Purpose Built

GaBiz Editor in Chief speaks with CEO of Gray Television Hilton Howell about the launch of Assembly Atlanta at the former GM plant site, how it is primed to drive jobs in the area, and the projected economic impact.

The film industry in Georgia has become a major economic driver, and now that the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike is officially over (as of November), production is underway again across the state. Now, productions have another Georgia-based studio in which to film: Assembly Atlanta, that opened on the 135-acre former General Motors plant lot in Doraville. The new state-of-the-art facility, owned by Gray Television, offers sound stages, outdoor filming locations, and start-to-finish production services such as costuming, transportation, support services, and lighting. In its first year of operation, the company estimates that it will create 4,000 or more jobs. Here, we speak with Gray Television CEO and Chairman of the Board Hilton Howell about why this location makes sense and how he hopes to make a mark on the industry.  

Gray Television has a massive reach, touching more than 35 percent of television households in the United States. Why choose Georgia for your headquarters? 
The company was founded here in 1895 to publish the Albany Herald, so this was naturally our home, and will remain our home. Georgia has been recognized as the best state to do business for 10 years straight, so it’s worth staying in. We also have Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which makes Atlanta accessible from almost anywhere. Last, Atlanta and Georgia have consistently ranked as having some of the best quality of life ratings. So, we were lucky to get started here, and we’re thrilled to stay.  

What was it about the former General Motors plant in Doraville that made you think it would be an ideal spot for Assembly Atlanta? 
It’s inside the Perimeter, next to every major transportation corridor in the city with close proximity to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, has two MARTA stops within walking distance, and a Peachtree Road address. With 135 consecutive acres, it’s a unique spot amongst the studios in that it’s in an urban environment; films and television programs that are filmed here can take advantage of all Atlanta has to offer.   

In the very near term, the full road infrastructure outside of the studio will be complete. The 140-foot LED screen tower will be finished by summer 2024, and the five-acre park (which will be open to the public) is nearly complete; it includes an amphitheater and green space. We will be moving forward on future developments and have a tremendous amount of demand, but as of right now have no additional developments to report.  

What makes Assembly and its offerings unique in Georgia’s landscape of film studios? 
I think one of the most unique parts of Assembly is the public-facing “back lots” that visitors will be able to see over the gates. We also have the “real” facades on the front of the studios that are public facing and are representations of New Orleans, the capital cities of Europe, brownstones of Manhattan, and an industrial space we refer to as “Tribeca” that is not to be found in Atlanta architecture. Another feature that makes Assembly unique is that it has the largest water stage in the world, measuring over 400 feet in length; this allows filmmakers to film water scenes without ever leaving the development. They are state-of-the-art, brand new, and purpose-built to meet the current and ever-evolving needs of the industry.   

How are Gray Television and Assembly contributing to preparing the next generation to contribute to Georgia’s film industry? 
Gray TV and Assembly Studios are dedicated to preparing the next generation for success in film and entertainment production, and we are inspired by the work already being done. We have an existing—and soon to be significantly expanded—internship program that began with Third Rail Studios and will now include Assembly Studios, and they will work hand in glove with Universal Production Services. We’re quite lucky in the state of Georgia to have the Georgia Film Academy working to prepare the next generation; our goal is to work collectively with and enhance the work already being done by organizations such as GFA and our phenomenal HBCUs and universities to make our state the epicenter of entertainment production.   

From an economic impact perspective, what do you expect Assembly to produce? 
The number of jobs and economic opportunities that will be created by the core operations of making movies will be astounding and will have an immediate impact not only on the surrounding communities, but on the entire state. An Olsberg [Economic Impact] study on the economic impact of the film industry in Georgia found the total economic output to be $8.5 billion dollars in 2022 alone, and we feel confident that Assembly Studios will push that needle even further. Assembly is proudly situated in the heart of Doraville, and Mayor Joseph Geirman has said that the economic impact for not only Doraville, but the surrounding cities of Brookhaven, Chamblee, Dunwoody, and more will be extremely positive. We are already seeing the impact as other real estate projects are developing in the area. In fact, Hopstix restaurant in Chamblee is even coming out with a new IPA in honor of Assembly Studios that we will hopefully be serving on the premises!