The New Hollywood: Atlanta, Georgia

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta at night

FADE IN, WIDE SHOT, EXT: Trailers sit in tidy rows in a remote parking lot, gleaming in the afternoon sun. A tent set up nearby shelters a large grill that perfumes the air with the sweet, spicy scent of barbecue. Huge spotlights clutter a corner like a coven of gray, one-eyed robots. Across the street, middle-school students peer out of windows hoping to catch a glimpse of the movie stars currently filming on campus. Some members of the film crew are busy packing up equipment in sturdy cases – they’re nearly done at this site and will soon move to a mountain location.

The scene is set – but what’s the setting? You may think “Hollywood,” but it’s not California. It has been dubbed the “New Hollywood” and the “Hollywood of the South.” This is Atlanta, Georgia!

Georgia’s First Act

Georgia’s fascination with the film industry began in 1972, when the Emmy-award-nominated movie Deliverance was filmed here. Then-Governor Jimmy Carter saw the impact the film had in the northeast Georgia Mountains, and he set up the Georgia Film Office – which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It has been an amazingly productive 40 years. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the entertainment industry in Georgia had an economic impact of more than $4 billion in 2013 alone. From July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 (FY14), the 158 film and television productions shot in Georgia spent $1.4 billion.

Fiscal Year 2013 saw record investment by the 142 feature films and television projects in the state, with more than $933.9 million in direct spending.  And, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), residents in Georgia are benefitting from the growing film industry. The motion picture and television industry is responsible for more than 77,900 jobs and $3.8 billion in total wages in Georgia, including indirect jobs and wages. Nearly 23,500 people are directly employed by the motion picture industry in Georgia, including 8,188 production-related employees.

In 2012, MPAA member companies, which include Paramount, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Disney, and Universal, paid $696 million to 4,066 vendors in Georgia. Local businesses benefitting from the film industry include lodging, food service, technology, and real estate – including apartment communities. With many people moving to the state – both permanently and temporarily to be part of the film industry – apartments in Atlanta are in high demand.

The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) greets a young zombie. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development
The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) greets a young zombie. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development

While the focus is often on Atlanta, every county in the state of Georgia is considered camera-ready. Since 2010, 11 film and television studio facilities made announcements to locate or expand in Georgia. Movie studios include Pinewood Studios in Fayette County (a UK-based studio that established its first US presence in Georgia), Jacoby Development in Gwinnett County, Tyler Perry Studios in Southwest Atlanta, Triple Horse in Covington, Atlanta Filmworks, EUE/Screen Gems near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and Atlanta Film Studios in Paulding County. Medient Studios is currently being planned near Savannah. Raleigh Studios in Atlanta is where the Walking Dead is based, and an impressive 95 percent of the Walking Dead crew is from Georgia.

Tourism: Georgia’s “B” Story

The state has benefitted so much from the film industry, the University System of Georgia is even considering opening a new film academy to help keep up with the demand for industry professionals.  Film-induced tourism has also increased. In response to the growing number of visitors, Georgia launched a new website in 2013, www.ComeTourGeorgia.com. The interactive website promotes Georgia’s film and music history, film tours, Georgia-filmed productions, film locations, destinations, festivals, and other events. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, by increasing visitation to entertainment-related destinations across the state, “the website will enhance the film industry’s long-term impact on Georgia tourism.”

In order to encourage production companies to choose Georgia as their filming location, the state offers a comprehensive production package that includes incentives, accessibility, crew base, infrastructure, and quality of life. According to the AJC.com, companies spending at least half a million on production or post-production receive a 20 percent tax credit. If they use a State of Georgia promotional logo at the end of the film, they receive another 10 percent.

On the eet of the HBO series, "Hard Knocks" with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014.
On the set of the HBO series “Hard Knocks” with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014.

Popular television shows, such as the Walking Dead and the Vampire Diaries (filmed in Covington), have brought tourists from around the world to the state. The “Undead Tour” takes visitors on a self-guided tour through Georgia, starting with Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill District, the city’s oldest and most authentic collection of warehouses and lofts. Movies filmed here include Freejack, The Fighting Temptations, Kalifornia, The Signal, and Driving Miss Daisy. Other cities on the tour include Covington, a small city near Atlanta featured in The Vampire Diaries and In the Heat of the Night, Senoia, and Perry.

The popular Atlanta Film Festival is also a huge draw. The festival is one of the largest and longest-running festivals in the US, starting in 1976. Nearly 25,000 come to view the hundreds of films shown during the festival. Atlanta is home to several additional film festivals, including the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, the Atlanta Underground Film Festival,  Peachtree Village International Film Festival, Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival Atlanta, and the Buried Alive Film Festival.

In other parts of the state, visitors can attend the Savannah Film Festival presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design, the Covey Film Festival in Thomasville, and the EcoFocus Film Festival held in Athens, Georgia. ATL WEBFEST is the Southeast’s first web festival. This event, which screens over 30 web series during the three-day event, is hosted by Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Communications, and Media.

A Growing List of Film Credits

Movies recently filmed in Georgia include Need for Speed, Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club, Sabotage, Million Dollar Arm, Blended, Let’s Be Cops, Addicted, The Good Lie, Kill the Messenger, and Last of Robin Hood.

On the set of the recently-released "Blended." Photo courtesy of the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development
On the set of the recently-released “Blended” starring Drew Barrymore. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development

Soon-to-be-released movies filmed in Georgia include The Homesman, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, and Hilary Swank. This movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is scheduled to be released in the US on November 7, 2014. The Homesman was shot in Historic Westville in Lumpkin, Georgia. Dumb and Dumber To, starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, will be released November 14, 2014. Hunger Games: Mocking Jay is set to premier on November 21, 2014.

Other upcoming movies include Solace, starring Colin Farrell and Anthony Hopkins; Barely Lethal, starring Jessica Alba and Samuel L. Jackson; Merry Friggin’ Christmas, starring Robin Williams; Taken 3, starring Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace; Fast and Furious 7, starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne Johnson; and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.”

Television premiers being filmed in Georgia include the new series Satisfaction on USA, the Red Band Society on FOX, and Constantine on NBC. Other shows include The Vampire Diaries on the CW (season 6) and The Walking Dead on AMC (season 5).

Important locations throughout Georgia have been included in film projects, including Wild Adventures in Valdosta, where a fight scene was filmed for Zombieland. The Atlanta Civic Center was used for performance scenes in Joyful Noise and Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story.

Atlanta, Madison, Summerville, and Warm Springs were all filming locations for the HBO feature, Warm Springs. Savannah’s other-worldly beauty makes it a beautiful and haunting location. Movies filmed here include The General’s Daughter, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Forrest Gump, Glory, The Last Song, The Gift, and The Conspirator. Other cities used for filming include Rome, Columbus, Americus, Juliette, Conyers, Buford, Sandy Springs, and Clarkesville.

As the “Hollywood of the South,” Georgia has become a major force in the entertainment industry. From small, historic towns to the unique cityscape of Downtown Atlanta, terrific locations combined with a strong incentive package – and an entire state that is camera ready – will help sustain and grow the film industry.