Is Charleston the New Teletown? – Television and Film Invade Charleston

By David McNamara
By David McNamara

As a film and television graduate with a strong international background in media production I’m always mindful of a city’s character in the lexicon of filmlore when I travel. While I tend to favor the solitude and shinrin-yoko of mountains and forests these days, cities are fertile ground for escapist forays while ambling through mutable streets of strange faces.

My mind makes a game of it ? conjuring classic films from the concrete jungle then putting myself in the sequel of my own creation. Call it an indulgent folly of imaginative minds. Although I was immediately struck by the immense beauty of historic Charleston when I first visited, I was surprised that it didn’t evoke an emblematic film, which showcased the city like so many other cinematic cities along the east coast of the USA.

I asked around and got uncertain answers such as The Patriot and Forrest Gump, but I was after a counterpart to Ferris Bueller’s Chicago or the Ghostbusters’ New York. When I recently put the question to Studio Charleston founder, Harald Galinski, he explained that film incentives along with the versatility of abundant filming locations all in close proximity is what makes the Charleston region a desirable filming destination with an extensive filmography.

“The Charleston region and South Carolina offer an incredibly diverse canvas for filmmakers. Dear John is a perfect example where an amazing production designer was able to recreate Afghanistan, Africa, Germany and an Eastern European village all in Charleston – which otherwise would have been shot in Morocco.”

Galinski would know since he was part of the team who brought Relavity Media’s Dear John to Charleston, the last big budget feature to truly spotlight Charleston which was released in 2010.? In a story many newcomers would appreciate, Galinski fell in love with the city during eight months of filming. After deciding to call Charleston home he founded Studio Charleston, the state’s first turn-key creative and functional production space.

I’ve noticed in the past three years living in Charleston the once rare sight of a film crew now seems common. With shows like Army Wives, Southern Charm and Reckless it appears Charleston has suddenly exploded as a television hotspot. I asked Galinski if this was an indication of the growing popularity of the city ? was Charleston and the South suddenly cool?

“Reckless was one show written for Charleston, but the producers made it clear that if the new incentives were not passed they may have not shot the show in South Carolina. I can honestly say that since 2006, most of the projects, both film and TV came to SC because of the incentives.”


Galinski helped successfully lobby for the new film incentives after they were dropped in 2012. Along with starting the South Carolina Film Council, which currently has over 1000 members, in a short time Galinski’s efforts have markedly helped stimulate local production.

This growth is evident with shows like South from Hell starting production in Charleston. Meanwhile Walking Dead creators are about to commence filming a pilot outside Columbia. Not to be overlooked in the bright lights of location filmmaking is Moondog Animation Studio.

Moondog didn’t overlook Charleston when deciding on a location with incentives to establish their animation studio last year. Founder/CEO Bryan Ransom said it was Charleston’s international charm, with a mix of low-cost living and high-quality coastal lifestyle that won them over. But since the magic behind animation storytelling isn’t tethered to the reality of location filming I asked Ransom if the city is important where he films.

“Digital animation is a unique medium that blends art and technology and Charleston is a unique area that does the same. Its history of art and design has continued to evolve while in the background you can find a growing tech community. This creates an atmosphere that indirectly affects the film. Charleston let us imagine great things and create beautiful stories with no creative or technological limits. What more could you ask from a town?”

Given the recent spate of local and regional productions I was curious what Ransom thought about the improvement in the local film and television industry.

“Never settle! The SC film industry is in a small season of growth, but this can disappear as quickly as it appeared. Incentives are one piece of the puzzle. We need to avoid becoming complacent and continue to push for competitive incentives. There are literally billions of dollars in filming that can be taken away from Georgia and Louisiana. South Carolina has taken steps in the right direction but they are not there yet. “


While Galinski cites additional production infrastructure is needed to increase the level of local media productions, he says there are more immediate concerns critical to the state’s film and television industry.

“We still need to push for a new SC Film Commissioner as soon as possible, which we have not had since 2010. I am also trying to work with local and regional authorities to create a Charleston Area Film Office.”

The dynamic success of the Charleston International Film Festival, which recently concluded its 7th festival year only adds to the bounty of the local film and television cultural landscape. With increased support from state legislators, along with the tireless and creative efforts of industry leaders there is every reason Charleston should continue to emulate the successful film and television growth in neighboring states.

South Carolina Film Commission

Ask a Woman – The Retired Mensch

Paul & Cathy 5x7
Rather than listen to the town fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters debate the merits of a boutique hotel on a busy downtown thoroughfare in Summerville, the Mensch chose to accompany Mrs. Mensch to an awards ceremony for a friend. I came away from the ceremony knowing I had made the right choice.

