For Barbara English, it’s all about making connections.
Four years ago, English, a veteran interior designer, realized that many of the film productions swarming into metro Atlanta to shoot movies and TV shows were importing designers from California, rather than using local talent. As a result, she launched the Next Cool Event, an annual confab intended to introduce art directors, location scouts, costumers, and other production folks to area creatives who hankered for a shot at working in the motion-picture biz. Crowds at the two-night event have quickly grown to number in the thousands.
“Right now, about thirty film and TV productions are shooting in metro Atlanta,” she says. “There is more production work going on here than there is in Los Angeles.”
English is taking a moment to relax with a glass of wine this past Saturday night during the second evening of the event, held this year at a mid-sized event facility on Atlanta’s Westside. Behind her, cocktail-attired patrons nosh on hors d’oeuvres and swap business cards as they stroll among booths containing intricate tableaux—gardens, bedrooms, even fantasy scenes—many intended to evoke the theme or setting of some well-known movie.
The effort has been a labor of love for English, who, ironically, has never worked in film and says she has little interest in doing so.
“This effort is about getting people jobs and making connections,” she explains. In 2007, English left behind her own successful, two-decade-old design business to launch To the Trade Only, a marketing and consulting firm whose most visible work could be a series of free maps, of Buckhead, Virginia-Highland, and other parts of town intended to promote local businesses.
For each Next Cool Event, she casts a wide net, bringing in prop houses, furnishing vendors, artists, caterers, event designers—anyone who might benefit from a chance to network with people who call the shots on film productions.
One of her recent success stories is Meclina Gomes-Priestley, who, a year-and-a-half ago, was teaching part-time and taking part in weekend artist markets when she saw an ad inviting artists and designers to submit proposals for the 2012 Next Cool Event. Her “word paintings,” which use script to form the outlines of figures and trees, layered on abstract backgrounds, caught the attention of several attendees, including one of the “Real Housewives.” In the last year, Gomes-Priestley has supplied artwork for Turner Studios, fundraising events and film productions, in addition to a busy schedule of commissioned paintings.
“This opportunity has helped me create a sustained career for myself,” says Gomes-Priestley, who was back for this year’s event with a circus-tent booth paired to the theme of “Water for Elephants.”
English says she typically likes to showcase a new roster of creative talent, in the interest of inclusivity and to keep things fresh each year. This year, exhibitors including a company that customizes vintage cars—drinks were served out of cars that had been turned into bars—a granite fabricator and a company that rents such adult playscape diversions as a mechanical bulldog large enough to ride.
But English has no plans to continue the Next Cool Event in perpetuity. In fact, she’s hoping that Atlanta’s network of production professionals becomes so well-established that it puts her event out of business.
“A lot of the people on both sides of this industry already know each other,” she says. “If you’re a matchmaker, once everyone’s married, you’re irrelevant.”