UPDATE 6/24/26: The Tybee City Council approved the adjustments to the permitting process for future productions that wish to film on the island. Existing regulations will be overhauled to more thoroughly address the concerns of citizens and local businesses.
When the "Baywatch" movie brought stars like Zac Efron and the Rock to Tybee Island this spring, it made for lots of smiling Instagram photos with local fans. But it also upset residents and business owners when the production expanded just before the start of filming. The Tybee Island City Council voted Thursday on a new approval process that officials hope can balance the interests of local businesses and the growing film industry.
This spring, Laura Wimbels visited Tybee Island - but she found her beach vacation a bit different than she expected. "I just wanted to go to the beach today," she explains, "and they told me I couldn’t."
The "Baywatch" movie was filming. It had occupied much of the beach, and transformed the famous pier into the “Emerald Bay Pier Pavilion.”
Wimbels says it was exciting to see the set, and the disruption wasn’t that bad. "They had the one pier blocked off and then I went down maybe like a thousand feet over and was able to get into the water, so it wasn’t all terrible," she says.
But business owners near the beach were worried about more than just inconvenience.
Restaurants near the pier like Spanky's Beachside Beachside usually draw a steady lunch crowd off the beach. As the scope of the "Baywatch" production expanded, owner John Yarbrough feared the beach and road closures would keep customers away and interfere with food and drink deliveries - cutting into his bottom line.
"I guess because it happened so quick and so fast, I didn’t have a lot of time to really know exactly what it was going to look like out there," Yarbrough says. "It was a total guessing game."
For future productions, island leaders say they want to remove the guesswork. Before, films that needed city services like police or traffic control got permission with a special events permit, like a festival or parade does. The new system would include an application that asks for more detailed information specific to film production.
"We’re trying to do what other communities have done," says Mayor Jason Buelterman, "by establishing policies and procedures that on the one hand help give the film companies some guidance and direction and on the other hand make sure that we protect our residents and protect our businesses."
But some in the industry worry the new plan won’t sit well with filmmakers. Andy Young is a film location manager based on Tybee. "I think maybe what Tybee might be missing the mark on is the sort of timeline about how quickly productions can land in a place," he says.
Under the proposed ordinance, city leaders could restrict productions during “peak tourism season.” And the city council would have 28 days to consider an application from a larger production - well beyond the 15 days’ notice the state requires for filming on the beach. Young says that’s too long.
"The stars almost have to align to get a film, kinda, going," he says. "Having the actors and the money and the place and the time and the story. And then this could be one more thing that could send them up the coast to some other beach town."
For their part, Tybee leaders are betting on the island’s charm - and Georgia’s tax credits - to keep filmmakers interested.
"We’re unique," says City Council member Wanda Doyle, who championed the new film process. "The reason 'Baywatch' wanted to come here was because of our pier. We have a beautiful pier; it was what the producer, the director was looking for. I think there’s an attraction here with our beach and our little community."
Doyle says she wants to preserve that little community - but also keep the movies coming to Tybee Island.