Atlanta Movie Tours shutting down due to the pandemic

Tour guide Colin Cary in 2019 before the start of an Atlanta Movie Tours "Stranger Things" media tour. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Tour guide Colin Cary in 2019 before the start of an Atlanta Movie Tours "Stranger Things" media tour. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

It was one of the most popular tour operations in the area

Atlanta Movie Tours is closing after eight years, a victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not a temporary shutdown, said owner Carrie Sagel Burns in an interview Wednesday soon after posting the news of the closure on social media. “Atlanta Movie Tours is going away.”

Burns, who launched the company in 2012 with Patti Davis, said all the efforts to pivot after the pandemic began was too much work for too little return. She had tried virtual tours and some private tours but it was not sustainable.

“I’m grateful to the 70,000-plus people who did the tours and the relationships we built along the way,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better than the fans of all these genres.”

Tony Gowell starting the very first media tour for Atlanta Movie Tours in 2012 focused on "The Walking Dead." CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Tony Gowell starting the very first media tour for Atlanta Movie Tours in 2012 focused on "The Walking Dead." CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Atlanta Movie Tours, on TripAdvisor, was ranked the top tour in the city out of 126 listed. It received an average of five stars out of five from nearly 3,200 reviewers and a 4.9 out of 5 among 435 Google reviews.

Emma Loggins, editor for Atlanta-based FanBolt, a website that embraces the “geek lifestyle,” has been on many AMT tours, including the first media tour in 2012. She felt like the company was “truly by the fans for the fans and you could feel that with everything they did.”

Emma Loggins, editor of FanBolt, during the Upside Down Tour focused on "Stranger Things" sites such as Merrill's Pumpkin Patch in Powder Springs on August 19, 2019. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
Emma Loggins, editor of FanBolt, during the Upside Down Tour focused on "Stranger Things" sites such as Merrill's Pumpkin Patch in Powder Springs on August 19, 2019. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Entering March, the company was doing fine, with a variety of tours available. They had three different ones focused on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” — the most popular basic cable drama of the past decade — and another visiting sites of one of Netflix’s biggest dramas, “Stranger Things.” Tour guides were mostly people who had worked on the TV shows or films as either extras or crew and were able to dish out inside stories to devoted fans.

Burns had plans to do a new tour based on HBO’s 2019 hit “Watchmen” and even now, she could see the popularity of Netflix’s “Teenage Bounty Hunters” as potential fodder for a future tour. The Atlanta Movie Tours spring calendar was packed with school trips.

“We had some massive things in the pipeline,” Burns said.

All that came to a dead stop in mid-March. Five months later, Burns said a lot of people are still not comfortable sitting in buses with strangers and tourism in metro Atlanta is largely dormant. It could be 18 to 24 months before regular bus tours become viable again.

“At this point, we’re just spinning our wheels,” Burns said. “We have been using a ‘Walking Dead’ reference. Do you cut the limb off or let it bleed out? Letting it bleed out hurts more and keeps us from doing other things.”

The Atlanta Movie Tours guide Kent Wager doing a "Walking Dead" tour in 2016, stopping in Grantville. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com
The Atlanta Movie Tours guide Kent Wager doing a "Walking Dead" tour in 2016, stopping in Grantville. CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

She feels bad for the employees she’s had to let go, including about 20 guides.

Colin Cary, one of her guides who dressed up as “Stranger Things” character David Hopper last year for a media tour, said he’s devastated they are shutting their doors.

“This was so much more than a job,” Cary said. “The people I worked with became more like a family. There are guests who came to do tours that I still talk to and have become good friends.”

Burns, who ran the tour operation with her sister Anna for several years after co-founder Davis left, plans to do other things like write a book and work on more film tourism ideas, potentially with the Georgia film office.

6/03/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- The Atlanta Movie Tours bus during a tour in downtown Atlanta, Monday, June, 3, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
6/03/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- The Atlanta Movie Tours bus during a tour in downtown Atlanta, Monday, June, 3, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Credit: alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

As reality set in, she spent the past few weeks girding herself for this public announcement, crying and working through her grief.

“I love building things,” Burns said. “I love creating things. I meditate every day on the Calm app. They say when you build a sandcastle, you tend to it and when it’s time, you let it go. You don’t run into the ocean and try to reclaim the sand.” COVID, she said, was the surprise tide that washed it all away.

033112 Atlanta: This was during the Atlanta Movie Tours' very first media tour when the company was starting. Sonja Thompson was the one of the first tour guides and a regular zombie on "The Walking Dead." The 45 minute walking tour started in downtown Atlanta was followed by a bus tour that visits sites where TV shows and movies were filmed around metro Atlanta.  Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com
033112 Atlanta: This was during the Atlanta Movie Tours' very first media tour when the company was starting. Sonja Thompson was the one of the first tour guides and a regular zombie on "The Walking Dead." The 45 minute walking tour started in downtown Atlanta was followed by a bus tour that visits sites where TV shows and movies were filmed around metro Atlanta. Brant Sanderlin bsanderlin@ajc.com

Credit: Brant Sanderlin

Credit: Brant Sanderlin

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