The folks behind the decision to transform the old Lakewood Fairgrounds into a thirty-three-acre film and television production campus want you to know two things: Part of the reason they came here was because of Georgia’s vaunted tax incentives for moviemakers, but no, their company doesn’t get a break on its own taxes. The crucial point is that, by creating the largest studio and soundstage complex in the state, EUE/Screen Gems has made it possible for lots of other filmmakers and TV networks to take advantage of the state’s tax deals.
While the incentives upped Georgia’s popularity as a destination for location shooting, there were few large local studios. Since Screen Gems opened in 2010, it has brought new business and bustle to town. The studio hosted production of the upcoming film The Watch, starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, as well as TV shoots by USA Network, Hallmark Channel, and Disney Channel. Stage 4 is booked through the end of 2012 for BET shoots.
Last year Screen Gems spent $15 million to build Stage 5, one of the largest soundstages east of Hollywood, a 37,500-square-foot structure boasting forty-foot ceilings. Without interior columns, it is an ideal venue for shooting large-scale action and special-effects scenes. When the Robert Zemeckis–directed Flight opens this fall, theatergoers will watch Denzel Washington crash-land a commercial jetliner without a clue that the sequence was filmed indoors.
This February the campus expanded with the opening of Stage 6, a 30,000-square-foot facility that sits on the hill once occupied by the fairground’s Greyhound roller coaster. (Movie trivia: That coaster was demolished in the climax of 1980’s Smokey and the Bandit II.) Screen Gems now has a total of nearly 150,000 square feet of dedicated studio space to help attract film productions and commercial shoots to Atlanta, a lure that is aided by on-site grip and lighting services.
Don’t be surprised if the Lakewood campus itself appears on a movie screen near you. According to Screen Gems executive vice president Kris Bagwell, who oversees the complex, the Spanish Mission–style architecture of the restored 1916 fairground buildings is so reminiscent of a golden-era Hollywood studio lot that several production clients have shown interest in filming exterior scenes.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.