Helicopters buzzing over downtown Birmingham provided a climactic end Friday to filming for the action film “Live!” that brought a month’s worth of Hollywood stars and heart-stopping stunts to the Magic City.
Filming for the police thriller starring Aaron Eckhart officially wraps today. Eckhart is best known for his dual role as “Harvey Dent” and “Two-Face” in 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”
For “Live!” Eckhart teams up with director Steven C. Miller, a Georgia native who developed a bit of a cult following for his horror films before branching out.
“Live!” tells the story of a disgraced cop’s pursuit of the police commissioner’s kidnapped daughter with help from an online reporter. Filming started May 15 and has included flying cars, explosions, pyrotechnics and other stunts.
Miller says the city of Birmingham and local businesses have been great to work with, adding there’s been “100 percent flexibility” from the community. The filming required numerous street closings over the past few weeks.
“Birmingham allowed us to come in and shoot the movie I wanted to shoot,” Miller said. “The people are really chill. Everyone is really nice to me, really accommodating and hospitable.”
Producers chose Birmingham because the city’s downtown had an urban look Miller wanted for the nonstop action that takes place mostly outdoors.
“I wanted something that had a little bit of grit but also felt like it was up and coming,” Miller said, noting the numerous construction projects happening downtown. “I really like Birmingham because Birmingham still feels like a city.”
The city’s emerging food scene has also left an impression with Miller and the crew.
“To be honest, I like the food. I’m a food guy. If there are some good burgers and barbecue, that’s my spot, and this definitely has that,” Miller said.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the relationship between the production company and the city has been mutually beneficial. The movie hired locals as cast members and extras, and the multi-week production was a boost for local service industries.
“They’ve eaten in our restaurants. They’ve attended musical events and Birmingham Barons games,” Woodfin said. “They’ve enjoyed all the amenities in Birmingham. They’ve also rented apartments or stayed in hotels while making this movie. They love Birmingham.”
In addition to the economic boost for the city, Woodfin said the crew donated leftover food to Birmingham shelters every day. One crew member even adopted a homeless dog, the mayor said.
“The great thing about this particular production company is that they are not only filming an action movie in Birmingham and hiring residents, but they are also giving back to the community,” Woodfin said.
“Live!” is the latest example of the expanding film-making scene in Birmingham, which has a look many directors want.
“Film companies have selected Birmingham so many times simply because we are Birmingham. We have fabulous architecture. We have wide streets. We have interesting corners,” said Don Lupo, director of the city’s Office of Citizens Assistance. “We have tight alleys that avail themselves to the chase scenes in ‘Live!’ We have what is necessary to make a movie. And we are inviting. The growing interest shows just how far Southern hospitality goes.”
The Alabama Legislature approved an updated film tax-incentive program in 2009, which “Live!” took advantage of when choosing Birmingham. Each year, the state sets aside $20 million to attract movies, commercials and documentaries to Alabama. The most well-known film to qualify for tax incentives was 2017’s “Get Out,” which was shot in Mobile and grossed more than $157 million. The film was nominated for Best Picture at the 90th Academy Awards.
Create Birmingham President and CEO Buddy Palmer said the incentives make Alabama much more competitive, especially for smaller films with budgets between $500,000 and $14 million. If approved for tax incentives, producers can be reimbursed 25 percent of their qualified expenses. That reimbursement jumps to 35 percent for the salaries of local cast and crew.
“We are really as competitive as anyone can be for that size budget,” Palmer said.
In 2017, Film Birmingham assisted with eight feature films and more than 50 projects, ranging from commercials to music videos and everything in between. Just six months into 2018, the organization has already matched its production budget from last year.
Producers are beginning to return to Birmingham with repeat business. According to Palmer, two producers of “Live!” will return in the fall to shoot another film.
“They now have a familiarity with the community,” Palmer said. “The Los Angeles film community is small enough that word-of-mouth really is powerful. When directors’, cinematographers’ and art directors’ Instagram feeds suddenly get filled up with downtown Birmingham, Bessemer, Fairfield or the Cahaba River … we could not pay for that kind of marketing.”