Georgia: The New La-La Land
On how the movie industry in Georgia forced me to write a mystery series about a celebrity.
Or something like that.
When I’m not living in Japan, I live south of Atlanta. My two humorous series, A Cherry Tucker Mystery and Maizie Albright Star Detective, both take place in Georgia. Like me, Cherry lives south and west but within commuting distance of Atlanta. Maizie Albright was born in fictional Black Pine, located in my favorite part of Georgia, the North Georgia Mountains.
Although she was born in Georgia and her father remained there (Maizie’s got the stage monster-mother from hell), she grew up around LA as a child actress turned teen star whose star spun out of orbit, crashed, and burned, leaving her with rehab and a reality show. A kind judge believes her celebrity lifestyle was her undoing and forces her to return to Black Pine. And she happily complies so she can begin her new dream as a private investigator. Because she played one on TV and liked it.
Maizie’s not always grounded in reality, but after all, she did grow up in La-La Land.
Unfortunately Hollywood follows Maizie to Black Pine. Which is difficult when you’re not supposed to be celebrity life-styling anymore.
Now why, you might ask, would I do that to a nice town in Georgia? Because that’s what’s happening to many towns in Georgia.
The TV and film industry in Georgia is ranked third worldwide, after California and New York. 245 films and TV shows were shot in Georgia last fiscal year. Turner Studios and Tyler Perry Studios have been famous Atlanta icons for years. But now the famed British company, Pinewood Studios, has built almost twenty sound stages and a back lot in Fayette County, a few miles from my house. Small cities and towns like Senoia, Covington, Griffin, and Grantville regularly host TV and movie sets.
In my town of Peachtree City, I can see the set of Drop Dead Diva behind my favorite diner. As my daughter took the bus to school, she sees zombie heads and was once waved at by Rick from The Walking Dead. On the lake behind my friend’s house, they filmed the newest Spiderman movie. My other friend’s office building (Porsche’s North American Headquarters) became the Avengers’ headquarters in Captain America: Civil War. My husband’s friend got to play a pilot (he’s an actual pilot) in the Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2. He even got a line. Another neighbor, a fireman, got to play a fireman in Ant Man.
This is becoming typical in my town. Yet, I never got to see Daryl from TWD at the Fresh Market (someone else I know did). Zac Brown of Zac Brown Band fame also lives nearby and does a lot for the community, but it’s not like he hangs out at the Kroger. I’ve also not seen Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones at a local restaurant or Chris Hemsworth working out a the gym. My friends have.
I am truly missing out (particularly on seeing Chris Hemsworth doing pushups which I have been told is marvelous to behold).
It’s all very exciting except our regular day-to-day lives never change. Except the higher property taxes. And restaurant prices have gone up. Oh, and there's more traffic.
No, my life hasn't changed. Our conversation is occasionally peppered with celebrity sightings or talk of trucks blocking off neighborhoods to film something. We recognize the signs showing the crew where they should park for shoots. But the film world is fairly closeted and separated from real life goings-on.
When I was creating the Maizie Albright series, this world had obviously soaked into my subconscious. At this point, remembering what came first—the characters or the setting—is a bit of a chicken or the egg syndrome. But putting La-La Land in small town Georgia is fun. Like a fish out of water and into a frying pan kind of story.
(This post previously was published in January 2017 for the launch of 15 MINUTES.)