Why Atlanta is America's 'horror capital'

theGRIO REPORT - 'It's a mecca for artists, film makers and stage performers' says Lucas Godfrey, director of the Chambers of Horrors...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Atlanta has been dubbed the “Zombie Capital of the World” by a glossy monthly, Atlanta magazine. Love or loathe this self-proclaimed title it does not take much to stumble on zombie-ness around Atlanta.

The hype is most to The Walking Dead, the critically acclaimed Atlanta-based TV show, which returned to screens earlier this month with its second session.

theGrio: How the zombie genre isn’t afraid to address race

Greater Atlanta is fast becoming the “Hollywood of the South.” The industry is thriving and a relatively new tax incentive for filmmakers has created a boom in movie and TV production.

In 2005, Georgia passed some of the nation’s most advantageous tax incentives for filmmakers. Many people credit the tax incentive with having brought to the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

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“The tax incentive has been a real incentive and the Festival works with other creative organizations to rally our audience and fan base to lobby Georgia lawmakers to continue to renew it,” says Chris Escobar, Managing Director of the Atlanta Film Festival, which one of the largest and most established festivals in the region.

It is not just the tax incentive, bureaucrats have created a nurturing environment for filmmakers, says Chris Escobar in an interview with theGrio. “For example, there is a willingness from the police to provide permits to facilitate production.”

The team behind the The Walking Dead admits Atlanta treated their production crews well. “We’ve gotten great cooperation from the city. Last night, for instance, we shut down a state highway for the third time this season,” The Walking Dead’s production designer Gregory Melton has said. “The people here have been more cooperative than most other places. The people here are friendly and accommodating. They would never, for instance, shut down a freeway in L.A. for us. Never.”

Something unique about Atlanta has made it a hub for creativity. “Atlanta has long been known for its abundance of independent artists and that probably contributes to the people in our city being more receptive to those things that may be considered controversial,” says Blake Myers, Festival Director of the Atlanta-based Buried Alive Film Festival.Chris Escobar of the AFF says, “there has been a resurgence of film production in Atlanta” but in many ways the “creativity” and “yearning for the industry has been around for decades.”
Atlanta has a long list of successful actors and directors, including Spike Lee, Julia Roberts and Steven Soderbergh, who were all born or raised in the city, says Escobar. He adds that The Atlanta Film Festival showcased Spike Lee’s early films back in the 1980s.

“Atlanta has a lot of creatively and people are constantly pushing the scene to make it bigger and better. It’s a mecca for artists, film makers and stage performers” says Lucas Godfrey, director of the Chambers of Horrors, Atlanta’s first adults-only extreme horror attraction.

But why horror?

Horror and science-fiction films are increasing popularity, with box office successes for franchises like Twilight and Harry Potter.

Experts say in gloomy economic times people throw themselves into escapism, when reality is hard work. “Horror is just another form of art that is a reaction to social and cultural events,” says Blake Myers.

The list of fantasy movies and TV shows filmed in Greater Atlanta is impressive. The 2009 Hollywood films, Halloween II and Zombieland were both filmed in Georgia. The TV shows, Teen Wolf, Vampire Diaries and Drop Dead Diva are all shot in Atlanta.

“Atlanta is going through tough economic times, with high unemployment and record foreclosures. The success of the film industry give people a “glimmer of hope,” says Escobar.

The Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival held last month in downtown Atlanta , is the nation’s largest annual convention for fans of Science fiction, Fantasy & Horror and Gaming & Animation. It regularly draws crowds of 50,000.

The Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, which has just been named as the second best horror attraction in the States by the Weather Channel, describes itself as a total an immersive horror attraction like nothing seen or experienced before. Other attractions include the Silver Scream Spook Show, the Zombie Walk Atlanta and the Chambers of Horrors.

Atlanta’s film industry also has local people on its side. “People are excited about having films made here,” says Escobar.

Steve Fennessy, the editor of Atlanta magazine, has said Atlantans enjoy seeing their city in an alternate reality

The geography of the region also plays a part. The diverse and rugged landscape gives filmmakers attractive options. “The sprawling metropolis of downtown Atlanta, the cow pastures of east Georgia and the Appalachian mountains north in Georgia,” says Escobar.

Of course there are other U.S. cities claiming the zombie capital title but there is no doubt Atlanta’s film industry is successfully is making wave.