Meet Amy Heath
Amy Heath, Director of Tourism, City of North Charleston
By Patra Taylor
The film industry’s advocate in North Charleston...and the state.
For Amy Health, meeting the needs of the film industry in the city of North Charleston is a 24/7 job. In 2015 during the filming of “Vice Principals,” an HBO original series created by Danny McBride and Jody Hill, she remembers receiving a frantic telephone call from a member of the production crew. “They were filming at the old Naval Hospital,” recalls Heath, the director of tourism for South Carolina’s third-largest city. The man said, ‘We have a situation.’ He went on to explain that they were preparing to film a night scene in which it was raining, but they couldn’t get the water turned on in the building. I immediately called the deputy fire chief who got a fire truck out there to pump water to the location. They were able to shoot that night scene with rain as planned.”
Heath’s reputation as a can-do partner has earned her a coveted spot on the speed dial of many film production crew members. But just how did a woman from the one stop-sign town of Summerton, S.C. become an important player in South Carolina’s growing film industry? Well, it all started…
After graduating from Clemson University in 1996, Heath moved to the Charleston area in hopes of finding a way to try out her newly acquired business and marketing skills. “Mom and Dad told me I was off the payroll so I had to find something to do to make a living,” explains Heath from her executive office located inside North Charleston City Hall. “Like many aspiring college graduates, I went to work in a restaurant.”
Many young graduates don’t see the opportunity in a server/bartender position, but Heath did. Before long, she was promoted to trainer, and then manager, learning valuable new skills with each promotion. “I became an area manager for the company and opened eight locations along the East Coast,” continues Heath. “My last stint was in Norfolk, Va. It was winter and so cold there. That’s when I knew it was time to move back home to South Carolina.”
She continued working in the restaurant industry even after she got married. “My husband is a North Charlestonian,” says Heath. “In fact, his grandfather was the first mayor of the city, so he loves North Charleston and was the first person to really point out all the city’s amazing assets to me.”
Riverfront Park Amphitheatre
Quarters C at Riverfront Park.
After the couple’s son came along, Heath took a job selling restaurant equipment. “It gave me an opportunity to work regular hours and focus on life with my family,” she says. “But I missed working in the restaurant business because I missed being out there every day, interacting with the public.”
Eventually, the timing was right for her to jump back in. She partnered with a friend who had opened Cork Neighborhood Bistro on East Montague Avenue. That’s where Heath really got to know so many of the hard-working, fun-loving people of North Charleston. “Working there was such an important part of my journey,” continues Heath. “It helped shape where I am today.”
At the time, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey was a regular patron of the restaurant located in the city’s popular Park Circle district. “The mayor stopped by one day and said he wanted to have a conversation with me,” recalls Heath of the momentous day. “He said he saw something in me he believed would be of benefit to the citizens of North Charleston and asked me to become the city’s first full-time director of tourism. When I stepped into that position four years ago on April 15, my job description was a blank piece of paper. The task of building tourism in North Charleston was mine to figure out.”
Six weeks into her new position, Heath received a telephone call from Mayor Summey at home. “I was still in the process of taking it all in,” states Heath. “I was talking to everyone I could to get ideas about what needed to be done. Then suddenly, the mayor called me to say, ‘Pack your bags. You’re going to Hollywood!’ He explained that he wanted me to recruit film business for the city.’ The only response I had was, ‘Yes, sir.’”
According to Heath, Mayor Summey had attended the wrap party for “Army Wives,” a Lifetime network original drama series that ran from 2007-2013. The majority of the production was filmed at the old Navy Base and on set in North Charleston. As the mayor stood on the set at that party, he contemplated just how good “Army Wives” had been for the entire area. “The mayor had a vision that television and film production should continue here in North Charleston,” notes Heath. “I was the lucky one charged with making his vision a reality.”
Heath wasted no time. Within days she was on her way to Columbia to meet with the team at the South Carolina Film Commission, the agency charged with promoting television and film production across the state. “I learned everything I could about the film industry,” says Heath. “Six months later I was on an airplane with my friends from the film office; we were on our way to Hollywood.”
Renovated buildings double as back lot
Mayor Keith Summey,
City of North Charleston
Heath’s diligence, along with her willingness to do whatever it takes to make filming a pleasure in her city has resulted in an impressive list of productions. A few highlights include:
In 2013, CBS invested about $1 million in the creation of a 75,000 square-foot state-of-the-art soundstage in an old manufacturing building on Goer Drive in North Charleston. The soundstage was used for the production of “Reckless,” a legal drama that aired on CBS in 2014 for one season.
In 2014, a movie production team used the Goer Drive facility as a production office during the filming of “The Center.”
In 2016, HBO occupied the Goer Drive facility as a production office for six months while it shot two seasons of “Vice Principals” at various locations in North Charleston and throughout the area.
In late 2016, the facility was used for the production of the movie, “Naked,” which was shot at various locations in North Charleston and Charleston.
The Goer Drive facility is currently being used for the production of “Mr. Mercedes,” a 10-episode straight-to-series drama based on the Stephen King best-selling novel of the same title. The drama is expected to premiere in 2018 on both DirecTV and AT&T U-verse.
“We have such a welcoming city,” adds Heath. “We want the film business here in North Charleston. Production crews are invited to work directly with me. When they need something outside of my limits, I simply make a phone call. Everyone in the Mayor Summey’s administration is eager to help because they know how important it is to him. We have been very successful in working that way.
“We do not require film permitting, which is unlike anywhere else,” continues Heath. “We don’t want to tax anyone coming here to do what they love to do. We reap the benefits in so many other ways.”
Since becoming the director of tourism four years ago, Heath’s job description has overtaken several pieces of paper. In fact, the city recently hired Emily Smith to assist Heath in promoting North Charleston as a great place to live and work, a great place to visit, and a great place to film movies and television series.
“We have some exciting new film projects in the works for later this year,” hints Heath about the future. “And without giving anything away, it looks like 2018 is going to be a ‘thriller.’