Photo by Harold Daniels. Styling by Tamara Connor.
Visitors to Senoia might well experience a sense of déjà vu. Indeed, many who have never before set foot in the idyllic small Southern town 25 miles south of Atlanta will find it familiar. While that feeling might owe in part to its Main Street U.S.A. charm, it’s more likely that they recognize the town from one of the 24 movies and television shows that have been shot there in as many years. The first was the 1989 Oscar-winning best picture Driving Miss Daisy, and almost every year since, a major production—from Fried Green Tomatoes and Sweet Home Alabama to Meet the Browns and Footloose—has been filmed in Senoia. “Riverwood [now Raleigh Studios] has been there a long time,” says Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Division. “It’s completely transformed the town.”
Today, hit television series The Walking Dead and Drop Dead Diva are bringing filmmakers and fans to town. “Senoia has become a zombie mecca,” says Andrew Lincoln, who plays sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. “I’ve become the cultural attaché for the town,” he jokes, explaining that he welcomes friends who are in the state filming movies such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. “It’s booming down here. It’s the Hollywood of the South. I have nothing but praise for this place. I don’t want to do this show anywhere else.”
From a mere seven stores on Main Street in 2006, Senoia (pronounced sen-OY) now boasts 49—including an antiques shop and a sushi bar—and the restorations have been completed with an eye to historical accuracy, which means that the entire town has the feel of the late 19th century. “Our place used to be the old general store,” says musician and Georgia native Zac Brown, who recently opened Southern Ground Social Club, a combination restaurant, bar, store and live music venue. “It’s just neat to see people from out of town, watch the license plates from different places,” says Brown. “It’s a great little place to discover, and the way that the town’s being built up is right. It’s being done the right way.”
Of course, filmmaking’s Midas touch—and the resulting boon to visitors—is nothing new in Georgia. In the wake of the 1972 cult classic Deliverance, three of the movie’s stuntmen founded outfitter operations on the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, which continue to draw outdoor recreation enthusiasts to the mountains of North Georgia. Recognizing the impact the industry could have on the state, then Governor Jimmy Carter established Georgia’s film commission, one of the first state film offices in the country, and other productions followed. In 1979, Covington became the main location for the first five episodes of television’s The Dukes of Hazzard. Today, the town features pavers that recount more than three decades as the backdrop of shows from In the Heat of the Night to The Vampire Diaries. Movie tours have sprung up in towns and cities from Peachtree City to Savannah, and celebrity sightings in all corners of the state have become an added attraction for visitors. With more than 700 feature films shot in Georgia since 1973—333 movie and television productions last year alone—fans will discover related tourist opportunities at every turn. “People are always surprised at the volume and variety of film and television programming produced in Georgia,” says Thomas. “Today, visitors can experience the many locations that have been featured on the big and small screen over the film office’s 40-year history.”