Georgia’s $9.5 billion movie business began with Burt Reynolds, a canoe trip on the Chattooga River, and a governor who saw great potential.
Noting the success of 1972’s “Deliverance,” Gov. Jimmy Carter created the state’s film commission in 1973, and, more importantly, kicked-off a tradition of “can do” in Georgia.
Even before the state began luring filmmakers with tax credits, it worked to provide movie companies what they needed. “We went out and stole street signs one night,” said Norman Bielowicz, who was head of the film commission from 1981 to 1998. “We needed them!”
As Bielowicz spoke, he walked past a mannequin dressed as Captain America, a golden Oscar trophy, and other artifacts on display at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.
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Called “Georgia on my Screen: Jimmy Carter and the Rise of the Film Industry,” the exhibit tells the story of film in Georgia, from “Smokey and the Bandit” to “Stranger Things,” and tells how Atlanta came to rival Hollywood as the new tinseltown.
Last week a group of filmmakers, former commission chairs and staffers visited the exhibit during a special reception, recalling, as did Bielowicz, the wild and woolly early days and the shocking explosion of the industry in the 2000s.
On the afternoon of the reception, staffer Clint Bearden was still hanging photographs in a section devoted to Tyler Perry’s films. “The word got out and our collection doubled in a few weeks,” said Bearden.
“Things are still coming in today,” said Carla Ledgerwood, the registrar at the library and museum. More will probably arrive later. Stratton Leopold, Savannah native who scouted locations in Georgia, and went on to produce such films as “Mission Impossible III,” said he has photos from the making of “Wise Blood” in Macon with John Huston that he’d like to offer.
Seeing this collection prompted some memories among the attendees.
Tom Luse, executive producer of “The Walking Dead,” took a glance at a sculpted “Bicycle Girl” zombie, and reminisced about a scene early in the AMC series. To make it, the crew had to commandeer ten blocks of the Fairlie-Poplar district downtown, shutting down all lights, all the buildings, and all the streets, littering the place with burned-out armored personnel carriers and packing it with 300 zombies.
“It was the most incredible scene,” said Luse. “Only in Atlanta could that happen.”
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Ledgerwood said the response from the studios has been remarkable. An email to Marvel generated a wealth of objects, including the tiny, tree-like creature from the Avengers called Baby Groot, and a mask from “Black Panther.”
Indicating the Captain America red-white-and-blue outfit displayed on a mannequin, Ledgerwood said “not only is that the real deal, but the head of the wardrobe department came Friday and installed it.”
She added, “They wanted to do this. They wanted to give back to Georgia. And they really admire Jimmy Carter.”
A high point of the exhibit is a recreation of the creepy living room in “Stranger Things” where the character played by Winona Ryder transforms one wall into a giant Ouija board.
This tableau features the scrawled alphabet, the holiday lights, the Eggo Waffles and dozens of other items, including Eleven’s dress and Chief Hopper’s uniform. (The wall looks especially authentic because Netflix gave the Carter Library a copy of the wallpaper design and they had the wallpaper recreated.) Jess Royal, the set dresser from the show — which is, of course, filmed in Atlanta— arrived with scores of items to fill out the scene.
In the center of the exhibit is a wardrobe section, in which about a dozen costumes from various films are mounted on mannequins, including a dress that Marisa Tomei wears to court in “My Cousin Vinnie” and Joe Pesci’s boots from the same film.
Meredith Evans, the director of the library, said “There are many movie tours in Atlanta, but no one gets to see the costumes this close, or the props this close.”
If you Go:
“Georgia on my Screen.” 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Monday- Saturday; noon-4:45 p.m. Sunday. $12; $10 for senior citizens, military and students; ages 16 and younger free. Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, 441 John Lewis Freedom Parkway. 404-865-7100, www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov.
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