. . . and a meteor just pulverized my State Farm Insurance agent’s office! Who do I call, if a meteor squashes my Explorer?
Things have gotten quite surrealistic now that Georgia is the new Hollywood!
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Last night, I was watching the movie, “Greenland,” on Amazon Prime, when I noticed that the heroes of this disaster movie were repeatedly driving on the highway that runs past the entrance to my subdivision and then through the Nacoochee Valley . . . passing Yonah Mountain numerous times, while supposedly in Tennessee, Kentucky or Upstate New York. The situation got disturbing though, when they were stopped by a traffic jam just before cresting the hill on an expressway that is my primary route to Walmart, Captain D’s and the new Aldi Supermarket!
“Greenland” is about the last days on Earth as we know it, when a cluster of asteroids slam into Earth, followed by a nine-mile wide monster asteroid . . . commonly known as a “major extinction event.” The 2019 movie stars Scottish actor, Gerald Butler, as a structural engineer in Atlanta, and Brazillian-American actress, Morena Baccarin, as his estranged wife. We are not told what Morena’s career objectives are.
The movie is several bars above the typical disaster film and did well financially. Because of the Covid Pandemic, the movie only had limited theater distribution in Europe and went straight to HBO in the United States. This was a very wise move, since hundreds of millions of people around the world were stuck at home and looking for escapism entertainment.
Things could be worse. Instead of possibly dying from Covid, you are definitely going to be vaporized by what is out in space and headed for Mother Earth!
A sequel is underway, in which the family makes their way across the frozen landscape of Europe to find a livable environment. This is quite plausible. A single, large asteroid or comet struck off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida in 539 AD. It was followed by multiple eruptions of super-volcanoes in Mexico, Central America and Iceland. The entire Northern Hemisphere went into a Little Ice Age, causing the disappearance of the Swift Creek and Hopewell Cultures in eastern North America, plus a catastrophic collapse in the population and military power of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The opening scenes in the movie take place in Peachtree Center in Downtown Atlanta. This multi-block complex was constructed by Architect-Developer John C. Portman, while I was in architecture school. So, from the start, I was quite aware that the movie was filmed in Georgia . . . even before the characters ever state that they live in the Atlanta Area.
HOWEVER, I was totally unprepared to see the landscape of my neighborhood as the heroes were supposedly traveling from Metro Atlanta to a horse farm near Lexington, Kentucky, where the heroine’s father lived and then northward to southern Quebec, where airplanes were ferrying people from there to Greenland. Just to be sure that this was not a newscast, I did get up this morning to drive along Hwys. 17, 255A and 76 to see if there were any meteor craters!
The massive 730 acre campus of Trilith Studios near Fayetteville, GA is where Marvel Studios has filmed and produced its string of successful movies. Ironically, Trilith is very close to the fictional location of Tara Plantation in “Gone with the Wind.” The majority investor in the project is Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A. The investors are continuing to invest in Trilith to make it the most technologically advanced studio in the world.
Georgia on the movie industry’s mind
From its onset in the 1890s, the movie industry struggled with creating stage backgrounds and scenery that appeared real to movie viewers. In 1908, movie production companies began concentrating in or near Los Angeles, California because of its ideal blend of mild climate, sunny days and varied terrain. Southern California has an arid climate, so movie plots in other parts of the USA or world, were typically filmed inside large warehouse-type structures. In particular, it was nearly impossible to create realistic natural scenery that reproduced the appearance of the Eastern United States and tropical regions at a distance.
The most successful movie of all time, Gone with the Wind, was about life in Georgia during the Civil War and Reconstruction years. It was filmed during 1939, entirely at MGM’s studios in Los Angeles. One of the few criticisms that Southerners had of the movie was that it leaves out the long vistas of nature . . . something very dear to many Southerners . . . especially of that era. Most of the scenes could have easily been executed on a Broadway stage.
In 1941, French film director, Jean Renoir, decided to do all filming of the movie, Swamp Water, on location in the Okefenokee Swamp and Waycross, GA. He stated that it was impossible to create a realistic film about the Okefenokee Swamp in Hollywood studios. This was a first for Hollywood. Prior to that time, when filming went outside California, much of the dialogue was still filmed and recorded in Hollywood.
For the same reason, all filming of the 1951 movie, I’d Climb the Highest Mountain, was done at the location of the original book in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia. In 1956, Walt Disney filmed all of The Great Locomotive Chase a few miles east of where I’d Climb the Highest Mountain was filmed. Previously in 1954 and 1955, Disney had filmed the 50-part mini-series, The Adventures of Davy Crockett, in color at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at the Mountain Farm Museum adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and at Jauss Consejo Ranch in California.
