Until the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences starts handing out Oscars for Best Groundskeeper, Jon DeWitt’s contributions to the magic of Hollywood will go shamefully unrecognized.
Earlier this month, the keeper of Georgia Tech’s athletic fields kept the ryegrass in Russ Chandler Stadium green past its growing season in order for “Million Dollar Arm” to be shot there. It was a part of the school’s contribution to the state’s efforts to bring filmmakers to Georgia and, in the process, help balance the athletic department’s budget.
Normally at this time of year, DeWitt would have killed off the ryegrass and started to bring the field’s Bermuda grass out of dormancy, but, he said, “it wouldn’t be pretty and green like they need for the movie.”
It is the second movie in a little over a year to be shot at Russ Chandler Stadium, following “Trouble with the Curve,” which starred Clint Eastwood, in March 2012. “The Internship” also was shot at various spots on the Tech campus last year.
“What really drew us to Georgia Tech was the beauty of the field, and you can see Midtown beyond the outfield,” said Patrick Mignano, location manager for “Trouble with the Curve.” “It had the right feel.”
Beyond the field’s aesthetic qualities, Mignano complimented the Tech staff for its cooperation. On the day of the shoot, he realized he had forgotten to hire a scoreboard operator. A Tech staffer jumped in to help out.
“The people were great,” Mignano said.
While Russ Chandler Stadium played itself in “Trouble with the Curve,” it performed the role of USC’s Dedeaux Field for “Million Dollar Arm,” a based-on-reality Disney movie about a baseball agent who goes to India to find pitching prospects. DeWitt painted the familiar interlocking “SC” behind home plate. The outfield walls and scoreboard were temporarily dressed up to simulate the look of USC’s stadium.
Ironically, the actual Dedeaux Field is about 25 minutes from the Walt Disney Studios, which is making “Million Dollar Arm.”
“Crazy, isn’t it?” said Lee Cuthbert, location specialist for the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, who has helped direct movies toward Tech.
The athletic department, in conjunction with the school, is attempting to streamline the process for movie companies, television networks and the like that want to use Tech’s athletic facilities. Besides the movies at Russ Chandler, “Necessary Roughness,” a USA Network series that shot at Bobby Dodd Stadium, is among other productions that have used the school’s athletic facilities. The department also leased its spaces for commercial shoots and other smaller-scale productions.
“I wouldn’t say we’re trying to entice business, but if they have a need for an athletics facility, we’re certainly receptive to listening to what they’re trying to do,” associate athletic director Ryan Bamford said.
The department views it as a way to be a partner in the state’s attempts to lure movies to the state. In the 2012 fiscal year, 333 feature films, television movies and series, commercials and music videos were shot in Georgia. The shoots also bring benefits of positive publicity to the school and additional revenue streams. The last is not a small concern as the fiscal year will end with the department several hundred thousand dollars in the red. The department received a $10,000 rental fee for one day of shooting for “Trouble with the Curve” and $30,000 for seven days for “Million Dollar Arm.”
It is part of a shift in the department’s attitude toward outside use of its facilities. The athletic association is in the process, in fact, of hiring an event coordinator to handle business from movie shoots to bar mitzvahs. Requests are measured on availability, impact of use on the facility and benefit to Tech.
A group that wanted to use Bobby Dodd Stadium in July for a water-balloon fight was denied. The Callaway Club in McCamish Pavilion, though, will hold its first wedding reception in August.
If the bride and groom also want to use the scoreboard, Tech can probably provide that, too.