“Selma,” a biopic about Martin Luther King Jr., is set to be filmed on the Square on May 23 and again May 28 and May 29, according to a letter sent to local business owners. Entertainment media outlets have reported the film will be produced by Oprah and Brad Pitt.
A portion of filming will take place inside the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art and outside on Winters and Anderson streets.
Roads would need to be closed for some of the filming, including Atlanta Street in front of Johnnie MacCrackens, The Local and other businesses on the block off the Square between Anderson and Roswell streets.
Private parking lots on that section of the Square would also be closed.
Gary Leake, owner of Johnnie MacCracken’s Celtic Pub, said he expects to see a significant decline in business when filming begins.
“If they have nowhere to park, they’re not coming here,” Leake said. “They’re literally locking down the whole street.”
Jim Tidwell, owner of The Local at the corner of Atlanta and Roswell streets, said he’s also expecting his patrons to be inconvenienced.
“I understand it may be good for the city, but it’s not good for our business,” Tidwell said.
Leake is also concerned for his employees, who will take a hit in pay and tips when “Selma” takes over part of downtown Marietta. Leake said he has several single mothers on his staff, and he can’t afford to compensate them for lost wages if few paying customers make their way into his restaurant.
“These people don’t have financial means to weather a week without work,” Leake said.
But Leake maintains he understands the notoriety the film industry brings to Marietta and appreciates the film’s message.
He pointed to the filming of “Dumb and Dumber To” on the Square in October, which brought acting heavyweights Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels to Marietta and put the city in the spotlight.
The message of “Selma” hits home for Leake, who hung a photo of King accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in his bar just a few days before the film’s location scout approached him about the street closures.
“Martin Luther King Jr. has consequences for an Irish pub because of the implications of religious freedom,” Leake said.
Requests for comment from the film company were not answered Monday.
No policy to compensate businesses
The shooting of “Selma” won’t be the first time Johnnie MacCracken’s has seen film crews. A VH1 pilot titled “Hindsight” closed the bar down for two days in November when large trucks and carts filled with filming equipment lined the parking spaces on both sides of Atlanta Street in front of the pub.
“If you’ve never done this before, and most of us haven’t, you’re very flattered,” Leake said.
But for “Hindsight,” the bar was compensated. Neighboring businesses, however, didn’t receive any cash for their troubles or loss of business.
“Now I understand how they felt,” Leake said.
Georgia has become increasingly popular for movie filming with the introduction of state tax breaks, and some local governments aren’t equipped to handle the demand that seemed to spike overnight, Leake said.
“They turned this into a science, so to speak, on how they do this,” Leake said, referring to the film industry.
Requests to close city streets are funneled through the Marietta Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department directed by Rich Buss. He said applicants who want to shut down roads are required to survey businesses that would be affected, but they don’t necessarily have to get permission from those business owners.
The city is compensated for time spent closing streets, public parking lots that are closed and salaries for off-duty police officers who direct traffic. Buss said the city has not yet worked out exactly how much it will charge for the filming of “Selma.”
Formal complaints lodged by impacted business owners can be filed in his office, Buss said, but there aren’t any policies spelling out how businesses can be compensated for any loss of revenue. Buss said he has received no formal complaints.
“There’s no specific policy that regulate that other than the fact that we need to have happy business owners,” Buss said.
Mayor says concerns legit
Mayor Steve Tumlin gave credence to Leake’s concerns about losing business due to street closures.
“I think that’s a legitimate thing to address,” Tumlin said. “I personally don’t have the solution.”
Marietta is “on the map” because of the ambiance of its historic downtown, he said, but there are challenges the city faces in accommodating both the film industry and local business owners.
“The Square is so popular, and there are people (who) make their livelihood from it,” Tumlin said.
City policies don’t deal with impacts of private businesses, but Tumlin said the city should “look at the individuals who make sacrifices.”
“If they get out of the habit of coming to your place, they might not ever come back,” Tumlin said. “(Leake) has a legitimate concern.”
Tumlin raised concerns about an unrelated request to close city streets at a City Council meeting late last month. Organizers of the Chalkfest event want to shut down North Park and West Park square beginning at 2 p.m. on a Friday through Sunday in October.
The event began last year, but organizers hope October’s event will draw more artists. They also plan to begin the festival on Friday evening and say time is needed that afternoon to block off sections of the road to prepare spaces for vendors and chalk artists.
“I’m complaining in a very similar vein,” said Tumlin who works at the Smith, Tumlin, McCurley and Patrick on Church Street off the Square.
He raised objections to shutting down the road at last month’s meeting, maintaining employees who work on the Square or at the nearby Cobb government complex, along with merchants and restaurants in downtown Marietta, would be inconvenienced.
“It’s the closing North Park Square and West Park Square that were my reasons,” Tumlin said. “And that’s purely traffic.”
City Council will vote on the Chalkfest street closures at its meeting set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 205 Lawrence St. Council members do not have to approve the closures associated with the filming of “Selma.”