Hollywood of the South: Film industry grows in Atlanta

November 21, 2014

Sam+Ellis+%28right%29+and+Ciara+Bravo+%28left%29+play+young+Leo+Roth+and+Emma+Chota+on+Fox%27s+%E2%80%9CThe+Red+Band+Society.%E2%80%9D+Ellis%2C+a+7th+grade+student+at+Renfroe%2C+plays+the+younger+version+of+the+lead+character.

Sam Ellis (right) and Ciara Bravo (left) play young Leo Roth and Emma Chota on Fox's “The Red Band Society.” Ellis, a 7th grade student at Renfroe, plays the younger version of the lead character.

Tanks, helicopters and undead feasting on dead horse flesh overrun a Marietta St. in flames. Atlanta residents watching shows like “The Walking Dead” can recognize locations on famous TV shows and films as their home.

Others include “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” “42,” “Flight,” “Prisoners,” “Las Vegas,” and “The Intern.” Atlanta is the new hotspot for the film and television industry, according to the Georgia Department of Economic development.

A big incentive for production companies to move from Hollywood to Atlanta is that Georgia offers a 20 percent discount to any company spending over $500,000. Georgia also offers a bonus 10 percent discount to productions who show the state’s official promotional logo on screen. Atlanta also benefits from the discounts as it gained $3.3 billion of revenue from the industry in 2013, according to Iris Mansour of Mic.com.

Offering discounts has brought big production companies from the west coast down to the South.

20th Century Fox, Tyler Perry’s Perry Plays, and other big name studios have moved from LA to Atlanta, forming what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named “the largest film studio complex in Georgia.”

The people of Atlanta have also noticed this increase in size/filming. Marirosa Hoffman, an Atlanta artist, lives across from an abandoned train station used for filming “The Hunger Games” and “The Walking Dead.”

“I know they filmed the Walking Dead multiple times, because I have seen glimpses of people with the makeup on,” Marirosa Hoffman said.

Filming usually lasts from two weeks to two months, and according to Hoffman the film crews have been reasonably responsible with keeping the small street that she lives on free from any traffic due to film trucks.

Sometimes the filming is an inconvenience, however. Hoffman, who lives in an apartment without a garage, typically parks on her street without a hassle. When the film crew began filming “The Hunger Games,” she received a ticket for parking on her own street.

“That really irritated me personally,” Hoffman said. “They put generators facing our building, they would never turn them off, and [they] were here for more than a month.”

Despite the hassle the filming brought, Hoffman was in awe with having actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson right across the street from her.”

— Marirosa Hoffman

“It’s cool to know there have been that many movie stars within a few hundred feet of me,” Hoffman said.

Celebrities spotted in the Atlanta area, like Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal at the former local restaurant Watershed, according to accessAtlanta.com, are part of what makes  Atlanta and Decatur into the “Hollywood of the South.”

Former Decatur student Maddie Sommers experienced the effects of the film industry through her father’s career. Sommer’s dad worked as a Director of Photography, Cinematographer, and Executive Director on locally filmed TV shows “The Originals,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and “Rectify.” Sommers worked on the sets “up close and personal” with the casts and crews, where her father’s career directly affects her.

“[My dad’s] job has given me a lot of experiences,” Sommers said. “Since I was little I would visit film sets, and a few summers ago I even got to work on a film set for a while.”

Her father worked in the Atlanta, Decatur and Covington areas eight to ten months a year while she, her mother and sister Jesse stayed at their home in LA. They finally moved to Decatur to be closer to their dad, but he still worked long hours.

“It’s difficult to uproot, then uproot again, then uproot again,” Sommers said.

Despite the busy household, she is grateful for the opportunities for the success her dad’s career brings. She assists with tasks on the sets such as helping to set up lighting and camera equipment, and grows closer to people involved with all of the projects.

“I got to meet people I would have never met like much of the cast of The Vampire Diaries,” Sommers said, “and my friend Brigid who was an electrician on one of the shows. She took me under her wing when I was there and taught me.”

Another Decatur student recently experienced Atlanta’s film industry first hand. Steven Spielberg cast seventh grader Sam Ellis,brother of sophomore John Ellis, on Spielberg’s newest project, ABC’s Red Band Society. Ellis played the younger version of Charlie Rowe’s Leo Roth, a main character.

His character, a cancer patient, lost all of his hair at a very young age, so Ellis shaved his head for the part. According to him, the experience was a good one.

The Red Band Society’s primary location is the High Museum, where Spielberg filmed hospital scenes. Ellis’ show is one of many shows and films shot in the Metro Atlanta area that make Atlanta the growing Hollywood of the South.

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