The biggest thing Middle Georgians who see “Need for Speed” need to do when it opens later this week is to remind themselves that the movie starts out in upstate New York.
That’s going to be a little more difficult to do when so much of the early part of the movie shows off familiar parts of Macon.
The action-adventure movie, based on a popular video game, opens nationwide in theaters Friday. Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) stars as a race car driver out for revenge after he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Paul’s character must get from New York to California in 48 hours to compete in a legendary illegal street race against his rival (Dominic Cooper, “The Man Who Would Be Bond”) held annually by a character played by Michael Keaton.
Filmmakers shot a good chunk of the movie in Macon last spring, including an extensive car racing sequence through the streets of downtown.
Elliott Dunwody, chairman of the Macon Film Commission, said it was the Georgia Film Commission that recommended Macon to the film’s producers, thanks to big-time productions like “Trouble With The Curve” and “42” coming here for shoots in 2012.
“We showed (Macon) to the producers and we got a great response,” Dunwody said. “Macon had some of the coolest shots they’d seen. ... We had worked with the lead (location) scout before. He knew Macon was a camera-ready town.”
Director Scott Waugh said he knew he had to film here the moment he arrived.
“It was fantastic,” said Waugh, a former stuntman who directed the movie “Act of Valor.” “I really fell in love with the community. It was so picturesque, so sweet. It was a wonderful place to film.”
Because Georgia’s tax incentive program for film and TV productions is among the best in the nation, more and more filmmakers are heading to the state to take advantage of the program. Most of the exterior shots in the movie were filmed throughout parts of the state, even though none of the movie actually takes place in Georgia.
Macon spent most of its appearance portraying upstate New York, while Atlanta largely substitutes for Detroit.
For the Macon racing sequences, Waugh took a different approach than many directors might have. Rather than write out a racing sequence in the script, Waugh said he and his team went throughout the city to see what sites they wanted to incorporate into the sequence, then sketched it out.
“We walked around the city and came up with the race course,” he said. “We then put it into the screenplay. ... Downtown itself, the buildings were so beautiful that you could point the camera in any direction and it was gorgeous.”
Filmmakers worked with the film commission and the city to shoot the racing sequences all through the night until 6 in the morning.
“People are going to say, ‘How did that happen here and we didn’t hear it?’ ” Dunwody said. “We worked with the city, the police, we worked with the business owners -- everyone was happy to oblige.”
Waugh said the only real challenge his crew faced was getting the state to agree to shut down the Interstate 75 southbound exit at Hardeman Avenue for part of the day to film a sequence in that area. The state eventually agreed and the crew shot scenes at the exit, across the overpass and at Fountain Car Wash.
For the owners and management of Fountain Car Wash, having their business appear in a movie is becoming old hat. The car wash also was featured in a key sequence in the horror movie “The Crazies” a few years ago.
“We’re excited (about ‘Need for Speed’),” manager Brian Eidson said. “We’re going to take the staff to see it.”
Eidson said the car wash got a small boost in business when “The Crazies” filmed there because everyone wanted to know what went on. Eidson said the “Need for Speed” shoot was different because “this one was tailored specifically for us.”
“It’s amazing how many people it takes to do a scene,” he said. “They had near 100 people for something that’s like 30 seconds.”
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said he and others are excited to see Macon again on the silver screen.
“The excitement during the filming of ‘Need For Speed’ was palpable, just as it was during the filming of ‘42,’ ” Reichert said in an e-mail. “It’s great to see shots of Macon-Bibb in the previews, and I know a lot of people are ready to see how much of our city made it in the full movie. The Macon Film Commission is to be thanked for their volunteer efforts to attract producers here and coordinate the filming between the Macon-Bibb County, the community and the production companies.”
Dunwody said that the more filmmakers learn about Macon, the more likely they are to film other projects here. He added that members of the “Need for Speed” crew had heard good things about the city from people who had worked on “42.”
“The (‘42’) people gave such good reviews that everyone wanted to see Macon,” he said, adding there haven’t been many lulls in productions here during the past few years. “It’s starting to be a steady thing. The Macon Film Festival put us on everybody’s radar, and Georgia’s got the tax credits. It’s easier to shoot outside of Atlanta because the traffic is not as bad.”
“Trouble With The Curve” and “42” both came to Macon to shoot scenes at vacant Luther Williams Field, but eventually shot in other locations across town, especially the latter production. Dunwody said he and other film commission members often take location scouts on circuitous routes to locations in order to show off more of the city.
“They want to see Terminal Station, so we take them the long way around,” he said with a chuckle. “We show them neighborhoods, we show them other stuff. They start to change their minds (about how much they want to shoot here). That happened with ‘42,’ and that happened with ‘Need for Speed.’ ”
Waugh said shooting in Georgia had a profound effect on him.
“My wife and I fell in love with Macon,” he said. “I love Georgia. For me, the people are so fantastic; they are so wonderful and warm. It’s a unique quality that you don’t see in L.A.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 478-744-4334.