The Big Ground Game Part 2
Forget Hollywood–Georgia is the place to be.
At least, if you’re in film or television. With industry-positive legislature, a variety of locations, and production resources, industry activity is only increasing, as is the need for top-notch studios. Here, Oz takes a look at some of Georgia’s top studios, both big and small.
Built by Paul and Joe Lombardi, Raleigh Studios opened in 1989 and was one of the forerunners of the Georgia filming scene. Numerous projects have been filmed there, including Killers, Sweet Home Alabama, Andersonville, The War, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Pet Sematary II, but probably the most famous is AMC’s The
Walking Dead, which has occupied Raleigh’s entire studio since 2011.
Raleigh Studios boasts 120 acres of facilities, which equals out to 105,000 square feet of stages, offices, mill, wardrobe, and support buildings. Additionally, there is a variety of unique shooting locations including a creek, river, swamp, forest, large meadows, two lakes, and an abandoned railroad track. They’re considering adding four additional studios, an additional 90,000 square feet of stage, office, and support facilities, but no concrete plans have been made as of yet.
Located a short 50 minutes from Atlanta, Raleigh Studios is proud to call Senoia home and credits the small town
with much of its continued success. “Our most unique feature is the studio’s proximity to the town of Senoia, which has been a ‘backlot’ for the studio and a backdrop for more than 24 film and television projects,” Scott Tigchelaar, president of Raleigh Studios, said. “We couldn’t have asked for a more film friendly community. Senoia’s mayor and council understand the economic benefits of the film industry, and they work hard to accommodate it. The results are pretty hard to argue.”
Indeed: in the past 13 years, the city of Senoia has grown exponentially, and much of that growth is attributed to the film industry. And industry showrunners recognize that, which is why more and more productions are landing in Georgia than in the traditional Los Angeles or New York.
“I believe that New York and California are hamstrung by antiquated film and television paradigms,” Tigchelaar said. “There’s been a disruption in the entire production industry, and Georgia is coming into its own so quickly and with such a fresh perspective. Our industry here is well-positioned to pivot with the future of the media and content creation…it’s the place to be.”
Small towns are experiencing much of the growth and activity. With quaint storefronts, acres of land available for purchase, and a variety of filming locations, these small Georgia towns are a veritable gold mine for those in film and television. Revitalization has been a positive, though unplanned, side effect.
“Something we’re proud of is the role we’ve played in the redevelopment of Senoia,” Tigchelaar said. “[The city] has become a shining example of many of the positive impacts of the film and television industry, including an international tourist destination thanks to The Walking Dead.” The hit show has no plans to relocate, and Raleigh Studios has no complaints about that.
Located just inside the perimeter, with convenient access to all of Atlanta, Blackhall Studios is a new but powerful player in the Georgia filming game. They specialize in everything, from independent films to television to large-scale productions. The space, which includes nine sound stages, 175,000 square feet of mill space, FX, and storage, is designed to handle anything. The sound stages, in fact, boast the highest ceiling heights in Georgia, 45-55 feet. Blackhall Studios also offers 35 acres of backlot, a train track, and a 40,000-square foot school house. Stretching over 100 acres, the studio plans to open an addition 40,000 square feet of creative space.
Blackhall Studios opened this year and has hit the ground running. “We are the largest purpose built studio inside the perimeter,” said Ryan Millsap, executive chairman of the board. “We are about the same size as Pinewood when they opened their doors, so we are ready for major motion pictures to film here.”
The excitement and energy is easy to see; Blackhall Studios is committed to growing the local film and television industry, and it puts its money where its mouth is. They offer small film financing to worthy filmmakers who have already raised at least 80% of their budget and are committed to spending at least $500,000 in Georgia. Currently, the program is only for smaller and mid-sized films, but Blackhall is hopeful that a larger film fund
will be added in the future.
And Blackhall Studio’s reception has been warm. “Everyone in the industry who comes to visit has very positive comments,” Millsap explained. “People who know this business love the logistics of our layouts and the heights of our stages and the sleek aesthetics of the built environment.”
Southeast Atlanta will benefit from Blackhall’s opening, as well: from property values to increased tourist and professional traffic, the area is poised for revitalization. “Atlanta is on the rise in the entertainment industry and the momentum here is palpable,” said Millsap. “Over time, the entertainment industry will become a conduit for creative energy to build into a beautiful creative vortex that impacts Georgia for the human good.”
Tyler Perry Studios
A big player in the Georgia movie and television game, Tyler Perry Studios bought Ft. McPherson in July of 2015. The 330-acre, 132-year-old site will house more than 350,000 square feet of sound stages and support spaces.
Located just to the north of East Point and a mere minute’s drive from Downtown Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Tyler Perry Studios has 12 sound stages, a parade grounds, a 1950s diner, farm house, baseball fields, trailer park, golf course, woodlands, ponds, and numerous production support buildings. One of the sound stages will contain a water tank. Additionally, there are 40 historic buildings, built from around 1880 to 1910. Once completed, the facility will be one of the largest in the country.