Summerville’s weekly newspaper, The Journal-Scene, has a unique niche in promoting and developing community spirit by giving awards for different categories of people. Wednesday, November 12, was recognition night for ten “Women to Watch in 2014”. It was a simple affair at the Holiday Inn Express in Summerville. Who knew the Holiday Inn Express had these great meeting rooms? Not the folks who want new meeting space downtown, apparently.

No expense was spared: there were adult beverages – Kirkland’s finest wines, a few snacks of crackers and cheese, sandwich wraps, salads for the crackers and cookies. What else could you ask for? A brief ceremony? Yes! Short and sweet and to the point, just what an awards ceremony should be.
Frank Johnson, the host and J-S editor, introduced each winner with a few words that succinctly captured her accomplishments to be named a “Woman to Watch in 2014”. The introduction was accompanied by a photograph of the recipient on the big screen. Unlike those blabby “stars” who seem to go on forever thanking people at an awards show, each of these women said a few words of thanks in under two minutes.

What struck me most about each woman was her humility. One said, “I’m just doing my job, which I love”. Another said she was blessed to be able to help people in poor health and to give back to the community. In one way or another they all said the same thing: “what I accomplished was due to efforts of other people”, “it is not about me” and “I’m the beneficiary of good people around me.”

The women had been nominated by their friends and family. What a mix of women and accomplishments: an HIV survivor, a middle school principal, a teacher, a health care worker, an arts volunteer, a community development activist, a school counselor. There were African-American women, white women, young women, old women, middle-aged women, blonds, brunettes, tall, short, thin, not-so-thin, single, married, pregnant, mothers, grandmothers, widows. Ordinary women who do extraordinary things.

What great lessons in leadership these women give to their families, friends and co-workers.

“Women to Watch” has been going on since 2007. With ten winners a year for seven years, there are 70 “Women to Watch” award winners in Summerville. I can only imagine that the boutique hotel would not be the brouhaha it is if some of these women had been involved.? For that, we thank them for their wisdom and courage.

Charleston Local and Live with Carnaval’s Sean Fentross

By David McNamara
By David McNamara

When I first met Sean Fentross he was on the less favored side of the bar at Closed for Business. Son of a Marine and self-declared army brat, Sean moved eight times growing up. His family relocated as far afield as Honolulu HI and Okinawa, Japan before his father retired to a decent amount of land near Aiken in their home state of South Carolina.

Sean says living in a place which his father described as having “a little elbow room” allowed him to focus on music. Sean taught himself to play guitar and bass using dial-up internet connection to find chords to old blues songs, which he then practiced by repeatedly playing the songs on his CD player. As a current member of local outfit Carnaval, Sean shows a clear passion for live, original music, as well as a thoughtful outlook which prompted me to ask about the musical landscape of Charleston.

“Like many places, it’s got an eclectic crew and although there are a significant number of bands, there aren’t too many. Most of the musicians here are extremely approachable as well, and everyone seems to get along knowing they’re in the company of like minded individuals.”

Chatting with Sean made me think of another local musician, Thomas Champagne who pointed out in a recent interview it can be challenging for original, local artists to be heard in a scene dominated by cover bands. So I put the same question to Sean.

“I don’t think Charleston is a hard place to play original music, but it is difficult for bands to be heard by a captive audience – especially tourists whose primary focus is historic Charleston. Speaking personally, there’s a certain amount of authenticity that’s lost by playing other people’s music. I worked very hard at being capable of creating musical ideas myself, constructing something out of nothing. Not that notoriety is what I’m after, but I guess I don’t want to miss out on a potential song.”

Having lived in Charleston for the past six years, three of which have been dedicated to playing guitar and bass with Carnaval, Sean says it’s rare to find tourists in a dive bar checking out the local music scene. But Sean’s difficulty in characterizing the local dive bars is what makes them some of his favorite venues to watch and play shows.

“The Recovery Room is a great place to catch all kind of independent local artists. It’s also the most intimate because the stage is only a matter of inches higher than where the audience experiences the performances. Most of the time at least one member of a band ends up playing right in the mix of the crowd of folks all fighting for a drink and space to see the band. It’s got grit, which adds to its authenticity and beauty for me.”

