Guardian Centers officials: Movie happy happenstance

chwright@macon.comNovember 15, 2013 

Training for real-life destruction and mayhem was the idea behind the Guardian Centers. But over the next week, the massive mock city in Perry will be the site of a fictional Hollywood production.

“It’s something that we hadn’t really expected to do, but we’re really excited that we can do it,” said Vann Burkart, a spokesman for the center.

For the first time since it opened last year, the Guardian Centers will be a movie location. Weeklong filming of “Barely Lethal” begins Saturday, and officials hope it’s the start of interest in the center as a unique location that could also help the local economy.

“They’re buying supplies and stuff from the local vendors, and they’re eating locally and stuff,” said Tim Maloney, vice president of operations for the center. “But from our understanding, we still got a lot to do when it comes to hotels and stuff.”

“Barely Lethal,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba, is an action comedy about a 16-year-old assassin who fakes her death and enrolls in high school. Hailee Steinfeld, of “Ender’s Game,” plays the main character, Megan. Jackson is Megan’s mentor, and Alba is Megan’s enemy. It’s a production of Main Street Films, Hopscotch Pictures and RatPac Entertainment.

“It’s actually a story about a girl who is trying to find herself and her place and purpose in the word,” director Kyle Newman said in a news release. “That’s everyone’s story -- all the more so in the high school years.”

The release states the movie is set to be released in 2014.

Maloney said he doesn’t know of any call for extras, though a casting call was circulated on Facebook for tall men to work over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Perry is in for something it hasn’t seen before. Not that it shouldn’t, though, Maloney said.

“Macon gets movies, but we believe that the Guardian Center can do that, too,” Maloney said.

In the past couple of years, Macon has been the backdrop for several movies, including the Jackie Robinson biopic “42.” But Maloney said Guardian Centers offers a unique setup that allows film crews to work without distractions.

“You can come here, you can do all your stuff, and we can still deliver realistic streetscapes and realistic pictures without having to worry about all the extra stuff when it comes to needing law enforcement to block off a downtown or shutting off a road, or do all that downtown with all ... the bureaucracy behind it,” Maloney said.

The Guardian Centers was built to resemble a city that features disaster scenarios for emergency response teams to train. It includes a collapsible building, a flooded neighborhood and a partial highway where accidents are staged. The $51 million facility held its first training exercises in December 2012.

Maloney said he cannot talk about what parts of the center are in the film and said “nice try” when asked about movie details.

Though the crew and stars will be insulated from the public while working, Maloney said not to rule out any shopping or eating excursions. No public events have been planned, and it’s unknown whether the actors will leave the center.

Mary Beth Bass, economic development coordinator, said she wasn’t in on planning for the filming, but it’s a great promotion of Perry.

“It raises the profile of what we can offer, beyond what we’ve done with the (Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter) in the past,” Bass said. “If this goes well, then word spreads pretty quickly in that industry.”

Still, Bass admitted Perry needs more hotel accommodations to capitalize on the Guardian Centers’ draw. She said City Council is working on a development plan that will include more hotels.

“We certainly recognize locally that we need those things, but planning those things strategically is what needs to happen to make that a success story,” she said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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