Part of the movie was filmed on sets inside the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta.
Call it the Hollywood of the South or, better yet, Y’allywood.
We’ve all watched as Georgia became a hub for film and TV production in the last few years. At the movies, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing shots of Piedmont Park and the Midtown skyline, and films being shot here like “The Blind Side,” “42” and “The Hunger Games” sequels. From TV, we might bump into stars from “The Walking Dead” or “Drop Dead Diva” at Whole Foods.
On Thursday, I attended a panel discussion on the topic hosted by the Georgia chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Here are a half-dozen takeaways.
Hollywood’s economic impact here grew from $244 million in 2011 to $4 billion last year, according to Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner in the state Department of Economic Development’s film division.
Currently, 16 series, two pilots, two movies-of-the-week and 11 feature films are in production in the state, she said.
The tipping points: economic incentives, “The Hunger Games” sequels (which required their own huge sound stages) and…
Hey, that skyline looks familiar…
… “The Walking Dead,” the hugely popular series about hordes of flesh-eating zombies that’s filmed mostly outdoors just south of Atlanta and has spawned tours for fans. “That show is a monster — literally,” said co-panelist Rodney Ho of the AJC.
James Anderson, of Turner and The Cartoon Network, worked for years in “the business” in LA and remembers a bellwether Variety article pointing out “runaway productions” to the place Down South where people “eat shrimp and grits.” Now here for going on nine years, he works with, among many others, the Atlanta-born Adult Swim.
On-set publicist Denise Godoy shared advice so good and universal that I’m saving it for a later post. (Here it is.)
The discussion’s moderator was my friend and fellow movie lover Stephen Brown, incoming president of PRSA Georgia, managing director at Cohn & Wolfe and critic at SilverScreenCapture.com.
Watch this Today interview with Larry Kramer from 1983. Fascinating and frightening.
It’s lucky for “The Normal Heart” that it took almost three decades for the play about early AIDS activism to get made into a movie.
That gift of time lets the movie present something Larry Kramer couldn’t have imagined when he wrote his fact-based play: This was the moment when everything changed – not only in the fight against AIDS, but in the emergence of gay power and visibility we know today.
From a storytelling point of view, it’s a fascinatingly meta mix of drama and journalism, history and activism. We can watch the thinly fictionalized version of how those changes were wrought – many by the unknowing characters in the play, which was written by one of them … as it was all unfolding.
There would be no gay marriage, no gays in the military, no gays in the NFL – none of it – without AIDS, Larry Kramer and what we see in “The Normal Heart.”
That adds a richness that was missing when I saw a stage production in 1986. It struck me then as a series of long, angry speeches more than a story, with lots of yelling and tantrums, even some milk throwing. Its power was oddly muted by the this-is-happening-to-me-right-now intensity of the time.
But I was curious to see the movie, which premiered on HBO this week. How would it be adapted? How would it hold up? How would my reactions be different now, since I’m not only older but also happily adjusted to being gay myself?
Mark Ruffalo, as Larry Kramer’s alter ego Ned Weeks, tries to speak with the New York mayor in HBO’s “The Normal Heart.”
Watching Monday night, I was struck to see gay characters treated cruelly and indifferently, completely marginalized by society and the institutions of power. I shouldn’t have been, since I remember those days. But in the intervening decades, we’ve all become used to gays having a seat at the table that simply was not allowed before AIDS.
When horror entered the vacuum, grassroots groups like the one Kramer formed – as he depicts in “The Normal Heart” – fought to care for the sick, to demand government and media attention, and to educate their community amid its own turbulence. The infrastructure they invented out of despair and necessity virtually gave birth to gay American life as we know it.
The filmmakers turned down the hysterics and tightened the story somewhat. They effectively revived images not seen in ages of emaciated men covered in purple lesions and gasping for air. And of a hospital maintenance worker refusing to fix a TV in the room of a “contagious fairy;” and of the New York City mayor and U.S. president dodging the issue and any association with homosexuality; and of masses of closeted gay men cowering in fear of being “found out;” and of the news media, even The New York Times, shrugging it off as long as possible.
A lot of TV viewers were angry about the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother” this week. After nine seasons, the hero finally met the mother of his children… but then she died and he ended up with the girlfriend he started out with, another of the series regulars.
I watched the finale and didn’t care for it, but since I’d only been an occasional watcher of “Mother” over the years, it didn’t mean anything to me. But it got me thinking about the endings of stories, good and bad. What makes a satisfying ending? Is an ending just a stopping point? Is it a thematic conclusion? A full-on blowout of a finale? And should the storyteller know his ending before he starts writing, or does he just stumble upon it?
