Lights! Camera! Atlanta!
Take a Tour of the City’s TV and Movie Landmarks
By H.M. Cauley
The “Big Zombie” tour poses at Atlanta’s Jackson Street Bridge, used in “The Walking Dead.”
Bright lights and crowds of zombies staggering down the sidewalksare becoming commonplace scenes around the metro area since movie and television crews discovered the fun of filming in Atlanta. Over the last decade, Georgia’s film industry has become one of the largest in the nation, thanks to the convenience of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, strong tax incentives and a healthy number of production studios, including Tyler Perry Studios and EUE/Screen Gems.
In fiscal year 2013, the period from July 2012 through June of last year, Hollywood productions poured nearly $934 million into city neighborhoods and small towns across the state.
Much of that economic engine can be found in the Atlanta area, which has hosted dozens of movies and TV series, from The Blind Side and The Hunger Games to such hit shows as “The Walking Dead,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Drop Dead Diva.” And as more productions come to the area, they’ve drawn crowds of tourists eager for an up-close look at the sites where their favorite shows and movies are filmed.
Touring With “The Walking Dead”
“People can’t believe all the movies being filmed here,” says Carrie Burns of Atlanta Movie Tours. “It seemed like every week I was showing people around my neighborhood where ‘The Walking Dead’ was filmed. Finally, my friend and I decided we should start it as a business.”
Atlanta Movie Tours offers two “Big Zombie” tours and a general tour of Atlanta film sites. Each runs about three hours and is conducted in the comfort of a 32-passenger coach. While on the tour, 15-inch monitors show film clips or TV scenes that were shot at the locations the visitors are about to view. As an added bonus, all of the guides have been extras on local sets and share inside stories and play trivia games with the audience.
The Film Sites tour covers areas around Atlanta that have been backdrops for films such as Driving Miss Daisy and Anchorman 2. The first of the two “Big Zombie” tours departs from Castleberry Hill and concentrates on Atlanta locales used in the show and the 2009 film Zombieland.
The second tour takes visitors to the small towns of Senoia, Sharpsburg and Newnan, where they visit private locations that have stood in for the town of Woodbury and other sites on “The Walking Dead.”
“Our ‘Big Zombie’ is the most successful tour we run,” says Burns. “Since we started in 2012, we’ve had more than 4,000 people take that tour with us. But we also do custom tours, so if someone wants to follow Tyler Perry or see where they’re shooting ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta,’ we can arrange that, too.”
A Growing Magnet for Production
Zombie tours overlap a bit in Fayette County, where the Peachtree City Convention & Visitors Bureau runs the Southern Hollywood Film Tour. The area has been a magnet for production in recent years, and that popularity is set to grow with the recent announcement that Pinewood Studios, the British production studio known as the home of the James Bond films, is building a 288-acre facility in Fayetteville.
“With Pinewood coming, we definitely will see more attention coming to Fayette County,” says Nancy Price, the bureau’s executive director. “It will definitely be on our drive-by tour.”
There’s already plenty to take in from the 12-passenger buses that wind their way through the countryside where “The Walking Dead” and “Drop Dead Diva” are filmed. Stops are scheduled at the local amphitheater where Joyful Noise with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton was filmed, as well as the house used in Fried Green Tomatoes. Buses are outfitted with TVs that shows clips corresponding to the stops on the tour.
“Because we only have 12 people [at a time], we can do whatever they want,” says Price. “We might stop if they want to get out and take pictures, or we can stay in Senoia for lunch.”
Something for Everyone
On Atlanta’s east side, Newton County and its seat, Covington, have a long history of serving as a backdrop for film and television productions. The area hosted “The Dukes of Hazzard” in the 1980s, and “In the Heat of the Night” filmed there in the ’90s. Today, Covington stands in as Mystic Falls on the supernatural TV show “The Vampire Diaries.” Tour organizer and Covington native Jessica Lowery started Mystic Falls Tours four years ago as a sideline, and it’s since blossomed into a full-time business.
“I started just showing two or three people around, and now we take crowds several times a month,” says Lowery. “I’ve also been an extra on ‘Vampire Diaries,’ and I can discuss what’s going on with everyone. A lot of times we get out of the bus as they’re filming, and we get to meet some of the actors.”
The tours also take visitors into the restaurants and private homes that have appeared in the show. “Everyone’s favorite spot is the Lockwood mansion, one of the homes on the show that is really Worthington Manor here in town,” says Lowery. “We also have an alley where a lot of characters have died, and we carry a vampire stake with us, so people can pose there with the prop and take pictures.”
Lowery also conducts a tour in nearby Conyers, where “The Originals,” a spinoff of “The Vampire Diaries,” is filmed. On each excursion, Lowery makes sure to touch on other productions that have been based in the area.
“The moms and dads who bring the vampire fans remember ‘Heat of the Night’ and ‘Dukes and Hazzard,’” she says with a laugh. “More than 80 TV shows and movies have filmed here, so there’s something for everybody.”
Take a Tour
Atlanta Movie Tours
Cost: $45 for Atlanta Film Sites and “Big Zombie” Part 1; $65 for “Big Zombie” Part 2.
Contact: 855-255-3456, www.atlantamovietours.com.
Mystic Falls Tours
Cost: $55 per person.
Contact: 404-549-1489, www.mysticfallstours.com.
Southern Hollywood Film Tour
Cost: $22.50 for adults; $20 for seniors; $15 for children 4-12. Reservations are a must.