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Miley for miles
Economic impact may last beyond brief summer shoot
A view of the film set on Tybee

How many times have you heard the name Miley Cyrus this week? If you're living in Savannah this summer, that number may be pretty high.

If you live in Savannah year round, expect that number to grow exponentially in the coming months.

The 16-year-old Disney starlet has been filming a big budget project on Tybee Island since June 15. The Last Song, based on the soon-to-be-released book by Nicholas Sparks, stars Cyrus as a delinquent teen sent to live with her estranged father in Georgia.

It is the first major project to be filmed in Savannah since The Gift in 2000 and local officials are expecting the movie to create a boost in tourism and revenue that could surpass $8 million just this summer.

"This is bringing in a great deal of jobs and experience to many people," said Ryan Watterson, location specialist of the Savannah Film Office.

Last week, over 600 local people were cast as paid extras to work on a carnival and beach scene by the Tybee pier. Local institutions, such as Leopold's Ice Cream and One Eyed Lizzy's, set up mini stands for display inside the carnival area, with their own employees working at them. Behind the scenes, the production company Offspring Entertainment hired production assistants, electricians, and other crewmembers right out of Savannah.

For Tybee restaurants and shops, having a film set within walking distance is a definite economical perk.

"Business has been good," said Jimmy Kellener, owner of Seaside Sweets on Butler Ave. "They're even using (Tybee's) name; so if anything, this is an asset."

While the production has created a presence of paparazzi and fans crowding the areas where filming is taking place, Watterson said that the city has taken the project extremely well.

"It's been going very smoothly," he said. "People are realizing that this is a business and they have to get work done, so it's been really great."

For some young residents, such as 12-year-old Anna Asbury of Pooler, having the girl who is at the center of the Hannah Montana franchise in the area is the biggest deal.

"I'm a huge, huge fan. If I see her, I may scream," said Asbury, standing behind a fence facing the beach front set, last week. "This is so exciting that she is right here where I live."

Jane Brodsky, a spokesperson for Rep. John Barrow, said that the publicity surrounding the film and the celebrity presence will ultimately boost the tourism infrastructure of the coastal area.

"People may come to Savannah because of Miley, but they will stay when they realize what an amazing place it really is," Brodsky said.

This project is the first of what could be many feature films being produced in the Peach State. Because of a newly passed tax exemption plan, production companies that spend at least $500,000 in one year will receive tax credits of up to 30 percent of the company's budget.

And while other locals may be tired of hearing Cyrus in discussion, it seems as if the rest of the world may be getting used to hearing another name.

"It's just really great, the word Savannah is following her," said Watterson. "No matter what coverage she gets right now, whatever she Twitters, it all includes the fact that she is in Savannah and apparently having a great time."

The film also stars Greg Kinnear (As Good as It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine) and Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire, Cat in the Hat). It is directed by Julie Anne Robinson, and produced by Adam Shankman (Hairspray) and Jennifer Gibgot. Production is scheduled to finish on August 18th and is expected to be released in January 2010.