During the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, a series of more highly successful movies, filmed in Georgia, eventually opened the door for the film and television industry setting up permanent studios in Senoia, GA and the Atlanta Area. These were Deliverance, Fried Green Tomatoes, Driving Miss Daisy, Friday the 13th, several Bert Reynolds films, Pet Sematary and Forrest Gump. Nowadays, at given time, there are typically 20-40 or more movies and TV series being filmed in Georgia simultaneously. More and more A-list actors are building or buying rural estates in Georgia, because they spend so much of their work time here.
Back in the 1980s, Senoia, GA was chosen as the location of a series of horror and science fiction movies because it looked like the town had died back in the 1920s, when the boll weevil hit Georgia. The town was named after the mother of Creek Mikko (chief) William McIntosh. Movie studios began to locate there. They handles post-filming production for such movies as “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Forrest Gump.” Now it is a boom city that bills itself as the “New Hollywood.” All the buildings in the photo are new buildings. The city is intentionally developing in the form of historic neighborhoods, which can be used for movie and TV film sets. In recent years, Senoia has been a prime location for filming many hit TV series such as “The Walking Dead” and its spin-offs, plus “Stranger Things.”
Georgia overtook California in 2016 as the state location with the most feature films per year produced. It is about to surpass California in total TV series productions. In 2022, a entertainment business magazine rated Georgia as the No. 1 location in the world now for movie and TV production, because it studios have intentionally been on the cutting edge of film-making, CGI, production efficiency and robotics innovations. It doesn’t hurt that the state government provides movie and television production companies a generous package of services and tax credits.
All the scenes in the premier of America Unearthed that portrayed host Scott Wolter, driving in his silver Jeep Cherokee, were actually filmed as the car was parked at the front door of my former rental cabin near Dahlonega, GA. My driveway entrance was on a paved road and only about 100 feet from GA. Hwy. 52. The winding gravel road supposedly leading to my “remote” cabin was filmed by a camera attached to a film company’s van. The edited version of America Unearth’s premier made it appear that Wolter was driving on the country lane to reach my cabin.
The magic of Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI)
In the late 20th century the producers of the Star Wars and Star Trek movie series made extraordinary advances in the integration of real life filming and animated filming. However, the process was initially very expensive and beyond the budget of many producers. That has changed.
In the meantime, exponential increases in the memory powers of computers, have enabled all producers to digitize movies and TV programs. The producers of Forrest Gump (1994) perfected the process of inserting an actor’s head or body into a restored 20-30 year movie. That same CGI technology now can insert a vehicle on a video of a highway previously made by a drone. The integrated video that the audience sees, shows a real car doing everything that it could do in an animated film.
Human actors can also be essentially made into animated figures, controlled by computer software. This technology is dangerous in the wrong hands, if a documentary film is being produced. A little over two years ago, a Los Angeles director interviewed me for a TV documentary. His production studio in Los Angeles diametrically changed what I said and even later in the program altered my body motions to make me look like a clown. Fortunately, relatively few people watched this TV program.
The editing team of this unscrupulous director used CGI to turn me into essentially a spastic zombie.
This film company was treading on dangerous waters, however. Licensed Architects and Engineers have special legal status in most states. An Atlanta attorney later informed me that as a Registered Architect, I could have sued the film company and the History Channel for millions of dollars, because of committing professional liable on national television . . . if I had possessed the foresight to carry a miniature voice recorder on me during the interview. LOL My advice to readers is to obtain a written agreement to have right of review, if you are ever approached by a film maker to appear on a television documentary.
He also informed me that I could have filed equally huge professional liable suits against some Georgia archaeologists and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for the false statements they made about me during 2012 to the news media. One of the archaeologists called me “nothing but an ignorant peon” in the Journal of the American Institute of Archaeology. The EBCI sent out a national press release, stating that I had never met a Maya Indian and never been in Mexico. Actually, I am part Maya myself! Archaeologists are not licensed professionals in the United States, and so are especially vulnerable in this area of the American law. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had expired.
It has become quite common to film natural scenery anywhere, even from a drone or car window, then merge the background with actors in a studio or as in the case of America Unearthed, sitting in a stationary car. Thus, it was not necessary for actors to actually be in the region, where I live. More likely, the producer paid a company to drive around this region to film natural scenery, that could be plausibly presented as Tennessee, Kentucky and Upstate New York. The website of the Georgia Film Commission contains a list of available street and rural landscape scene videos, which may be used by movie and film production companies!
Of course, all of the meteor fire trails and explosions in Greenland, were produced by computers and digitally integrated with films of the real landscape. They do look like the real thing, however. I still can’t figure out how they made debris, rocks and pieces of cars fly past and even hit actors standing on the expressway. You will get to see that seen in the movie trailer below.
Now, I can’t offer that sort of drama in the videos, I am going to be making this year . . . using virtual reality animation software, but I think readers will find it very interesting to see ancient Native American towns come to life.