When we think of big, blockbuster movies, naturally Hollywood comes to mind. California is where people go to make movies. But for years that hasn’t necessarily been the entire story. Since 2017, Georgia has led the world in the number of films released theatrically. And Tammy Williams did not want to miss out on the action.
Williams, who got her start in journalism, recently became the first Black female majority owner of a major production complex in the Southern state. The complex, Cinema South Studios, will include 17 buildings with soundstages, millworks, warehouses, two lakes, a back-lot, prop house, wardrobe rental facility, lighting grip rental house, transportation company, and a three-story office building. There will be audio production facilities, and a 50,000 sq. ft data center.
Williams partnered with investor Gary Guidry to complete the $135 million project which has been 12 years in the making. Construction begins this month and the complex will be open for operation in 2023. But long before Williams was making history with this project, she learned to use what was within her grasp to get things done.
“I told someone the other day, I have no idea what an overnight success means,” Williams said. “The first tv show that we did, my husband and I did it in the garage of our home. We didn’t have the funding and finances to go rent a soundstage for thousands of dollars. But we moved the cars out of the garage, painted it, put up a green screen.”
Williams, who initially majored in education in college, created a children’s program about entrepreneurship and character development because she felt it was important for children to learn about business from an early age.
“We did it and it aired on television. It taught me that rule of looking to see what’s in your hand. Sometimes what we need is right in front of us and we just have to take a second look. What was in my hand at the time? No, I didn’t have lots of money but what I had was some good, supportive friends. I had a garage, somebody who could paint. That’s what I had and that’s how we created that show.”
Williams was inspired to launch Cinema South Studios to do what she was already doing, just on a grander scale.
“The opportunities that are taking place in Georgia, we definitely want to be a part of the growth but in a much bigger way. We could bring more job opportunities to Georgia and also build on our education component as well.”
That educational component is the Cinema South Film Academy which offers workshops that train students in film basics, like set and office production assistance, lighting and grip, hair and makeup. Williams said it was important for her to implement this aspect in her company because “education is something that can never be taken away. Once you learn something, it is yours. You own it.”
In educating 2,500 students since its inception, Williams has brought more inclusion to the entertainment industry. “Sometimes, as minorities, we haven’t always had those opportunities before us so if I can help in that area, through training and mentorship, that’s what I’ve done and am continuing to do,” Williams said. “It’s nothing more satisfying than to walk on the set and hear people say, ‘Hey Miss Tammy!’ I was a student who came through your class who is now working as a set PA or an office PA. Now, they are production secretaries, they’re DPAs, directors’ assistants.”
Williams said it is of supreme importance that Black people and Black women are reflected behind the scenes as well.
“Film and television is so impactful on our society, in our community. It’s huge. Having those stories told, a variety of ways is so important. And getting the truth of our history and the truth of who we are is so important to understand where we are, where we’re going.”
In terms of where she sees Cinema South Studios going, Williams shared this vision she has for the space.
“That Cinema South Studios can not only be a place where people can come in and get their projects done and completed but it builds a community that can educate, empower, entertain and equip. That’s the vision to do those things and more.”