Sean also cites King Dusko and Big Gun Burger Shop, which like at the Recovery Room, requires musicians to bring their own sound and is why they stand neck-to-neck. Although every live music venue holds a specific sentiment to Sean, when I ask about larger venues Sean puts the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, where he saw Sigor Ros, at the top of the list.

“With theatre seating and a massive eye catching space, an ingenious band like Sigor Ros appeared and sounded awesome. The Charleston Music Hall is also right up there because of its similar intimate setting and location. I was fortunate enough to catch Conor Oberst there when he came to town because two of his backing band mates came into Closed for Business for lunch and offered me two tickets. Also saw Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel do an acoustic set there that was incredible to say the least.”


Sean adds The Royal American, which showcases local and less-known travelling acts to his list of favorite venues. Hosting Carnaval’s first album release, Sean says the sound is superior to any other same-sized local venue, and owner/operator John Kenney who is also a musician knows how to treat bands.

Right now Carnaval are recording their second full length album with producer Wolfgang Zimmerman, who is also a drummer for local act, Brave Baby. The album should be available to the listening public in a couple of months. As to what comes next Sean says he isn’t entirely sure. But for someone who values seeking out and creating new experiences over the trappings of financial success he’s enjoying the journey. Finally, I ask for any new, up and coming artist to keep an eye on and Sean mentions Susto.

“They’re a gritty Americana/folk/country band that’s gaining speed quickly. Brilliant song writing and lyrics, and the singer has a voice that just stands out from most.”


Lowcountry Lottery – The Retired Mensch

lotteryAs I understand it the readers of Conde Nast magazine vote for their favorite travel cities and a winner is declared along with 24 runners up. Cities worldwide are in the running and I suspect that every visitor and convention bureau in hundreds of cities are stuffing the ballot
box to win the coveted award.

I liken it to baseball. For Major League Baseball’s all-star game, the fans vote for their favorite players and the positions on the teams are filled with players who have the most votes. The team websites, the local broadcasters and local sportswriters encourage the fans to vote early and often.

On the other hand The Baseball Hall of Fame elects its members according to certain criteria and the vote is limited to a handful of sports writers. Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame are an elite group. And so it is with the top ten cities in world chosen by The Conde Nast editors.
This year the reader’s selection that came in #2 worldwide and #1 in the U.S. was the same. And you know what city that is? Of course, it is Charleston, South Carolina, not to be confused with Charleston, West Virginia, not that they could be confused. If you have ever been to WVA you know what I mean. That is four years in row that the readers have chosen Charleston. And you know what that means? Yes, it means more letters to the editor agreeing and disagreeing with the results but more importantly it means MORE tourists.

It means more men with maps and glazed expressions on East Bay Street, fewer parking spaces in the garages (unless you are SPA), longer wait times for lunch at Fleet Landing, more horse droppings for the gardens of Charleston, and that is just the beginning of the trouble here in the Holy City, to steal a line from Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. The Mensch has a plan to avoid the trouble and it does not include 76 trombones.
The Mensch proposes a lottery, a Charleston Visitors Lottery. Better yet, a Low Country Lottery, just for the alliteration of it, that would keep the number of tourists to some optimum number. Enter the Low Country Lottery to visit Charleston. Only winners are allowed onto the peninsula. And unlike some lotteries where the odds of winning are 175 million to one, there would be hundreds of winners, maybe thousands.

It seems to me that after four years of being #1 and in the top ten for a decade, the city fathers should have a pretty good idea of how many tourists would be the optimum number to make Charleston an uncrowded and perfect place to visit. After all they did it for the bars on King Street, right? Put the actuaries to work figuring out the probabilities, permutations and the slight of hand needed to maintain a rosy tourist economy without overburdening the system. A Nirvana of happy tourists, merchants and citizens should be the goal.
Paul & Cathy 5x7
For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to stroll through the Market without shouldering your way through the crowds, excuse me, pardon me, coming through? Wouldn’t it be pleasant not to have an interminable leg-crossing wait outside the restroom?And what about Justine’s or Hominy Grill? A reasonable wait for a table would be ten minutes. With a perfect number of tourists, Tommy Doyle’s horses and mules could stroll without the worry of being sideswiped by an SUV. The pedicabs would have more right of way. Even the ghosts would get a break from their nightly hauntings.

And now that the International Association of Golf Tour Operators has selected Charleston as the North American Golf Destination of the Year, golfers will be bypassing Myrtle Beach for the Low Country. A lottery would keep the peninsula from being overcrowded with tourist wives waiting for their golfing husbands, who would always get their tee time, to come back from the 18th hole. Any lottery profit would be used to build public restrooms south of Broad Street.