“Because this was a military base for over 100 years, the practical shooting locations, combined with a diverse backlot, being 10 minutes from the airport and downtown, and being able to shoot sound outside is unique to Georgia,” said Steve Mensch, president of operations.
And numerous productions have taken advantage of that unique backlot. Pitch Perfect 3, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Walking Dead, Too Close to Home, and Boo! A Madea Halloween have all filmed at Tyler Perry Studios, and there are plenty more projects planned for the upcoming months and years.
The surrounding neighborhood has been nothing but supportive. “Tyler is building the only major motion picture studio on the east coast, and keeping his productions here in Georgia has a huge impact,” Mensch said. “The neighborhood is benefitting directly from the activity, local businesses are enjoying the economic benefit, and the jobs being created are very welcomed.”
Mensch goes on to explain that Perry chose Georgia over the expected California or Florida because of his hometown ties. He considers Atlanta his home, and coupled with Georgia’s film-friendly legislation and the chance to provide jobs for thousands of his fellow Georgians, the choice was no choice at all.
Opened in late 2015, Wilder Studios is conveniently located a mere 12 miles from Downtown Atlanta. Don’t let its quiet demeanor fool you, though: Wilder Studios is fully equipped and ready for filming. With four sound stages equaling 17,000 square feet, Wilder Studios offers office, mill, lock-up, and storage space in addition to filming.
Wilder Studios focuses mostly on small films and television productions, including Baby Driver, Life of the Party, and
The Accountant; currently, Warner Brothers' Game Night and Amazon’s Lore is filming in its spaces.
David Nash, owner of Wilder Studios, took over the studio space in 2015. “The space had already been filmed in before I took over, so it was already on people’s radar,” he explained. “We’ve had a very positive response to the improvements we’ve made in the last year and a half, and folks are pleasantly surprised by how easy the commute is from downtown.”
Nash named the studio after his son, and was determined to keep the space small and local. “I’m a local, so it was here or nowhere!” Nash joked. He started his career as a set carpenter, and by 2008 he was a construction coordinator which gives him, and Wilder Studios, a distinct advantage.
“We’re not a purpose-built facility so we don’t expect to compete with some of the facilities that are, but with my background in the industry I’m able to anticipate our client’s needs.” It’s working. When Wilder Studios opened, they were filming only a few shows each year; currently, they’re starting two or three shows each week. They’re fully booked.
Nash, still a carpenter at heart, occasionally serves as construction coordinator for the productions filming at Wilder. “I was lucky to be here at the beginning,” Nash said. “We hope to give our clients an affordable, yet comfortable, experience when they film [here].”
When the economy turned downward in 2008, real estate agent John Raulet found opportunity amidst the despair. The filming scene was just beginning to pick up steam, and Raulet realized he could rent empty warehouse, industrial, and office space to those film projects. As the economy recovered, he saw an increased need for filming space and locations, and soon he was working exclusively with film crews and studios. By 2012, Raulet partnered with Paul Raulet and Tyler Edgarton to form StageWorks.
StageWorks has since expanded to three metro Atlanta locations. Mailing Avenue StageWorks, the original, is located near Grant Park. An 85,000-square foot facility, Mailing Avenue boasts a 38,000-square foot stage area, 31’ ceiling height, a large production office, and an adjoining mill. Las Vegas was the first film shot there, and Necessary Roughness, Insurgent, and Allegiant were filmed in the years since. Currently, MacGyver is filming season two at the location.
Soon after, Westside StageWorks opened on Fulton Industrial. With more than 121,000 square feet of space, including a 40,000-square foot stage facility, 28’ ceilings, a mill, production offices, and plenty of fenced truck parking, Westside StageWorks is home to the Fox TV show Star.
Finally, Eastside StageWorks opened in Conyers in 2016, and the 130,000-square foot facility boasts 23+ acres of ideal filming space as well as a 114,000-square foot stage, mill, and storage area. Ceiling height soars to 28’, and there are 16,000 square feet of production offices, not to mention amazing access to both urban and rural locations, perfect for any television show or film. The Originals currently films here.
Raulet’s real estate background gives him rare insight and allows him to be fully in tune with the needs of filmmakers and the capabilities of the city. “The nature of our involvement in the film business really real estate in Atlanta,” Raulet said. “We are born and bred Atlantans and know where good real estate is. We know areas that film clients shy away from due to traffic.”
It’s this knowledge that drives them; StageWorks enjoys finding dilapidated and abandoned buildings that others wouldn’t look twice at and rev italizing them as filming locations. Southern Dairies, an old Kraft Ice Cream plant in midtown that currently houses the StageWorks offices, was vacant when Raulet found it. He and his team helped convert the old plant to stylish, modern loft offices.
“We do not pretend that we know anything about ground up construction,” Raulet explained. “We let others play
in that market. What we provide accommodates a large number of productions that do not want to be in a new studio facility or cannot afford to be in one. We lease them the whole property which allows them certain freedoms that they cannot have on a typical ground up studio lot that caters to multiple productions at once. This fosters a friendly relationship and created a following of producers that want to be in our buildings.”