Georgia is famous for its peaches, Coca-Cola and for being the home of the busiest airport in the world. And now, it’s overtaking Hollywood to become the biggest film-producing market.
When The Walking Dead began filming in Senoia, GA, in 2011, there were six storefronts in the small, 4,000-person town. Senoia’s economy was dying, but for the producers of the show, the town’s rugged appearance and general lack of activity was the perfect backdrop for a post-apocalyptic tale. The production team soon set up shop in the town and hired hundreds of crew members from the area, put up the cast in local hotels and hired vendors to serve food and supply the lumber needed to build sets. By the end of the show’s third season, the town’s six storefronts had boomed into 50. In direct opposition to The Walking Dead’s undead antagonists, the small town of Senoia was brought back to life as the backdrop of the show.
If it comes as a surprise that Atlanta is rivalling Hollywood as America’s film mecca, think of recent box-office hits and TV series you’ve seen. The Hunger Games, Stranger Things and Baby Driver were all filmed in Atlanta. Even Marvel has turned its sights toward the peach state, with parts of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp all shot around the city. And while Hollywood remains the heart of the film industry, Georgia has slowly become its darling.
The reason behind this momentous shift boils down to business. Under HB 1100, better known as the Entertainment Industry Investment Act, Georgia now offers a 20% incentive on productions of $500,000 or more, plus an additional 10% if the film adds a peach logo to its credits. The aggressive tax incentive program allows studios to offset a significant portion of their production costs, and unlike states like New York and Indiana, the tax credit has no sunset clause. To qualify, some form of promotional value has to be added to the production, which can include the addition of the Georgia peach logo at the end of a movie or show. All genres and types of films are considered by Georgia’s film commissioners, even the ones that don’t impress at a script level. Since the incentive was signed just over a decade ago in 2008, it has transformed Georgia’s film industry into a multibillion dollar production, skyrocketing the state to the third most popular filming destination in the United States behind New York and California.
And while Georgia’s tax incentives are alluring, it takes more than that to lure powerhouse movie-making companies. One of the reasons the state makes for an attractive filming destination independent of the incentive is the landscape itself. Like Southern California, Georgia’s geography includes mountains, forests, cities and the beach. Decades ago, Georgia was seen as a niche filming destination for films set in the south (think Driving Miss Daisy and Forrest Gump). Rather than recreate the charm that makes the south unique, Hollywood producers would simply go right to the source. Today, the city of Atlanta is set apart by the fact that it can stand in for any city anywhere — New York’s concrete jungle is immediately recognizable, but Atlanta can be any town. Netflix’s original series Stranger Things is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Show creators Matt and Ross Duffer originally wrote the show to be set on Long Island in honor of Jaws, but rewrote their script after visiting Georgia.
With the film industry growing, it makes sense that the state has chosen to invest in its long-term growth. In 2015, it launched the Georgia Film Academy, which offers training to aspiring new industry members and directly funnels its graduates into local productions. Before the 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act, Georgia’s entertainment industry was making $241 million a year. Now, that number is closer to $9.5 billion annually, with over 1,950 production-related companies in Atlanta that have a direct spend of $2.02 billion.
Georgia’s investment in the film industry means that major studios are willing to put down roots in the state, including Blackhall Studios and Tyler Perry Studios. Perhaps most prominent is Pinewood Studios, best known for producing Marvel films. The studio’s Fayette County location includes 18 soundstages on 700 acres, and is the largest multi-purpose built studio outside Hollywood. And if that wasn’t enough to solidify the studio’s presence in the state, Pinewood Forest — built directly across the street from the studio — is the company’s luxury suburb that will be home to 1,300 residences for employees. The community, which is set to be completed within the next decade, will also include a movie theater, fitness center, pocket parks and a town center.
So, is Atlanta the next Hollywood? As the industry continues to boom in the peach state, one thing is for certain: our list of film and TV credits will only continue to grow in future.