Melanie Antos was driving around Buckhead and then headed to Brookhaven on a recent weekday afternoon searching for an empty storefront that would serve as an ideal spot for a Ring Pop commercial. Remember the retro diamond-shaped candy on a ring?

“The director wants to transform the store into something similar to an Apple store, but with candy,” she said matter-of-factly while cruising the streets.

Oglethorpe University students majoring in film production work behind the scenes at their college, an attractive location for filmmakers. (Photo Lisa Larson)

Antos, who lives in Dunwoody and is co-founder of Mellen Productions, with Brookhaven-based partner Ellen Rizzo, is a location scout who specializes in finding sites, such as empty retail stores, for producers and directors to use in TV commercials or feature films.

And business is booming as Hollywood continues to come to Georgia and plant itself in cities such as Atlanta, Savannah and, yes, the ‘burbs.

“We started the business about 10 years ago … and then the tax incentive came into play,” Antos said.

The hit Marvel superhero movie “Ant-Man” is among the Atlanta-made films that has brought work to Perimeter Center area business people.

In 2008, Georgia began offering 30 percent tax credits to productions with at least a $500,000 budget that were willing to show the Georgia logo at the end of the credits. The Georgia Department of Economic Development is reporting that for fiscal year 2017, film and TV productions added $7 billion to the state’s economy thanks to the tax breaks, with $2 billion from direct spending. In contrast, in 2007, filming production added $242 million to the state’s economy.

The state is also now in the top three markets for film and TV, behind only New York and Los Angeles.

At a recent Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber lunch meeting, Craig Dominey, Senior Film Location Specialist/Camera Ready Program Manager at the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Film Office, said businesses ranging from lumber companies to catering shops to transportation services to hotels were benefiting from the rapidly growing film business. Even antique stores are profiting from the sale of props, he said.

“The economic impact is across the board,” Dominey said. “It’s almost like found money for an untold number of years to come.”

The Perimeter area has seen an uptick in the movie business in recent years. Antos said her business specializes in finding homes for commercials or films and because the suburbs, including Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Brookhaven, are filled with stately houses with large yards, the area is a favorite for producers seeking a certain look.

Brookhaven’s Oglethorpe University becomes “Memphis University” for filming of the 2015 movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

“This area is so desirable because homes have more property and there is a huge spectrum of houses,” she said.

Renting out your house for a few days of filming can also mean big bucks for homeowners.

For a still photography shoot, production companies can pay out $1,850 to $2,500 a day, Antos said. Feature film producers will pay a minimum of $3,000 a day. One of Antos’ homes listed in Dunwoody is the site for a recent Georgia Lottery commercial.

“We saw a void that needed to be filled and we started networking with people who had beautiful homes,” Antos said. “We literally started one year before everything took off.”

In Brookhaven, Oglethorpe University’s iconic stone exterior and Gothic architecture has made the campus a popular spot for filmmakers, especially after the state tax incentive.

“Oh, big time,” said university spokesperson Renee Vary Keele of the increase in interest from a decade ago. “Last academic year, we accommodated productions once a month.”

The movie “Killing Reagan” was partly made in Brookhaven.

Most recently, Oglethorpe University doubled as Yale University in National Geographic’s movie, “Killing Reagan,” starring Cynthia Nixon, which was about the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The man who shot Reagan, John Hinkley Jr., said he tried to kill the president to gain the attention of actress Jodie Foster, who attended Yale at the time.

The private liberal arts college has also been used in scenes for the 2015 feature film “Vacation,” a reboot of the popular “National Lampoon” series, as well as the popular series “Vampire Diaries” and in music videos by Lil Wayne and Bubba Sparxxx.

Keele said the behind-the-scenes action benefits Oglethorpe students majoring in film production. Theater students often are used as extras. “It’s a great experience for students, plus it’s fun having a little bit of Hollywood here,” she said.

Heyward Wescott, chair of the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber, is owner of the small business Custom Signs Today located in Midtown Atlanta. His business makes the sign props used in such Georgia and Atlanta-based productions such as “The Walking Dead” and more recently for blockbuster films including “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Ant-Man.”

Heyward Wescott, chair of the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, has made prop signs for the hit TV series “The Walking Dead.”

The nearly 20-year-old business got its start making creating props for 1998’s “October Sky,” Wescott said.

“They had a carnival scene and needed to have signs for a bean toss and ‘bobbing for apple’ signs,” he said.

That carnival scene has led to his business making fake garbage dumpster decals and police car graphics used in “The Walking Dead” and fake “Decatur University” pole flags used at Agnes Scott College to transform the campus for next year’s “Life of the Party” starring Melissa McCarthy.

“Today [making prop signs] makes up about 1/8 of my business,” he said. “Ask me in five years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was even more.”

Michael Starling, director of Economic Development for Dunwoody, said the city has yet to see a huge direct benefit from the state’s booming film industry, but that there has been an increase in filming in the city, which has benefited the hotels and restaurants.

“We stay fairly busy with smaller shoots,” Starling said. “But it’s hard to track the money spent here.”

Recently, a closed bank building on Ashford-Dunwoody Road near Perimeter Mall was transformed into “Perimeter Trust” and was the site of a bank robbery scene – complete with fake gunfire – for the upcoming movie “Baby Driver” starring Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey.

That shoot required use of Dunwoody police officers to help shut down the road for a short while; the city also requires a $100 a day filming permit.

Filming of the Cartoon Network series “Tower Prep” at Oglethorpe University in 2010.

Third Rail Studios, the state’s newest film and TV production studio, recently opened in Doraville at the site of the former General Motors Assembly plant. Starling said he expects business to pick up even more in Dunwoody and the Perimeter with action from such a nearby studio.

Dan Rosenfeld, general manager at Third Rail, said during the recent Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber event that the studio plans to do a lot of filming locally.

“We’re going to need stores, homes, churches, and all of this will have a major impact on the economy,” he said.
Patrice Ruffin, deputy director of Community Development for Brookhaven, said the city also charges $100 a day for filming.

Requests to film in the city at such places as city parks, have jumped significantly in the last year.

“At least every other month we are getting requests,” she said. “The Atlanta region is ready.”

Filming in the Perimeter

The number of films being shot in the Perimeter area is rising. Here are the number of film permits issued by the cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven in recent years.

Sandy Springs
2015: 15
2016: 17

2014: 4
2015: 14
2016: 13

2015: 2
2016: 10

Sources: Cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven

Correction: It was incorrectly reported that “Life of the Party” starring Melissa McCarthy was filmed at Oglethorpe University. The filming was actually done at Agnes Scott College. We apologize for the error.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.