Junior League of Charleston helping the community with one Whale of a Sale

By Mark A. Leon
By Mark A. Leon

On Friday and Saturday, November 13-14, 2015, The Junior League of Charleston will be hosting a Whale of a Sale at the Omar Shrine Temple in Mount Pleasant. Now in their 40th year, this sale has become a local tradition in Charleston. As you make your way through the exhibition hall, you will find carefully categorized treasures to ease your shopping experience. Additionally, there are a few things you should know about this event.

Each year, local community partners are selected to benefit from the dollars raised during this event.

  • Along with the fundraising dollars, Junior League members volunteer thousands of hours annually to local non-profit and charity organizations.
  • The volunteers you will meet throughout the hall have volunteered since Monday to help make this event a reality. Some have put in between 60 and 80 hours this week.
  • This event is a six months planning and development process.
  • The Junior League was formed on February 20, 1923 and is now in its 91st year in the Charleston area.
  • Each active member has dedicated a minimum of two shifts this week to provide each and every visitor with the best possible experience.
  • Items available for the sale include: bikes, sports equipment, kitchenware, frames, furniture, children’s toys, clothes, books, DVDs, antiques, collectibles, glassware, candles, pillows, wedding dresses, lamps, holiday decor and so much more.

Volunteerism and community are engrained into the mission of each and every member of the Junior League of Charleston. During my time with Gibbon and Stephanie and the rest of the volunteer staff working diligently to prepare for tomorrow, it was clear how dedicated this group is to helping the community. Their passion is a testimony to 90 years of tradition.

We invite you to come out early and find your own personal treasures. While you are there, thank the many volunteers in blue and red that have given so many hours to making this event a success. Remember that each dollar you spend will be converted to helping a local program in the Charleston area.

Omar Shrine Auditorium
176 Patriots Point Road
Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
8:00 AM – 2:00 PM

Giving the Gift of Hope with Jaiden Z. Smith

Divorce is difficult under any circumstances, but even more so when children are involved. The parents are most likely struggling with their own emotions and trying to adjust to the many changes, which may leave them feeling unequipped to help their children understand and cope with the emotional challenges of their new reality. Divorce can leave a child feeling lost, guilty, angry, confused – a whole range of negative emotions that could considerably impact their life going forward, if they are not addressed.

With the heart of a lioness, or maybe its cub, 10 year old Jaiden Z. Smith has set her sights on making a difference for children who are experiencing the divorce of their parents. In 2008, her parents separated, which produced feelings of confusion, hurt, and concern within Jaiden. The honor roll student began to struggle at school, appearing to be withdrawn and sad. Her teachers took note and before long Jaiden and her brother were participating in a guidance group at their public school for children experiencing separation and divorce. Over the course of nine weeks, Jaiden collected the tools necessary to help her cope with her situation and began planting seeds as she adjusted to her new family life. In journaling her experience, Jaiden decided to write her first book. And she did!!! Inspired by her personal journey, Jaiden worked for nearly a year to write “A Perfect Kind of Different”, which is the story of a family going through a divorce from a child’s perspective. Very proud of her accomplishments, Jaiden is continually motivated by helping other children who are experiencing the aftermath of divorce by sharing her story.

Here she is in her own words:

My name is Jaiden and I am 10 years old. My Mom and Dad got a divorce when I was 8 years old. It was a hard time for me and my two brothers. We went to guidance groups at our school for kids dealing with the same situation. While I was in guidance group, I met lots of other sad kids. I decided to write a book to help kids understand divorce. I plan to donate a copy of my book to all the elementary schools in my district so the guidance counselors will have something to share with the sad kids that will help them see divorce is just a ‘Perfect Kind of Different‘. You can still have a good life after a divorce with love and family time. After this book, I will write more books that will help kids understand grown up things like different religions, bullying, and hunger. I want to be a writer and a teacher when I grow up.

Here is a note from her Mother who wants to help her spread her important message:

I honestly did not realize the massive effect divorce has on children. It was a difficult subject to talk about in our home (initially). Fortunately, we were in a wonderful public school that offered services to children dealing with family separation and divorce. Due the alarming number of divorcing families, our school offered a guidance group where my children learned all of the coping skills moms and dads did not know how to teach. In our quest to find children’s books on the topic, we became discouraged and dissatisfied.

