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Is Georgia the New Hollywood? part 1

Updated on April 17, 2013

Film Industry in Georgia

Everybody has heard of Hollywood, that glorious land of movie stars and of course, legendary movie studios, but did you realize that the majority of current film companies are looking to shoot outside the common locations of New York and LA? Hundreds of television movies, feature films, music videos, and commercials have actually found their base in Georgia, and an even larger part in Covington. According to the film Industry, the state has the prefect climate, diverse geography, and film crews that work non-union bringing the costs down to a minimum. In television alone the state has garnered more than $5 billion.

Scene from Deliverence
Scene from Deliverence | Source

The 1970s

The first movie that really opened the eyes of Hollywood to what Georgia had to offer was Deliverance in 1972. Based on the best-selling novel by James Dickey, Deliverance was shot along the Chattooga River and starred Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, and Jon Voight. The success of the film led then-governor Jimmy Carter to established the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office.

Through the rest of the seventies film production grew in Georgia, bringing Burt Reynolds back with his project, Smokey and the Bandit (1977). Shot at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and on various Georgia Highways, this movie was the beginning of the action-packed car-chase. it's success spawned Smokey and the Bandit II in 1980.

Sally Field and Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit
Sally Field and Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit | Source

CBS joined the car-chase trend with the television series The Dukes of Hazzard. The show ran from 1979-85 and quickly became a hit and starred John Schneider (who grew up in Georgia) and Tom Wopat. The two played the Duke cousins always rebelling against the local police in their General Lee muscle car. The show filmed it's opening shot of the General Lee jump in the city of Covington on the nearby campus of Oxford College of Emory University. To this day Covington celebrates the Dukes with an annual Festival featuring a parade of General Lees.

The 1980s and 1990s

In 1981 Atlanta was host to the filming of Sharky's Machine featuring once again, Burt Reynolds. Spectators in the downtown area were startled when they witnessed a scene involving a free-fall stunt 220-feet from the top of the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel.

Between 1988 and 1994 Covington starred once again as the little town of Sparta, Mississippi in the acclaimed television series In the Heat of the Night. The show ran from 1988 to 1994 and became part of the daily life for Covington residents.

In The Heat of the Night star Carrol O'Conner and other cast members
In The Heat of the Night star Carrol O'Conner and other cast members | Source

To this day Covington still has its share of tourists that tour the town looking for remnants of The Dukes of Hazzard and In the Heat of the Night landmarks. The tiny downtown square even sports a museum featuring paraphernalia from these shows (and as of late The Vampire Diaries). In 2005 Warner Brothers' turned The Dukes into a feature film and as a promotion MTV returned to Covington to recreate the General Lee's first jump.

Another television series that made it's home in Covington was I'll Fly Away which ran from 1991 to 1993. The NBC series which starred Sam Waterston as a civil rights lawyer was also shot in historic Madison, as well as in Conyers, Monticello, Newnan, and other locations. The cast wrapped up the series in 1993 with the made-for-tv movie I'll Fly Away: Then and Now.

Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried Green Tomatoes | Source

In 1989 Driving Miss Daisy came out, the story of the bond between an elderly Jewish woman and her African American chauffeur. The movie starred Jessica Tandy and soon catapulted her to what was previously Burt Reynolds status as "the movie star most identifiable with Georgia". Based on Alfred Uhry's play and also starring Morgan Freeman, Daisy was set largely in the Atlanta area. Driving Miss Daisy won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Tandy.

Tandy came back to Georgia in 1991 for Fried Green Tomatoes. The movie, based on the novel by Fannie Flagg, revolved around two women in 1920s Alabama who become friends and open a restaurant together called the Whistle Stop Cafe. Film crews transformed a local establishment in the small town of Juliette, in Monroe County, into the cafe, where it remains as a tourist attraction for fans of the film.

Legend of Bagger Vance (2000),   Matt Damon (left) and Will Smith (second from left).
Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Matt Damon (left) and Will Smith (second from left).

Many filmmakers started to discover the unique and mysterious charm of Savannah. This location was used for such films as The Gingerbread Man, The Gift, Forces of Nature, and The General's Daughter. Robert Redford hit the streets of Savannah as well as the country clubs to film The Legend of Bagger Vance in 2000. Clint Eastwood filmed his adaptation of the best-selling novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in the heart of the historic district of Savannah and the true Civil War story based on the first all-black volunteer company, Glory, was shot along the Savannah coast.

One of the biggest films to become forever linked with Savannah was Forrest Gump. Made in 1994, the majority of this film was done in other states, but it is the memorable scenes of Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) telling his stories from the bench in Chippewa Square that keep it anchored to Savannah.

Summary for Part 1

So as you see, from the 70's to 90's Georgia put itself on the "Hollywood" map as the spot for southern film-making with top television series and academy award winning movies. But this was just the beginning. The millennium was still to come.

Stay tuned for the second part of my series Is Georgia the New Hollywood.


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