TV series energizes CSH

Kyle Collins

The Union-Recorder


A major television network infiltrated Milledgeville's Central State Hospital this week.

The CW show "The Originals" set up production shop at the Jones and Binion buildings, bringing excitement to an old campus in need of revitalization.

As the almost vacant hospital ground begins the repurposing process started by the CSH Local Redevelopment Authority (CSHLRA), the timing seems perfect.

CSHLRA Executive Director Mike Couch said landing the production means energy and economic activity for the community. He credits Jane Sowell, director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, for sealing "The Originals" deal.

"It's bigger than just the state hospital," Couch said. "To me it validates us asking for this to be a film ready site."

Sowell said the CW Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS, contacted the CVB two months ago searching for a mental institution location.

"We showed them around Central State, and the scout loved it," Sowell said. "The process was a learning experience for all of us."

The production executives liked Rivers Prison at first, but the Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) decided it didn't want filming on the property.

"We scrambled to get them an alternative location, which is the Binion Building, that they are happy with now," Sowell said.

The network spent $30,000 for hotel accommodations not to mention using local extras and businesses during their stay. Warner Bros. will provide an economic impact statement with local invested stats.

Milledgeville City Councilwoman Jeanette Walden, District 2, said the city appreciates the one-week economic action. Media attention shines light on CSH redevelopment as well.

"It shows people that the state hospital is here and still alive," Walden, whose district includes the CSH campus, said.

The network spent upward of $30,000 for environmental cleanup at the Jones Building as well while preparing the set.

"The Originals" is a spin-off series of "The Vampire Diaries."

The series focuses an original vampire family and is set in New Orleans.

According to three casting calls for extras, this episode features a 1920s flashback/hallucination scene in an old sanitarium.

Couch estimates the CW team brought in up to 150 people to Milledgeville.

"I was stunned when I drove out here and saw all the trucks, equipment and catering operations. Somehow in my mind I thought it would be a truck and a few people," Couch said.

Movie studios are looking for alternatives to Atlanta, Covington and Savannah.

"Guess what? We are here," Couch said. "Maybe this starts breaking the dam to bring a lot to Milledgeville."

Sowell said in the past producers wouldn't venture outside of a 60-mile radius of a sound stage due to per diem crew costs.

"According to the state office, Atlanta has been over shot," she said. "Productions are going outside of that zone. Certainly, our hook here is going to be Central State. There is so much potential there because you can't recreate those buildings."

CSH has a major fan in Craig Dominey, senior film location specialist for the Georgia Film Department.

"He's been a tremendous help for us in pushing Central State Hospital to different companies. We've had a lot of interest out there," Sowell said.

Scouts for "The Hunger Games" and Disney are just a few interested parties over the last few months.

"This is the first of several we have cooking. It's a good thing," the CVB director said.

Sowell said CSH administration under Regional Hospital Administrator Dan Howell were "phenomenal" with a "can do attitude" about the film process. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities opened its campus doors.

Couch said the CW location scout works for other industry heavy hitters.

The CSH site appeals to film scouts due to the small town and isolated, quiet campus grounds.

"Hopefully this the door opening for other television and movie companies to see we might have something they want here," Couch said.