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Will Natchez follow Greenwood’s movie-making success?

Photos Courtesy of John Jennings — During the production of “The Help” in Greenwood, local businesses were used to film many of the scenes in the story, including a store that was made to look like a bookstore filled with books from the time period.
Photos Courtesy of John Jennings — During the production of “The Help” in Greenwood, local businesses were used to film many of the scenes in the story, including a store that was made to look like a bookstore filled with books from the time period.

NATCHEZ — When director Tate Taylor transformed Greenwood into 1960s Jackson for his Academy-Award nominated film “The Help,” millions of dollars funneled into the economy of the Delta town.

Now two years after the film’s release, many Greenwood residents say they are still seeing positive economic effects.

Taylor and his crew recently began shooting the James brown biopic “Get On Up,” in Natchez. Locals wonder exactly how the production will impact the community.

Greenwood leaders say that if their experience is any indication, Natchez — roughly the same size community as Greenwood — stands to see a significant economic boom.

$50 impact felt

Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Industrial Foundation Chairman Bill Crump estimates “The Help” had a $13 million economic impact on Greenwood while the film was in production.

“From the first foot being on the ground to the end of filming, ‘The Help’ had a profound impact on Greenwood,” he said.

The film brought approximately 200 people to Greenwood for around seven months as part of the production team, and Crump said local restaurants, hotels, home stores, lumber yards, paint shops and many other businesses saw a boom in sales.

“I have not had one person in Greenwood say they did not benefit from ‘The Help,’” he said. “Everybody I talked to said (they) benefited from it one way or another. Everybody felt it.”

Crump was able to get concrete numbers about the impact when he discovered the film’s team was being given $50 bills for their daily expense allowance.

Crump asked every bank in Greenwood to track their deposits of $50 bills. A bank has to collect $10,000 in $50 bills before a bundle can be sent to the Federal Reserve, Crump said.

It took one Greenwood bank six months to accumulate enough bills to send off prior to “The Help” crew arriving in Greenwood.

“And the first two weeks ‘The Help’ was in town, that bank had $30,000 in $50 bills come in from retail shops, restaurants and all kinds of businesses,” he said.

Crump was able to take that information to the Mississippi Legislature and use it to motivate the Legislature to pass legislation making the state’s tax rebates offered to film production companies more competitive with other states.

“That … put us on par with Louisiana and is going to help bring a lot more movies here,” Crump said.

Effects outlast production

The impact of “The Help” breathed new life into Greenwood, Crump said.

“‘The Help’ came along right at the middle of the economic downturn the country was seeing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything lift the spirits of the people in this town like that film did.

“Anybody and everybody who wanted to be in that film was in it,” he said. “And they hired a lot of local people to work on the crew.”

Today, two years after the film’s 2011 release, Crump said the economic impact is still being felt.

“’The Help’ was so successful … it’s been quite a draw for tourism,” he said. “We have seen a real uptick in people coming to Greenwood to see the houses where ‘The Help’ was filmed.

“We have had a real strong aftershock from the film.”

Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Paige Hunt said Greenwood created a visitors’ map to guide them to places in town where “The Help” was filmed.

The draw of “The Help” fans to Greenwood has been incredibly beneficial to the city’s tourism, Hunt said.

“Right after it was released, our group tours doubled,” she said.

Tax receipts, Hunt said, showed a 12-percent increase.

“That’s a pretty significant number for us,” she said. “We’re a small bureau, and that 12 percent means a lot.”

Taylor said visiting Natchez to see “Get On Up” filming locations, such as Bilbo’s Fish House or the home of “Miss Nellie,” could become the leading reason tourists make the trip to town.

“That’s the kind of stuff people see on screen and they want to come see themselves,” he said.

Natchez Tourism Director Connie Taunton said her staff has already started the work to creating tours for “Get On Up.”

“We’ve talked to them about knowing (filming) locations ahead of time so we could get a jump on planning some tours like Greenwood did,” she said.

Taunton said she believes “Get On Up” will also help put Natchez higher on the list of destinations for music-related tours, which she said are especially popular with foreign tourists.

“We’re going to have something for our international visitors to tie Natchez even more into music, even more than the Blues Trail, Jerry Lewis and the blues markers that are here. I think this is going to give us an extra boost.”

Thankful for the gift

Hunt said Greenwood continues to appreciate what Taylor did for their community.

“Tate Taylor is such a wonderful Mississippian,” she said. “Filming these movies in Mississippi, it really is giving back to the state. It’s such a blessing. Not only is it fun while the movie is being filmed, but … in Greenwood, it’s something we took a lot of pride in.”

Hunt said Natchezians should enjoy “Get On Up” while the movie is in town and look forward to the effects it will have on the city.

“Know that Tate and his team are going to do a fabulous job and will make Natchez look as beautiful on screen as it is in person,” she said.

The effects of films being shot in cities the size of Greenwood and Natchez are felt more than they are in bigger cities, Crump said.

“A lot of films have been made in Mississippi, but very few have been filmed in a small area like Greenwood where you can really get your arms around the economic benefits,” he said.

Taylor said he hopes the long-term effects on Natchez from “Get On Up” are similar to those Greenwood felt after “The Help.”

“Besides what we do here and what we spend, what happened in Greenwood, and I can already tell it’s happening in Natchez, is that when foreigners come in and enjoy your town, it’s kind of a wake-up slap for people who have taken it for granted,” he said.