Winter 2018


Atlanta's Siren Song

Filmmakers are drawn to the Georgia capital's chameleonic looks, deep infrastructure and cost of living. Four local ADs and UPMs share their tips on the advantages of shooting in the city


Production spending in Atlanta has skyrocketed since the current incentive was implemented, going from $67 million in 2007 to $2.7 billion between July 2016 and June 30 of this year. (Photo: Shutterstock)

With as many as 42 TV series and 18 features in various stages of production in recent months, and a current slate of 41 film and television projects filming in and around the Georgia capital, Atlanta might be considered Hollywood South, making the city known for its verdant neighborhoods, architectural diversity and cozy porches also notable for its entertainment infrastructure.

According to Ozark UPM and co-producer Matt Spiegel, when budgeting productions, it all begins with the generous 30% Peach State tax incentive. "Whether it's above or below-the-line, the tax incentives are unlimited for all labor and expenses incurred in the state of Georgia," Spiegel claims, and he's backed up by the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development. While development and writing expenses don't qualify for the credits, almost all other production expenses do, including salaries of DGA teams.

Georgia has seen a significant uptick in production volume since the Entertainment Industry Investment Act was signed into law in 2008. It's remained relatively intact and only slightly modified since to make things even more advantageous for filmmakers in the region. In 2007, the year before the current incentive was in place, the direct-spend of all productions shot in Georgia was $67.7 million, versus $2.7 billion spent between July 1, 2016, and June 30 of this year.

Goods and Services That Meet Demand

Katie Willard Troebs, UPM on the ABC show Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, is an industry veteran who's worked in Atlanta for 35 years. "Atlanta," she says, "has everything you could need in the way of support: drones, Titan cranes, insert cars, picture vehicles, lighting balloons and, of course, grip, electric and camera gear, and the technicians to use them. Atlanta has prop houses, art rental, as well as fabulous antique stores that for years served as prop houses. All the names you know in L.A. and New York when it comes to equipment are now represented in Atlanta."

In addition, the region is booming with state-of-the-art soundstages that continue to blossom all over the area, including Eagle Rock Studios Atlanta and Eagle Rock Studios Stone Mountain, Turner, Pinewood, EUE Screen Gems, 3rd Rail and Mailing Avenue. Second AD Jason Graham says they are generally of the caliber of those with which he's worked in New York. "The infrastructure is trying to catch up with the demand," he says. "As long as the demand and desire to be here remains, additional studio space will be built."

Troebs favors the two Eagle Rock facilities. "They both have breezeways between stages, which allow basecamp to park indoors," she explains. "This makes for greater expediency in getting actors to or from set and also keeps them out of the elements. It also helps get gear in and out more quickly. The stages are perfectly sized, sound tight, silently heated and cooled and have lovely catering spaces and bathrooms that are conveniently located. There is also a vast amount of parking."

Veronica A. Hodge-Hampton, a 1st AD currently working on season two of Atlanta, says the indoor parking "is a huge plus, especially during lightning storms, when we can be completely on house power."

Multi-Faceted Canvas

Another benefit is the terrain, which Graham says can easily double for other cities in the U.S. Last year, Ozark filmed three days in Chicago and four days in the Ozarks, the show's setting. The remainder was filmed in Atlanta, a stand-in for Missouri. "There are two lakes here shaped very similar to those in the Ozarks," he says. "We have mountains and lakes here, in addition to the city itself."

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World substitutes Atlanta and its surrounding environs for both international and domestic locations—from Laos to the show's primary setting of the small town of Taylor, Texas. "Atlanta can be New York, New Orleans or any city," says Troebs. "We are a few hours from the mountains and the beach. We have every location you could imagine here."

When Spiegel worked on the show The Detour in Atlanta, the area doubled for areas ranging from Syracuse to the north all the way down to Florida. "Atlanta can be a stand-in for the entire Eastern seaboard," he says. "The Midwest is fairly easy to do here, and there are urban locales that can easily double for a big-city look." Ironically, adds Spiegel, because the city is so chameleonic, "many productions do not shoot Atlanta for Atlanta."

The city's multifaceted canvas is facilitated by relatively smooth sailing when it comes to the permitting process. "There's a lot of support for production here from the local film permitting offices, as well as from the local police," says Spiegel. "It's a very user-friendly place."

