Assemble a list of movies filmed in and around Georgia in the 20th century and a pattern quickly starts to emerge: Driving Miss Daisy. Deliverance. Forrest Gump. Fried Green Tomatoes. All of these projects were shot in the South because they’re set in the South, local color being the simplest and most intuitive reason to shoot on location. Rather than meticulously recreate the feeling of omnipresent humidity and quality porch hangs on a Hollywood studio lot, why not go straight to the source?
In 2017, however, there’s a good chance that your latest evening entertainment wasn’t just made in Georgia, but that you wouldn’t know it—unless, of course, you watched the final credits long enough to spot the telltale peach and a URL directing you to the film section of the state’s official tourism website. The Netflix series Stranger Things uses the Atlanta metro area as a stand-in for small-town Indiana; AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire moved its characters from Dallas to the Bay Area without its production ever leaving the Southeast. At a much larger scale, Marvel’s interconnected mega-franchise stays rooted in Atlanta even as its superheroes crisscross the globe on-screen, while The Hunger Games appropriated local landmarks like the Swan House and MARTA train for its vision of the post-apocalyptic future. In Hollywood’s eyes, the South used to be a place to be utilized for its specific qualities and then left alone the rest of the time. (Sometimes, the place’s participation wasn’t even required; the late ’80s/early ’90s sitcom Designing Women was set in Atlanta, but filmed, like most multicamera shows in need of a studio audience, on a soundstage in Los Angeles.) Now, it’s every place, a phenomenon that’s had a dramatic impact on the region even as that region’s flexibility—and therefore anonymity—has meant Georgia’s filming boom hasn’t attracted much notice outside of the area.
Because the entertainment industry is first and foremost a business, the reason behind this momentous shift comes down to cold, hard math. Under HB 1100, better known as the Entertainment Industry Investment Act, Georgia employs one of the most aggressive tax incentive programs in the country, allowing studios to offset a significant proportion of their production costs. Although it was signed into law in 2005, the bill only took off in 2008 after significant revisions. Now, not even a decade later, the incentive has established a multibillion dollar industry in the Peach State, skyrocketing Georgia from a niche production destination to the third most popular filming site in the nation after New York and California. As it’s put down roots, this sector of Georgia’s economy has only grown more entrenched, quietly changing what it means to represent the South onscreen. Just don’t call it Y’allywood.