A scene from the Academy Award-winning film “I, Tonya” was shot inside the Golden Buddha restaurant on Clairmont Road in DeKalb County. TIA MITCHELL/TIA.MITCHELL@AJC.COM

DeKalb looks for larger role in region’s film industry

People who know DeKalb County well may recognize the eerie Hawkins National Laboratory in the Netflix series “Stranger Things” as the former Georgia Mental Health Institute on Emory University’s campus.

Pick up the remote, and more shows than ever feature familiar locations: the ornate House of Hope Atlanta church on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Greenleaf,” Clairmont Road’s Golden Buddha restaurant in the movie “I, Tonya,” and a Tucker insurance office in an upcoming episode of “Ozark,” another Netflix offering.

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While Atlanta gets most of the attention, DeKalb is home to to three major film studios — and county officials are continually looking for ways to grab an even bigger piece of the pie.

Toward that end, the DeKalb Entertainment Commission, charged with promoting the area as an industry destination, is implementing tools to make it easier for production companies to select the county.

Under the old system, the county and its municipalities had various contact people responsible for making sure a production had everything it needed to film, such as road closures or police coverage and sometimes even utility hookups.

It was disjointed and piece-meal, said Dee Dee Murray, the commission’s production manager.

“If you did not know the lay of the land, then you could be permitting in the wrong city, which was a lot of the problems we would see on the county side,” said Murray.

Today, it’s as simple as a couple of clicks. An online map allows production managers to type in potential filming locations’ addresses and, from there, they are directed to the right agency for their permitting needs.

A separate webpage recommends possible filming locations throughout the county, saving scouts time and money. The commission also has created a registry that allows homeowners and business owners to add their properties to that database.

Atlanta’s Bellwood Quarry has been a key filming location for “Stranger Things.” (File)
Photo: For the AJC

In addition, incorporated DeKalb, Tucker and Decatur are now using FilmApp, an online portal currently used by the city of Atlanta. It allows local authorities to receive, process and approve film applications. That has made it both faster and easier to facilitate productions by eliminating long email chains between agency officials. Chamblee and Stonecrest are coming online soon, and Doraville and Brookhaven are considering it, Murray said.

The goal is to have all of DeKalb on the same platform so that no matter where a production wants to film, there is just one process to navigate.

“I can be on a beach in Jamaica and get approval for a film permit with the click of a button,” Murray said.

Ever since the state began offering lucrative tax credits to productions, Georgia has been at the top of the list of filming destinations. Today, the entertainment industry — movies, TV, music, gaming and other digital technologies — has an estimated $6 billion economic impact.

Annie Davis, a freelance locations coordinator, recently filmed scenes in DeKalb for “Atlanta: Robbin’ Season” on FX and OWN’s “Love Is __,” which premieres later this month.

She credits Murray and DeKalb Entertainment Commission’s Shelbia Jackson for being great partners when companies are looking to film in DeKalb. However, the migration to FilmApp has helped save time and make things even easier.

“It’s quick and convenient to be able to do everything online,” she said. “The map is also extremely helpful, because you know without hounding Shelbia or Dee Dee, if you’re permitting through the right folks.”

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