Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrence in “Doctor Sleep.”
In a sound stage less than 10 minutes from the heart of Atlanta, carpenters and set designers painstakingly recreated one of the horror genre’s most iconic — and haunted — locales: The Overlook Hotel.
Destined for theaters on Nov. 8, “Doctor Sleep” is the sequel to both the book and film of “The Shining.” While the film takes place in chilly states like New Hampshire and the Rocky Mountains, the film’s production was actually primarily shot in Georgia at Blackhall Studios.
“Doctor Sleep” is just one of nearly 400 productions that will have taken place in Georgia by the end of 2019.
In the last decade, Georgia has become a hub for Hollywood. The state — which offers enticing tax incentives and is home to skilled laborers and film crews — has earned a reputation for being a heavyweight in the entertainment industry.
Blackhall, helmed by specialty real estate investor Ryan Millsap, has housed the production teams for “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” “Venom,” “Jumanji: The Next Level” and Disney’s upcoming “Jungle Cruise” movie. It is one of three major studios in the area. Nearby, Pinewood, which is located about an hour outside of Atlanta, is where many of Marvel’s films and upcoming Disney+ series have been and will be shot. Tyler Perry’s personally owned sound stages are just outside of Atlanta’s city center.
Despite the close proximity, rivals seems too strong word for Pinewood, Tyler Perry and Blackhall. There seems to be enough room in the state for each studio to thrive. Its real competitors are studios in Canada and the U.K.
The more work that comes into Georgia, the better it is for all of the studios, Millsap said. He is extremely complimentary of the two other studios, even saying Blackhall’s success would not be possible without Pinewood.
“This industry does not exist without Pinewood and Dan Cathy,” Millsap said. “Dan Cathy just bought Pinewood London out. So, now Dan owns 100%. Dan is really the secret sauce that made all this happen, and then Tyler Perry is a genius. He’s a genius at production.”
In 2013, Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, partnered with the U.K.-based Pinewood Studios to open an Atlanta film and media complex. The studio has hosted a number of Marvel productions including “Ant-Man,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”
Of course, Millsap sees Blackhall as having certain advantages over its “rival” studios.
“We have a pretty significant competitive advantage over Pinewood, because of location, and a pretty significant competitive advantage over Tyler [Perry Studios], because Tyler’s facility is primarily Tyler,” Millsap said. “Tyler’s facility was built for Tyler and other people can use it. Whereas Blackhall was built for other people.”
Predominantly, Pinewood has been home to Disney’s Marvel productions since 2014 and will continue to be a studio space for these films and Disney+ TV shows. Other films created at Pinewood’s 700-acre facility include “Passengers” and “Zombieland: Double Tap.”
Tyler Perry’s Studio is a 330-acre lot with 12 sound stages and has been the production hub for many of Perry’s movies dating back to 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”
Started in 2017, Blackhall was “shot out of a cannon,” Millsap said. “There was a lot of demand for studio space.”
Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson star in “Jumanji: The Next Level.”
Millsap came to Georgia during the economic downturn. A graduate of Biola University and the University of Southern California, he became a licensed real estate broker and purchased around 8,000 apartments in southeast Atlanta in 2014.
As the economy turned around, he sold off those apartments and began converting old office buildings into creative office spaces and retail space. After establishing himself in the community, he was approached about a unique real estate opportunity — building a movie studio.
“I got convinced to do it,” he said. “It’s like building a hospital. You don’t have to be a surgeon to build a hospital. You don’t have to be a filmmaker to build a movie studio. I specialize in building space for other people’s needs.”
Currently, Blackhall occupies two lots on 165 acres of land. The main campus, which houses nine sound stages and a number of offices, sits on 53 acres of land. Blackhall East, a three-minute drive down the road from the main campus, is home to a massive backlot and rentable workshop space.
In total, Blackhall uses around 100 acres of its space and has 850,000 square feet of available interior space. Included in that square footage is 210,000 square feet of sound stage space and 640,000 square feet of office and workshop space.
The studio is large enough for three major productions to film at the same time. Right now, Blackhall is being rented by Paramount for a Chris Pratt film called “Ghost Draft,” by HBO for its production of season one of J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele’s “Lovecraft Country,” and by Starz, which picked up the third season of “Step Up: High Water” from Google.
Room to grow
The company will soon add 400,000 square feet of production space just across the road from the main campus and Blackhall East, tripling its current amount of sound stage space. The more space Blackhall has, the more productions it can house on its campuses.
Millsap has raised and invested $75 million in his current facility and intends to pump another $150 million on its expansion.
He said the company will also open a studio in California and one in the U.K. in 2021. It is currently in talks to open a studio in South Korea.
The U.K., Millsap said, is desperately looking for more studio space and “understands the value of film.” Opening a facility in London will help meet the need for more shooting space and help expand the Blackhall brand.
Similarly, South Korea has a growing film industry that is looking for more places to film movies and TV shows.
The sound stage lot at Blackhall Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The driver is not my investment,” Millsap said during a media tour on Monday. “Right now there is about $500 million to $700 million of content flowing through here each year. When we expand, that will go up to more than $1 billion a year. It is new, fresh money for Georgia.”
In 2019 the state will have received about $3 billion in direct spending from film and TV production. Another $6.5 billion is pumped into the economy for hotels, restaurants, gas stations, vehicle rentals and lumber purchases — all things needed for companies to make and produce their projects.
Millsap noted that productions at Blackhall purchase $10 million worth of lumber each year from Cofer Bros., a local building material supply company.
Luring in talent
Additionally, Blackhall, as well as the other major studios, are driving job growth in Georgia. Only about a third of the production team employees that are in the state are from California. The rest reside in Georgia full-time. Currently around 30,000 people are employed and working directly in Georgia’s film industry and another 60,000 people work indirectly with production.
Not to mention, the state is working on education initiatives to train local Georgians for work in the film industry. Since 2016, more than 850 students have completed their production certifications through the Georgia Film Academy, with starting salaries averaging around $84,000.
Millsap noted that industry workers in Georgia make the same amount of money as their counterparts in California because of union laws. However, the cost of living in Georgia is much lower than California. So, a carpenter making $120,000 building sets at Blackhall is actually able to pocket more of their paycheck when working in Georgia than they would if they worked in Hollywood.
Inside one of Black Hall Studios’ warehouses in Atlanta, Georgia. Area D is 120,000 square feet of production and shooting space at the facility.
This is a major incentive for skilled laborers to come to and stay in Georgia to work.
“You not only have great jobs being created, but you also have all the jobs around this industry, and on top of it you get the halo effect that is Georgia’s reputation internationally.”
Millsap said that while there is some regional competition between Blackhall and other studios, the real competition is with international studios. There are six major locations where productions are shot: Los Angeles, New York, London, Vancouver, Toronto and Atlanta. For Blackhall, their biggest rivals are Canada and the U.K., Millsap said.
As the Georgia Film Industry as a whole gains a better reputation, more productions will want to come to Georgia to film. Ultimately, driving more business to Blackhall.
“All of us recognize that our true competition is two other countries,” Millsap said. “So if we don’t compete well against the U.K. or we don’t compete well against Canada, then we’re all in trouble. But if we compete well, and we drive the production to Georgia, now we have to compete inside of Georgia for the productions.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.