Film Commission estimates that the production brought in between $800,000 and $1.3 million during the 18-day shoot, and that data covers just the impact to restaurants and hotels. Commission member Elliott Dunwody said the estimate doesnt include such things such as equipment rentals, supplies, security and other costs that also generate revenue.
Our goal is to have one production here a year, he said. Personally, Id love to have a couple of films here and an episodic TV series.
Lee Thomas, director of the states film commission, said the movie/TV production industry had a $3.1 billion impact on Georgia in fiscal 2012, a marked increase from the $244 million the state pulled in just five years earlier.
I think Macon will continue to see business from (the movie) industry, she said. The (Macon) film commission has been great. Ive heard nothing but praise from the Trouble With The Curve and 42 people about Macon.
Dunwody and Thomas both noted that some of the same production staff for Need For Speed worked on Trouble With The Curve, which put Macon on their radar for their next film.
Need For Speed came because of word of mouth, Dunwody said. Some of their people were here with Trouble With The Curve. Weve gotten to know (movie production) scouts, and were usually the first call they make.
Thanks to the citys distinctive downtown architecture, Macon can double as any city set during eras such as the 1950s, he said.
What got those films here starts with the architecture and baseball stadium, he said. In one sense, it looks like the 50s or 60s in parts of the city. Some people complain about that, but it helps the film commission.
Like other film-ready cities in the state, Macon gives the state film commission photos and other materials to put on the states website. When producers come to Georgia seeking certain elements for what they want to film, state officials get a copy of the script and go through the archive to see which locations match up with the producers needs.
In some cases, that could mean competition between Macon and another part of the state, but Thomas said its a good problem to have.
Dunwody said its a friendly rivalry.
(Producers) can see what Macon has to offer, he said. There are a lot of camera-ready cities in the state. But anything coming to Georgia, were in the mix. Really, our goal is to have films come to Georgia. If (they shoot) in Macon, thats just extra.
Given the amount of time that the 42 cast and crew spent in Macon, anticipation already has been building for the movie, which has already generated positive critical buzz.
Diana Blair, co-owner of Blair Home Furnishings on Third Street, has decorated the display window of her store with the J.C. Penney sign her business doubled as when producers shot a scene of Jackie Robinson and his wife dealing with segregated water fountains for the first time. Also in the window are triptychs of pictures and news articles done during the shooting, as well as baseball- and movie-themed furniture as well.
It was amazing, like real Hollywood, Blair said. (Weeks earlier), I saw this one guy who kept looking at the building. I thought he was involved with the Dannenberg (project). I asked him, What are you doing? and he said, Were going to make a movie.
Blair said it was mostly the exterior of the store that was used, as extras portraying customers entered and exited while the scene was filming.
Scot Cooley, who works in local theater in his spare time, worked as an extra in several scenes with his girlfriend, Betsey Bloodworth. For one scene, he was pulled suddenly from the hair and makeup tent by one of the casting people and put on a bus to shoot a restaurant scene at the Terminal Station.
The scene depicts the Robinsons receiving a hostile reception when they enter the restaurant. Cooley said his character sees Robinson and throws his money down angrily while shooting Robinson a dirty look as he storms out.
They shot it like 40 times, said Cooley, who works at a hair salon. It was kind of done on the fly -- its real intimidating. Someone tells you blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, then bang, its happening.
Cooley said hes anxious to see the movie, not just to see what material was shot here that makes it into the movies final cut.
I definitely want to see it for the movie part, but also to see what was shot in Macon, he said. With the editing, I have no idea if those scenes are in it or not.
Pryor said some of the Macon scenes are big parts of the movie.
Theres a key sequence at Luther Williams Field thats one of the highlights, he said. It shows Jackie Robinsons ability running the bases.
Pryor said another scene, featuring a young actor playing Ed Charles, later a third baseman for the New York Mets, was shot at the stadium and is one of the most special sequences in the film.
Thats helping generate more interest in the movie.
I think its going to be very exciting, Dunwody said. Of course, Macon is not shown as Macon, but it is going to be shown. What Ive heard about the film is good. Im looking forward to it opening. Its going to be pretty exciting for everybody.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.