Russell Bobbitt is Marvel’s Head Property Master. He has spent more than thirty years in the industry, working as an actor, director, producer, and writer. He currently resides in Peachtree City, Georgia.
Harvard Political Review: What sparked your interest and career in film?
Russell Bobbitt: When I was six years old, my mother was at work, and we had a record player. The record player uses a mechanical piece, and I was curious to figure out how it worked. I got some tools out, and I completely disassembled the record player all the way down to the motors, the cables, and the belt that drove the whole thing. And I was satisfied. I got how it worked, and I had no more need at that point to deal with the record player.
Then my mom came home. I got in big trouble for taking apart the record player. She said to me, at six years old, “Put this back together right now,” and I did. I picked up my tools and put it back together, and the record player worked. It played music.
I look back at that now as the moment I determined that I was mechanically inclined and interested in how things work. I took that later in life when I got into the film business through a friend of the family and applied that world to my film career in props. That was my moment [when] I decided I was interested in doing props, which translated into my life 20 years later when I finally got into the film business.
HPR: What has been your favorite production to work with?
RB: There are so many that I would call my favorite, but I will rattle off a few that pop out for me that are some of the iconic ones that helped define my career. I worked on The Flintstones movies a long time ago. Those were challenging and put my brain to work. I did movies like Hocus Pocus and Newsies that at the time were not great movies but went on to become cult films later in life. Looking back, people are excited when I say that I worked on Hocus Pocus or that I worked on movies like What About Bob?. What makes it for me is when I can go to work with incredibly talented people, whether they are behind the scenes or in front of the camera.
I have worked for the past ten years doing superhero movies. Those definitely rate among the top ten movies that I have done because they are multibillion-dollar blockbuster films. People dream of working on those their whole lives.
HPR: What film in particular brought you to Georgia, and what made you stay?
RB: The reason that films are in Georgia is because the governor offers a tax incentive for production that comes into the state, and many states do that. Right now, Georgia is offering the best incentive. The cities and the state have open arms for the film industry right now, and we react to that. It is not just about money. It has to be about the ease of filmmaking in a particular place.
When Pinewood built this studio in Fayetteville, they built a beautiful facility that is user-friendly for the filmmakers. Taking the tax incentive and coupling it with the good facility makes it attractive for a production to come and shoot here. That is what brought us to Georgia, and that is what is keeping us in Georgia. Now, Marvel is just a small portion of the production that goes on in Georgia. There is also Tyler Perry, who has his studio here, EUE/Screen Gems, Blackhall, [and] so many [other] productions. There will be up to 30 productions at any given time shooting in Georgia—The Walking Dead, all of it. For me, where it started was Ant-Man, and then we parlayed into three or four other big films. They do not see a real end to it. As long as Georgia has open arms, both financially and city-wise, we will be here for a while.
HPR: As released by FilmL.A.’s annual report and other news sources from 2016, Georgia came in first internationally for feature film production with a total of 17 movies. California, however, came in fourth with 12 movies. Do you think California will take any strides to step up the competition now that Georgia, the United Kingdom, and Canada are such big competitors?
RB: California is trying. There is not [much] incentive for California to do it. Why? I do not know. Recently, they reinstated their tax incentive to try to bring some production back, but they put a limit on it. I think it is a 100 million dollar limit. That limit is not in any other state, and California is limiting it to what we would consider a smaller-budget film, but independent filmmakers look at 100 million dollars like it is a lot. It would be a medium budget film for tax incentives. Apart from the tax incentive, with the 100 million dollar cap on it, only so many films can shoot there until their incentive is used up. That is why you are seeing a lower percentage of major film production shooting in California.
While there is some work there, they have not stepped up to the plate as much as Georgia, for instance, and Canada. Will they? We do not know. We all question that ourselves, and we are anxious to see what happens in the future.
HPR: Where have you seen the film industry’s influence manifest itself in Georgia?
RB: When the circus that is a filmmaking company comes into town, it impacts the community in so many different ways. Filmmakers need to eat, so we eat at restaurants. We buy our materials to build our sets at your lumberyard. We rent homes. We purchase homes. We hire local people to work on productions.
The entire society gets affected. The banking industry feels it. All around, pound for pound and dollar for dollar, communities thrive from the company coming in and shooting its production. There is no way for us to ship lumber from California. We have no choice but to spend our money in the town, community, state in which we are filming.
HPR: Conversely, how do you think Georgia will influence the future of the film industry?
RB: Purely financial. The answer is 100 percent financial, so if the governor or any new governor comes in and says, “Hey, we are no longer interested in the tax incentive for the film industry,” the film industry will go to the next state and film its projects elsewhere. Tax incentive is the complete motivation for any state or country to attract film. There is no other answer to that because we are a circus. We can pack up our trucks and film a movie anywhere. Even when we are shooting in Georgia, there are times that we will go away for a month and shoot in Scotland or what we need for the atmosphere of the story in the film.
HPR: Do you have any further comments about film, your work, or anything you would like to share?
RB: My message to people is that it is obtainable. If you have a passion for anything, like cooking or clothing or decorating or writing, it is out there. People can have it if they really want it. If you want to devote your life to it, you can do it, and it is an awesome, thriving industry that even during the Great Depression did well. It is an awesome job to have.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons and Russell Bobbitt
This interview has been edited and condensed.