Boom Town Sensibility

The city's open-arms policy, however, does present some drawbacks: there are over-saturating problems in some neighborhoods, making permitting in those areas difficult. But for some, the relative affordability makes up for the difference. "Generally speaking, locations are a little less [than in L.A. or New York]," explains Spiegel, who advises fellow members that "the further out of Atlanta you go, the less expensive it gets to shoot. But, this is a maturing market, and producers should not expect to be paying next to nothing to shoot locations here."

A city that once had a small, cozy, hometown feel has grown into a full-scale production hub, Troebs reflects. "For many years I knew every person on every set in Atlanta, where they were from, where they went to school, their spouse's name, their children's names and their dog's name. Times have changed. So many people have moved here, left their professions to work in the film industry or jumped in feet-first from school. It's kind of the case that Vancouver had in that people moved up really fast."

Which also has its downside, cautions Troebs. "I see people going from PA to POC (production office coordinator) to supervisor in three years. Even if they are brilliant, they just don't have the production experience to make the right decisions all the time."

In the early '90s, Troebs says, there were three "super crews," and they were all busy doing a feature here and there, and plenty of TV movies. Then things dried up as production migrated to Canada. "Those that chose to continue as film professionals followed the work and were able to make a living, but it was at the cost of family time. Now, people from all over are heading to Atlanta. They are here to stay now."

Generally speaking, crews can be less expensive, though Spiegel points out that rates vary depending on the level of experience and size of the show. "I think there can be a perception that it's so busy in Atlanta that some people default to bringing crew in from out-of-town. But there really is a very deep crew base in place here to service productions and that base continues to grow every year."

Metropolitan Life at an Affordable Price

Members heading south are lured not only by the work, but a favorable cost of living versus L.A. and New York. A bicoastal veteran of more than 20 years, Spiegel made the move to Atlanta with his wife and two daughters four years ago. "I moved primarily because I wouldn't need to be on the road most of the time," he explains. "The travel became too much of a grind, and I was away from my family at least half the year."

Hodge-Hampton currently resides in Mableton, 15 minutes from Atlanta, with her wife and four children. "We really like living here," she says. "This is where we wanted to raise our kids."

According to the website, which compares cost of living in thousands of cities worldwide, Atlanta is 17% less expensive to live in than Los Angeles, and 34% cheaper than New York.

And the amenities, according to Troebs, are attractive to urbanites. "We have lots of greenspace, lots of different neighborhoods, diversity, wonderful dining from hole-in-the- wall to five stars," she says. "The quality of life here could not be better."

Adds Spiegel: "There's no sacrifice from a career perspective here. Good projects are coming into town, and I enjoy working on the high-end streaming side of the TV world, and there is a lot of that here."

The misconception about local DGA crews, says Hodge-Hampton, is that "there's a skill difference between L.A. and Georgia, and there just isn't. There's just that vibe. We're all in the same industry, and there's enough work for everyone here."

Atlanta in a Nutshell

Ozark UPM and co-producer Matt Spiegel, left, plans his next move on location for the series, for which Atlanta acts as a stand-in for Missouri. (Photo: Courtesy Matt Spiegel)

⇒ Locations:
The terrain includes mountains, lakes, suburban neighborhoods and urban cityscapes.

⇒ Soundstages/Facilities:
Eagle Rock Studios Atlanta, Turner, Pinewood, Eagle Rock Studios Stone Mountain, EUE Screen Gems, 3rd Rail and Mailing Avenue.

⇒ Services:
Camera (VER, Panavision, Arri CSC, Sim) and lighting (Cinelease, Paskal, MBS).

⇒ Tips on Filming in the Region:
"The main tip I give all distant location crew traveling to Atlanta is to arrive, if possible, at least a day ahead of your scheduled start workday in order to adapt to our city and the traffic flow," says Hodge-Hampton.
For New Yorkers moving to Atlanta, "Make sure you have a valid driver's license," says Graham, who explained that "although there is an above-ground subway system, it really doesn't go anywhere, so you have to drive everywhere."

⇒ Recent Television:
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Ozark, MacGyver, Say Yes to the Dress, Scream 3, The Gifted, Walking Dead, Valor

⇒ Recent Features:
The Hate U Give, Jungle Cruise, Mile 22, The House With a Clock in its Walls, Trial By Fire.

The Industry / Technology

Articles on creative issues and new technology in features, television and new media.

More from this issue
Check out the latest DGA Quarterly, featuring a Special Report exploring Content Distribution in the Streaming Age as well as interviews with Michael Apted, Reed Morano, Lily Olszewski, Martin Campbell, Kenneth Branagh, Pamela Adlon, and more!