A story’s end should feel organic, but not necessarily predictable — like, now that you know it, that’s the only way it could have happened. It should enrich the story’s themes without becoming didactic, and it should use the tools and limits of its medium (TV, movie, stage, newspaper, blog … whatever).
Here, then, are five of my favorite endings. Let me know some of yours!
1. Movies: “The Godfather” — When Michael Corleone’s henchman closes the door on his wife’s sad face, it’s perfect in every way — dramatically, emotionally, cinematically. Michael gains power but loses his soul as he becomes godfather of his family’s crime empire, like his father before him. It happens quickly, after a long, excruciating confrontation. The credits pop up, boom you’re done — breathless and thrilled and completely satisfied with the epic tale you’ve just been told.
2. Theater: “A Chorus Line” — The story ends when half the characters lose their shot at a job on Broadway. But then they all return, one after the other, winners and rejects alike — in shimmering gold tuxedos to sing and dance that dazzling finale, “One.” The razzle dazzle delivers on the show’s themes thrillingly, in ways that only live theater can. (Forget the movie version.) I’ve seen the show a half-dozen times. Goosebumps every time.
3. Novels: “On the Road” — This is best read when you’re young, perhaps. But the romance of Jack Kerouac’s lumbering, searching, self-conscious final lines seduced and slayed me then and moves me still.
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.
4. TV Dramas: “Six Feet Under” — I stopped watching a few years before the HBO show about a family of morticians finally wrapped, but the last 10 minutes left me blubbering uncontrollably. It was a mournful montage that flash-forwarded to reveal how all the characters eventually died. My tears were earned.
5. TV Comedies: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — This is a great one because it stayed true to the loving, gentle, hilarious tone of the beloved ’70s sitcom about a TV newsroom and the titular leading lady at its core. It was big-hearted, smart smart smart, funny and, yes, sad, too — without trying to be clever or flipping its premise inside-out or upside-down or whatever “How I Met Your Mother” did this week. The TV station’s new owners fire everybody but nincompoop anchor Ted Baxter, and the gang has to scatter to new jobs? Of course. Of course. But first, a song, a tear and a great group hug.
Doug Fick of Decatur had a long career as a high-end carpenter of cabinets and millwork before his first foray into show business, as art director on a horror movie filmed in metro Atlanta. That led to a gig on the first episode of “The Walking Dead,” designing the inside of a tank — where a survivor of the zombie apocalypse found the briefest respite, on a street in downtown Atlanta. Fick stayed beyond that and rose to the rank of art director. The show is filmed south of Atlanta, and Fick runs the art department, an in-house architectural firm that constructs the sets, which on this show can become integral to the gruesome story – like the prison-cum-refugee-camp and the town of Woodbury. I got to talk with him recently, as Season 4 heads into the homestretch.
The zombie apocalypse doesn’t just happen: I work under the production designer, who sets the look of the surroundings that we’re in. He comes up with the concepts, and I’m responsible for managing the process of getting them realized. We consult with wardrobe, the stunts, the set decorators and other departments, so everybody is on the same page. Everything is collaborative in the film industry.
Always on the run, with the characters: This is a big scale for a TV show, cinematic and ambitious. We move around a lot on locations, where we have to deal with the weather and we make sure the crew moves in and out without damaging the locations.
Star Andrew Lincoln, right, meets an undead soldier inside the tank that was Fick’s first project on “The Walking Dead.”
His sets help tell the story: The prison especially was a huge undertaking. We were there long enough that it became a character, and that’s really exciting when you’re working on something and it becomes that integral to the story.
The fences were really a big part of my life. I was the one who dealt with getting them put up and keeping them standing. The (zombie) extras put a lot of stress on them. The extras were very enthusiastic.
Keeping it safe when zombies fall through the roof: I enjoy the technical and engineering challenges, like the roof falling in on the first episode this season. That was shot in several spots. We had an actual store that we dressed on the exterior, and then had extras on the roof on the day we shot. The helicopter was put in digitally, and most of the damage on the roof. We dressed the interior that we created on (the nearby soundstage). The big part of that job was hanging a rig overhead that we could drop people through.
That was really a fun project. You create an environment for the actors to play in and they use it in ways that you don’t expect sometimes. You never know exactly what’s going to happen. The one thing you always have to know is that it’s going to be safe.
It was really a horrific place when the day was done, with fake blood everywhere. It was quite a mess to clean up, but it looked great.
Season 4 has just two episodes left to air. Fick is, of course, tight-lipped. No spoilers from this guy. Filming resumes in the spring. When I read the first script of the series, I thought, ‘I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch this.’ It was so grim. But that’s part of the appeal. If it wasn’t, I don’t think the show would work…. It’s gratifying to see people enjoying the show.