Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Georgia's version of Mayberry becomes Hollywood's new darling
by Bill Osinski
AROUND GEORGIA
Georgia Online News Service

FADE IN:

INT. KITCHEN IN A SMALL-TOWN HOME. MORNING.

FATHER comes downstairs to chaos. CHILDREN slamming around, late for school. MOTHER trying to jam oatmeal into BABY's lock-jawed mouth.

MAN enters from next room and shouts into bullhorn.

MAN

Quiet on the set!

Immediate silence descends on the family.

MAN

And… Action!

Father grins broadly and picks up his brief case, kisses his wife and heads off to work.

Life is just a scene, when you live in Senoia.

This Coweta County town isn't just trying to become known as the movie-making capital of Georgia; it wants to be a town that doubles as a movie set.

The drive to preserve Senoia's turn-of-the-century (19th) look as an attraction for moviemakers is also a means to develop a healthy 21st century local economy.

"We hope the movie business will be the economic driver for our economy," says Suzanne Helfman, chairwoman of the Senoia Downtown Development Authority.

Senoia has already racked up more than its share of movie productions. Parts of the feature films "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Fighting Temptations," "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Meet the Browns" were filmed on location in Senoia.

In the last 20 years, more than 22 film and television projects have come here, says Scott Tigchelaar, president of Riverwood Studios just outside of Senoia, where moviemakers can find the sound stages and other professional facilities they need to complement their location work.

For 2009, at least four more movie projects are expected, including one starring Ashton Kutcher, he says. And if the labor dispute between the producers and the Screen Actors Guild is settled, several major studio projects will likely be added to that roster. "The sky's the limit," Tigchelaar says.

But Tigchelaar and local development officials are not content just to go with what Senoia's got. They want to capitalize on their quaintness by building more quaint, but new, stuff around town.

Through his development corporation, Senoia Enterprises, Tigchelaar has purchased two properties at the main intersection downtown and built historically compatible buildings on them. One building has a café (The Redneck Gourmet) on the main floor and a tavern and restaurant (Maguire's) on the lower level, and the building across the street will become offices and specialty shops.

At the lower tip of downtown, Tigchelaar has converted an old cotton gin into a mixed-use residential development called The Gin. It's a collection of condominiums, brownstones and single-family residences, all to be built in the style of the historic downtown and thus will expand Senoia's offerings of potential film locations.

Paul Lombardi, Tigchelaar's development business partner, also has roots in the movie industry. His late father, Joe Lombardi, a special effects master, received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Parts of the Lombardis' collection of movie memorabilia are displayed around town. In the Redneck Gourmet, a glass case contains the surfboard used by Robert Duvall in the famous "napalm in the morning" scene from "Apocalypse Now." In Maguire's, another case contains a set of armor used in "The Last Samurai."

Senoia is now reaping the benefits of being bypassed by progress. While the surrounding areas jumped aboard the growth express of past decades, Senoia maintained what Tigchelaar describes as its "drawbridge mentality." There are no fast-food restaurants or strip malls or big-box stores in Senoia.

That's just the way people here wanted it.

"This town was called Mayberry for so many years," Helfman says. The characterization was not usually a compliment, she adds, but now, Senoia's old-fashioned look is among its biggest assets.

The influx of movie projects has not reached the point where it can be relied upon to be the foundation of the city's budget, says City Manager Rick Perry. "The only problem is, once they're done, they're gone."

Still, movies are the "brand" Senoia has adopted with which to market itself and distinguish itself. "People love the movie stuff," Helfman said.

The city is opening a visitor's center where tourists can pick up a brochure that pinpoints the places around town where the best-known movies have been filmed.

The single most important factor in Senoia's drive to become Movietown, USA, is Georgia's new tax credit policies. The 2008 Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act extended a 30 percent tax credit to motion picture projects shot in Georgia. After years when the industry had to a large extent abandoned Georgia as a production site, the tide has definitely turned.

"If you don't have a good tax incentive program, there's nothing you can do to attract the movies," Tigchelaar says. "If you do, there's nothing you can do to stop them."

As the interest in Georgia has reawakened, companies that specialize in movie support services, such as equipment rental, catering and production companies, are starting to explore relocating to Senoia, he says.

The Senoia success story is being used to sell Georgia to outside production companies, said Lee Thomas, senior location liaison for the Georgia Film Commission.

"I often take prospective clients down to Senoia," she says. "They see the great homes, the great churches, the great architecture."

Senoia also benefits from its proximity to Atlanta's airport and from its movie-friendly policies toward visiting filmmakers.

Statewide, five movie productions will be completed in the winter months. "And 2009 will definitely be our best year," Thomas says.

Bill Osinski has been a reporter for 36 years and during his tenure at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he reported from 130 of Georgia's 159 counties for his Main Street Georgia column and for in-depth stories. Osinski was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. Lousy weather today, and if you're in the transportation business, the storm clouds are really dark. But Georgia's top-rated journalist on transportation issues, Lyle Harris, tells us that there's a small sliver of silver lining in the transportation thunderheads. Meanwhile, a Georgia town that's a lot like Mayberry Senoia in Coweta County has become the darling of Hollywood movie makers, according to Georgia Online News Service's man-about-the-state, Bill Osinski. Finally, for a special treat, GONSO introduces as a regular columnist Ralph Reed. He has a bit of advice to bitter partisans on both sides of the political fence: "Our civic life need not resemble an episode of 'The Three Stooges.' We can do better."

Do you have questions, suggestions, praise or rants for the Georgia Online News Service? Email me at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or call at 800-891-3459.

John F. Sugg, Executive Editor


Today's GONSO

Who's running Georgia's transportation policy

by Lyle Harris
We've had enough.

Georgians are officially sick and tired of being sick and tired about ever-lengthening commutes that continue to waste our precious time, money and gas.

Our Job-like patience has all but expired after waiting for years on promised road improvements that are desperately needed but never seem to get off the drawing board.

Full Story

Georgia's version of Mayberry becomes Hollywood's new darling

by Bill Osinski
Life is just a scene, when you live in Senoia.

This Coweta County town isn't just trying to become known as the movie-making capital of Georgia; it wants to be a town that doubles as a movie set.

The drive to preserve Senoia's turn-of-the-century (19th) look as an attraction for moviemakers is also a means to develop a healthy 21st century local economy.

Full Story

Obama's reach across divide praiseworthy, but not without precedent

by Ralph Reed
Barack Obama's inaugural address Jan. 20 was notable – apart from the usual eloquence and Obamaesque stagecraft – for a clarion call for a new, post-partisan politics. He challenged the nation to embrace a kind of 21st century version of the Era of Good Feelings, which prevailed between 1817 and 1825 after the decline of the Federalist party but prior to the sectional disputes that later arose over the extension of slavery.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
A sure(hell)-fire way to raise state funds? Tax all 7 Deadly Sins
by K. Patrick Jensen
Transportation top concern for business community
by Jeanne Bonner
Lesson for legislators: Don't forget the children
by Pat Willis

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