Beyond Hollywood: Atlanta’s the New Production Haven

“The Hollywood of the South.” It’s a branding that’s been stuck on Atlanta in recent years, as more and more film and television productions make their way to our city and surrounding parts of the state. Let’s be clear, though: Atlanta’s becoming more than an extension of the center of the film industry. Thanks in part to a series of tax credits that have caught the idea of big and small productions alike, Atlanta’s relationship with the film industry has resulted in a major movie-making hub. Chances are strong these days that if you’ve watched a movie or a television show recently, it was at least partially filmed here.

That’s not hyperbole. Over the past few years, the biggest films and television shows have been filmed in and around Atlanta. Among them: the #1 film at the box office of 2013 and the #2 films at the box office in 2014 and 2015 – otherwise known as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and Furious 7. Marvel Studios is even getting into the Atlanta scene. After shooting this summer’s Ant-Man in town last summer, the studio recently returned for the currently-filming Captain America: Civil War. So no, if you think you might have seen Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr. pop up somewhere around town, your eyes may not be deceiving you.

Of course, none of those films actually take place in Atlanta. The same can’t be said for one of the biggest shows on television: The Walking Dead. It’s easily the #1 rated show on cable television, with numbers that dwarf most network programs. In the coveted 18-49 demographic, it’s flat-out the top-rated show on television. And as fans of the show (or even some casual observers) know, the show has played up its location since before it premiered. The first season’s iconic poster shows the city of Atlanta turned into a ghost town.

So what’s drawn so many productions to Atlanta in recent years? A number of factors come into play, but the most obvious factor is simple: tax incentives. Thanks to tax incentives originally introduced in 2002 and reinforced in 2008, qualified productions are granted a transferable income tax credit of 20% of all in-state costs for film and television investments at or above $500,000. Projects that are approved and carry a Georgia Entertainment promotional logo in the credits get an additional 10% tax credit. In other words: these films are saving a lot of money by shooting here.

Productions in Atlanta existed before 2008, but the last seven years have seen the number of productions explode. With that, the number of businesses and facilities created to cater to the film industry has also exploded – in 2014 alone, the film industry generated $5.1 billion for Georgia’s economy. Among the biggest was the creation of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, an extension of the U.K.-based Pinewood Studios. Since its creation in the 1930s, Pinewood has become known as the home to major films from around the world, including nearly every James Bond film. The expansion into Atlanta marked Pinewood’s first studio presence in the U.S., and is a large reason films like Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War have found Marvel shifting from Pinewood’s U.K. studios to Pinewood Atlanta.

Another contributing factor to Atlanta’s popularity with films – especially the bigger-budgeted films that land here – is its unique architecture. Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, is just one of several films to use the work of Atlanta architect John Portman to create a dystopian future. In that film alone, the Portman-designed AmericasMart and Hyatt Regency make notable appearances. Mockingjay, meanwhile, used the atrium of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis to create part of Panem’s Capitol. While it’s easy – and fair – to lament Atlanta’s tendency as a city to destroy iconic parts of its past to create new buildings, the creation of many of Atlanta’s skyscrapers since the 1980s give the city a more modern look than other large cities, and that’s something film producers want.

At the same time, you don’t have to travel too far to find parts of Atlanta that don’t look like they’d fit into a dystopian future – and that’s allowed for some diversity when it comes to filming in Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs. Piedmont Park has popped into comedies like Billy Crystal and Bette Midler’s Parental Guidance and the Jennifer Lopez-led What to Expect When You’re Expecting, while Woodruff Park served as the meeting ground for the celebrity cameo battle of Anchorman 2. The high school-based comedy The DUFF included extensive scenes in places like Grady High School and Perimeter Mall. Buddy-cop comedies like Let’s Be Cops and the Atlanta-set Ride Along (along with its sequel, shooting later this summer) include extensive parts of the downtown Atlanta area. Atlantans may have recognized more than Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman in their comedy Last Vegas in Atlanta; some Atlanta drag performers, including current Drag Race phenomenon Violet Chachki, also pop up in the film. Identity Thief, which paired up Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, shot all over Georgia, including some of the film’s more memorable scenes at the Colonnade and the Cheshire Motor Inn. The 2013 comedy A.C.O.D., which included Adam Scott, Jane Lynch and Amy Poehler among its cast members, shot at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and in parts of Decatur.

Meanwhile, with their continued cycles of production, several television series have made Atlanta home for years. Beyond The Walking Dead, shows like Drop Dead Diva, The Vampire Diaries and Halt and Catch Fire have all shot in and around the Atlanta area. During its first few seasons, Teen Wolf also filmed in Atlanta – and even used Jungle to film an episode that included performers such as Phoenix and Alissah Brooks.

So what films can you expect to see filming around Atlanta, or elsewhere in Georgia, right now? Plenty of films with some major star power. There’s the previously mentioned Captain America: Civil War (which includes pretty much every Marvel character you can imagine at this point), of course. Next year’s major Melissa McCarthy film, Michelle Darnell, is also filming in the Atlanta area these days. That film also includes costars Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage and Kristen Schaal. Another comedy currently shooting in town is Barbershop 3, with series stars Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer filming alongside newcomers like Nicki Minaj. Ryan Gosling and the openly gay Matt Bomer are also filming in Atlanta for The Nice Guys, about a private eye’s investigation into the apparent suicide of a fading porn star. Furious 7’s Vin Diesel will be back in town with Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which is being directed by the man behind Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee. Following his recent Oscar nomination, Michael Keaton’s next gig finds him taking on the role of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in The Founder. And a little further south of Atlanta (in Savannah, more specifically), Zac Efron’s been making waves in recent weeks on the set of Dirty Grandpa, which co-stars Robert De Niro, for some scenes that involve the appearance of public nudity.

So the next time you’re walking around town and you see a film crew, keep an eye out – you never know who you’ll see, or whether you might be seen in a year or so.

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Originally published in David Atlanta.

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