Upon completing the 9-week counselor guided peer group in school, Jaiden decided she wanted to write a book about divorce. A sensitive topic for a newly divorced mom, I didn’t immediately encourage her, but she was determined to share her story. In the evenings, Jaiden would tap away on the computer writing a book in PowerPoint. I noticed as time went on that she got more focused on her writing, even opting to drop her dance class to have more time to write. I knew as her Mom, it was my job to fuel that passion. Once she felt her masterpiece was complete, I asked a former college professor to edit the book and she agreed to without hesitation. I hit Facebook in search of an illustrator and was blessed to find a local artist eager to take on the challenge. A local photographer, Aneris Photography, offered us a free photo shoot and captured Jaiden’s true essence to give us a head start in marketing.

photo 1With all the chips falling into place, we now turn to the community for help in taking the final steps to get Jaiden’s story into the hands of children of divorce who are hurting. It is Jaiden’s ultimate goal to share her book with every elementary school in her school district, followed by schools in surrounding districts (and across the country). She wants to visit other guidance groups and encourage children to be courageous while reminding them divorce is never their fault. Jaiden is VERY excited about the opportunity to do public book signings as well. We need the books published with hardback covers for durability as they will be passed from hand to hand in the schools. We desperately need your help to cover this expense. We can get 250 hardback books printed and shipped to us for $2,517.96. The additional funds donated will go towards marketing the book to ensure families know there is a resource available to them that will support them and provide understanding to children during such a difficult time. We will also need brochures, flyers, a banner, and books on CD (read by Jaiden) to give as gifts to children in immediate emotional pain. These CDs will be called “Don’t Cry, Just Listen”. Every dollar donated above our targeted goal will be used to increase the number of books we can purchase.

Children often listen and learn best from someone in their own peer group who has had similar experiences. Jaiden can offer a familiar perspective to hurting children who are looking for reassurance and hope. Please consider making a donation that will touch the lives of numerous children who are struggling emotionally and the lives of parents who are overwhelmed and hurting as well. All donations are greatly appreciated through ?Be sure to follow her journey on The Blue Jai Project to find out the latest updates.

Photos compliments of?Aneris Photography


Progressive Charleston – Free wifi in Charleston County Parks

By Mark A. Leon
By Mark A. Leon

The definition of progressive is the ability to use innovation, technology and change to create a better way of life for a community or place. To be considered progressive is the ability to combine the forces of intelligence and creativity, develop a plan of action and bring positive change. Charleston, has embraced the notion of progression, including the growth and expansion of free wifi in the county parks. With the most current expansion of four new parks to the circuit of Free wifi options in Charleston, the county is bringing the world typically confined to the homes and classrooms to the outdoors.

Charleston parks are blessed with natural beauty, enchanted weather (most of the year) and a natural combination of community, wildlife, athletics, family and horticulture. With a continued focus on higher education in the Charleston area, the ability to take students out of the classroom and bestow a virtual classroom under the warmth of the sun is a sign of positive change.

In wasn’t until October 2014, through a grant from Google that San Francisco was able to offer free wifi in over 20 public parks. New York City has planned to transplant 7300 old pay phones into free wifi hotspots beginning in 2015 making them the most wifi friendly city in the world. In the summer of 2014, Los Angeles offered this option in six parks. Charleston has joined the ranks of the largest U.S. Metro locations along with such global cities as London, Tel Aviv and Seoul.


  • Why provide the option of free wifi to the Charleston county parks? It is simple.
  • With the growth of mobile, computers now fit into our pockets. The ability to research events, restaurants and shopping while walking the dog or laying out will have a positive impact on the economy.
  • Charleston strives to promote wellness and healthy lifestyles. The wifi offers the options to track exercise routines, monitor vitals and connect with friends for outdoor activity.
  • The offering of park service will bring more of the community together in a concentrated area and promote more engagement in Charleston.
    Have you spent a Spring, Summer or Fall in Charleston? Being outdoors is the place to be. Whether you want a tan or just people watch, the Charleston parks are fun.
  • The city and the parks offer a limitless realm of imagination. By eliminating borders, we are opening up the creative process. From writers to inventors to digital artists, the outdoors opens up so many possibilities.
  • Do you work from home? Now you don’t have to be stuck in a home office. You can be on the grass. We promise not to tell your boss.
    You can Tinder and meet in a safe forum (if you are into that kind of thing).
  • If you spend enough time working in the park, you may someday end up on Google Earth.

To the Charleston county officers who have fought hard to allocate funding for this expansion of Free internet throughout the county, we applaud your efforts and thank you for allowing all people the option to work, play, surf or just discover something new right at their fingertips while still letting the dogs run.