In the heart of what's been hailed as the "Hollywood of the South," Atlanta's film industry finds itself at a crossroads. For over a decade, the city has thrived as a cinematic hub, drawing in actors, crews, and productions, fueled by Georgia's generous tax breaks. From Marvel blockbusters to Netflix's "Stranger Things," Atlanta's skyline became synonymous with major projects, creating a bustling ecosystem of professionals seeking their break in the entertainment industry.
However, the relentless pace came to a sudden halt last winter, signaling a near-standstill that persists today. The industry faced a significant setback when writers initiated a strike in May, later joined by actors in July. While writers recently reached a deal, the actors' strike continues, leaving countless Atlanta-based performers and members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in financial limbo and questioning their future in the industry.
Ed O'Hare, a 29-year-old set lighting technician, epitomizes the struggle. Having climbed the ranks from janitorial work to lighting for productions like the Benicio Del Toro-led thriller "Reptile," O'Hare has now gone nearly five months without film work. Relying on a combination of savings, unemployment checks, and odd jobs like mowing lawns and pressure washing, he faces the harsh reality of financial survival. Contemplating a return to bartending, a job from his college days, O'Hare expresses the longing to be back on set: "I wake up every morning and I’m like, s—-, I wish I could be on set right now."
In the interim, O'Hare and others attend classes hosted by IATSE, reconnecting with industry peers to hone technical skills and learn new ones. Yet, the prevailing sentiment remains encapsulated in a recurring joke during these sessions: "Yeah, when are we going back to work?" As Atlanta's film industry navigates this unexpected pause, the lights remain dimmed, casting uncertainty on the future of an industry that once thrived in the Southern cinematic spotlight.
In the midst of a prolonged industry-wide strike, Atlanta's film professionals find themselves grappling with uncertainties that extend beyond the immediate pause in productions. Ed O'Hare, a dedicated set lighting technician, echoes the support of his union as they rally for the cause of the striking writers and actors. While hopeful for a swift resolution, recent breakdowns in negotiations have tempered optimism. Even with a potential deal, O'Hare acknowledges the likelihood of waiting months before returning to the set.
The struggle extends to professionals like Alex Buhlig, a second camera assistant, whose journey from Atlanta to LA in pursuit of his craft ended with a return to the bustling film scene of his hometown. In recent months, he has relied on sporadic commercial and music video work, acutely aware that if the strike persists into the next year, such sporadic opportunities may become unsustainable. Buhlig, also a guitar teacher, contemplates the need to diversify his income streams, emphasizing the potential long-term impact of the strike on industry professionals.
For many, the strike raises existential questions about their place in the industry. Buhlig reflects on the potential attrition, acknowledging that the strike may force individuals out of the industry, particularly those who had recently entered or were struggling to secure consistent work. The resilience of Atlanta's film community is evident, with professionals supporting one another and emphasizing the unique sense of community that sets the city apart.
Despite Atlanta's significant role in the film industry, the local chapter of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) represents less than 3% of the total membership. However, actors in Atlanta commend the tight-knit community and the relatively low cost of living, even as economic pressures have escalated in recent years. Actor Ethan Embry attested to finding more community in Atlanta over the past five years than he did in LA over four decades, emphasizing the enduring spirit of solidarity amid the current challenges.
Ethan Embry, a seasoned actor with a career that spans from childhood roles to hits like “Can't Hardly Wait” and Netflix's “Grace and Frankie,” offers a unique perspective on Atlanta's film scene. In contrast to the cutthroat competition in Los Angeles, Embry notes that Atlanta fosters a sense of camaraderie among professionals. He emphasizes the collaborative spirit, stating, “Here, everything feels like you’re in it together.”
Bethany Anne Lind, propelled by Atlanta's post-2008 filming boom, acknowledges the initial boost to her acting career. However, as an established figure with notable roles in Netflix's “Ozark,” Lind now faces challenges in landing substantial parts. She highlights the tendency for Atlanta-based actors to be overlooked by casting agents who predominantly focus on talent pools in New York and Los Angeles. Lind, a vocal presence at local rallies, expresses a sense of envy for her colleagues in Hollywood who actively picket outside studios—a practice uncommon in Atlanta, despite its status as the second-largest soundstage hub in the nation.
Despite contemplating a career shift over the summer, Lind returned to the stage in October, landing the lead role in a local production of the British play “Home, I'm Darling.” While considering alternative paths and the possibility of returning to school, Lind remains uncertain about her next move.
Ethan Embry remains optimistic about the future of Atlanta's film industry. Anticipating a resolution to the ongoing strikes, he envisions a revitalized business landscape in Georgia's capital, characterized by fairness and equal treatment for its creative talents. As Atlanta's stars grapple with the challenges, the city's cinematic allure remains intact, poised for a resurgence that promises a more equitable playing field.
In assessing Atlanta's enduring appeal as a cinematic hub, actor Ethan Embry goes beyond the pragmatic allure of tax breaks. Acknowledging the studios' investments in the city, he emphasizes that Georgia possesses unique elements that contribute to its magnetism for filmmakers. According to Embry, the draw extends beyond financial incentives; it lies in the inherent qualities that make Georgia, and particularly Atlanta, a captivating canvas for cinematic storytelling.
Embry underscores the rich tapestry of talent, diverse scenery, and a myriad of landscapes that cater to the creative needs of filmmakers. It's not merely about financial considerations but a recognition that Georgia holds something special—something that extends beyond the balance sheet. As studios continue to invest and filmmakers explore the possibilities, Atlanta's role as a cinematic haven is poised to endure, grounded in its intrinsic appeal beyond the realm of tax breaks.
In the face of industry-wide challenges and strikes, Atlanta's film community stands at a pivotal juncture. As actors, technicians, and industry professionals navigate uncertainties, their collective spirit and resilience are evident. Ethan Embry's insights highlight the enduring allure of Atlanta as a cinematic powerhouse, extending beyond the practical advantages of tax breaks.
The unique blend of talent, diverse landscapes, and the studios' existing investments underscores Atlanta's intrinsic appeal to filmmakers. While the ongoing strikes raise questions about the industry's immediate future, there's an optimistic undercurrent that, once resolved, the city's cinematic landscape will thrive with newfound fairness and vitality.
As Bethany Anne Lind contemplates potential career shifts and the challenges faced by Atlanta-based actors gain visibility, the city's sense of community remains a driving force. Whether on picket lines or local stages, Atlanta's film professionals are navigating the complexities with an enduring spirit that transcends the current challenges.
While uncertainties persist, the enduring magic of Atlanta as the "Hollywood of the South" lies not only in financial incentives but in the dynamic interplay of talent, landscapes, and the shared passion for storytelling. The cinematic journey in Atlanta, marked by collaboration and unique offerings, appears poised for a resurgence, driven by a collective belief in the city's special place in the world of film.