Georgia’s Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) announced late last month that their film industry recorded a blockbuster year in Georgia.

The film and television industry set a record with $4 billion in direct spending in the state. However, it wasn’t just there that saw growth as Georgia continues to attract massive companies looking to film in the natural scenery of the peach state.

Not too far from Atlanta sits DeKalb County. The county was once known for its granite quarries and dairy farms and was a leader in dairy products in the 1940s and 50s but after the farmland disappeared, it vanished into obscurity in a way. Until now.

“The unprecedented record-breaking numbers we are seeing for the state of Georgia with its film and entertainment efforts, we certainly in DeKalb County are seeing that too,” Decide DeKalb Development Authority Director of Marketing and Communications Terra Washington said. 

All of this runs parallel to the DeKalb Entertainment Commission (DEC) which is a division under Decide DeKalb Development Authority (DDDA).

“From an economic development perspective – we are – even in the entertainment industry and sector, we’re still driving jobs,” Washington said. “We want to see DeKalb County residents working. We want to see them starting businesses that relate and spill over into the entertainment sector. We want to encourage our youth and create the next generation of writers, filmmakers, set designers. Whatever is required from a production perspective, we have it in DeKalb and we want to make sure we are taking care of that.”

Also on the call was DEC Marketing and Public Relations Consultant Deondai Colquitt who provided the number of film permit applications from 2011-2021 with estimates provided from 2011-2016 as not all data was collected during those times.

From 2011 to 2015, DeKalb County estimated 179 film permit applications with the number fluctuating in 2016 to 106, 156 in 2017, 148 in 2018 and a record year in 2019 with 189 applications approved.

When the pandemic came through in 2020, DeKalb County and the film world, as well as a multitude of industries, came to a halt and DeKalb County only managed to approve 75 applications to film.

“It was pretty devastating,” Washington said about the work stoppage due to the pandemic. “As with PPE and the various loans that were available, I think for DEC they wanted to tap into that creative arts and culture community to see exactly what they’d need.

“If you think about in a society where gig workers are so prevalent, as you can imagine these folks that work within the entertainment commission, they only get paid when there’s production,” she continued. “When that ceases to happen a lot of folks were really going through it because nothing was being shot.” 

Over a year later through the coronavirus pandemic, it’s worth noting that DeKalb County rebounded nicely with 181 total film permit applications bringing this year’s total revenue so far to $250,000 and a remarkable 60% of productions coming from DeKalb County.

At the end of 2020, DeKalb played host to 60 television series which include Stranger Things, Loki, Doom Patrol, Lovecraft Country, MacGyver, The UnderGround RailRoad, Willy’s Wonderland and Dear Evan Hansen to name a few.

“I think we’ve done really well, one of the key things we’ve done is spearheaded the permitting process for DeKalb County,” Colquitt said. “We have 13 other cities that are being filmed in and some of the highlights are the very popular areas like Brookhaven, the City of Decatur and Stonecrest. We have 13 sound stages with a couple being really big ones like Black Hall, Eagle Rock and Third Rail, those are all in DeKalb County. That constitutes to why we’re very popular.”

Washington says that having all of these productions going on pours into the community.

“Yes, we are putting people to work,” Washington said. “But it’s helping those communities to get business.”

The work is not done yet for DeKalb County, on the cusp of their biggest year, the work is far from over. DeKalb County wants to keep the money in the county and they’re even expanding to the game industry.

“A lot of our students don’t understand gaming and the digital aspect of what’s available from scholarships to college, I think Morris Brown has an undergrad degree in gaming,” Colquitt said. “Those are the things we’re working on. We work with the gang unit for DeKalb County and something called Gaming with Cops which is a program that kinda keeps the young students off the streets and teaches them the aspects of gaming. We’re kind of an ecosystem of training, providing resources and also permitting the actual act of filming.”

Apple Studios set at the Flatbridge Water Treatment Plant in Stonecrest. They were in production May and June. Filming finished at the end of June but Apple Studios agreed to donate the village and props to the DeKalb County School District on behalf of DeKalb Entertainment Commission. (Photo Credit: Dekalb Entertainment Commission)