A different kind of history was made in historic Senoia last Saturday. It was marked by an event that signaled a new partnership and one that will bring even more of Hollywood to Senoia and Coweta and Fayette counties.
The occasion was the Sept. 18 open house at Senoia’s RiverWood Studios that celebrated a long-term management agreement that christened the facility Raleigh Studios Atlanta.
Standing just outside one of the sound stages and commenting on the new business relationship with Hollywood-based Raleigh Studios was the company’s executive vice president of studio operations Richard Nelson, who noted the significance of the occasion and Raleigh’s move into Senoia and Georgia.
“What this facility means to Raleigh is that is gives us a great presence in Georgia. It’s a great facility, it’s kind of an under-utilized jewel. RiverWood and Scott [Tigchelaar] and Paul [Lombardi]’s company still exists. The studio now is managed by Raleigh Studios and it’s a long-term management contract that we have to support the film industry in Georgia,” Nelson said, also referring to the facility as Raleigh Studios at Riverwood.
“We hope to bring in a great entertainment environment that can really support all the productions, not just here at this facility, but anywhere you’re shooting in the Atlanta area or Georgia. The difference is that when you come here you’ll be able to get all of the resources that you need to take care of your motion picture or television show. It’s all existing here. And it can be packaged all in one umbrella.”
But beyond Georgia’s burgeoning film industry, why should Raleigh establish a presence in Senoia? The answer, said Nelson, comes in one word: RiverWood.
“It worked out because with Scott and Paul and RiverWood, they had a great facility that was already here. We wanted to have a place to set up and it made perfect sense to come out here. They had the place, we had the contacts and connections in Los Angeles, so we hope this marriage can build an infrastructure down here in the southern part of Atlanta,” Nelson said, adding that Raleigh’s presence on the ground comes with a number of other companies that are central to the film industry.
“All of these guys here today have worked together for years. We have companies like ISS here, the biggest prop house in Los Angeles, Branam (Enterprises) trussing and Hollywood Rentals, the biggest lighting grip company in the country. All these companies will be on the ground here at this studio. So it’s an entertainment process, more than bricks and mortar. When you look at doing your project you can get everything you need here. It helps create an enhanced film industry here. And that’s the key.”
Raleigh Studios Director of Marketing and Client Development Michael Newport explained what the long-term management agreement means for the company.
“For Raleigh it means we can set up our flag in Georgia. It’s a great opportunity for us. We’ve done a lot of expansion lately and we know that Hollywood’s moving out of California, they’re moving to tax incentive areas so it’s only smart for us to move where that direction is going. And (with Georgia’s tax incentives) it’s a great opportunity for us as well,” Newport said.
Nelson agreed that the tax incentives offered by Georgia make a substantial difference in the financial considerations that were understandably linked to Raleigh’s decision on RiverWood.
“We have a great opportunity with a wonderful tax credit,” said Nelson. “Now you have to take advantage of that by building an infrastructure that supports it. And having companies that are very successful in L.A. and having great local companies all under one umbrella and to be able to develop a great crew base and synergy among everyone, that’s what’s going to sustain the opportunity that the tax credits have given.”
In and out of the studio buildings during the open house were RiverWood co-owners Paul Lombardi and Scott Tigchelaar. Scott offered his thoughts on the economic potential that accompanies Raleigh’s move to Senoia and the tax incentives now available in Georgia that is helping to bring the film industry to the state, a move in no small part thanks to Sen. Mitch Seabaugh.
“Movies are a huge economic shot in the arm and it happens instantly as soon as that movie starts up. So the more films that get shot in this area because of this infrastructure and because of the partners that are here to service that film, the better it is for the greater community. Money goes not just into this business, it goes into hotels, gas stations and restaurants. The economic impact is enormous. So we want everybody to get a piece of that,” Tigchelaar said of the economic impact to Senoia, Coweta and Fayette counties.
“I think the high tide floats everybody’s boat. Obviously, Fayette County has a base of hotels and restaurants for any production that’s been here or in Peachtree City. Senoia is growing, and we can all see the benefits going on there attributed to the film industry.”
Lombardi agreed, citing some of the ways that the film industry adds to the economic vitality of a community.
“The monetary ramifications locally are huge. The best part about the motion picture business is that it brings money to a community and wants nothing (from the community). It shoots the picture and it leaves. They’re going to the restaurants, the cleaners, the hotels and grocery stores. They’re doing everything everybody does. They’re happy to do it when they have an environment they like. And they don’t like it here, they love it,” Lombardi said.
“These guys, as they travel around the area will get to know different places and will keep those places in mind when they need ‘looks.’ And that’s what studios need, ‘looks,’ places like Starr’s Mill. So they go for ‘looks,’ and while they’re there they’ll keep their eyes open for other locations in the area to be cost effective.”
One of the new companies represented at the studio is Independent Studio Services, also known as ISS Props based in Sunland, Calif. The family-owned and -operated business of 33 years also has operations in six other states, now including Georgia. Company executive vice president Gregg Bilson took a few minutes from showing visitors some of the weapons used in various movies to give his take on establishing a presence in Senoia.
“I am rather smitten both with Senoia and Georgia. It’s a great place to film. It’s very business-friendly. The people are great. It offers an incredibly diverse filming environment. You can do 18th century, you can do 21st century and all points in between in a very, very friendly place to work,” Bilson said. “We have a permanent facility right now, and as the industry grows so will our inventory and support services that we offer. There’s nothing that we do today in Los Angeles that can’t be in Georgia.”
For his part, Lombardi sees the corporate “marriage” as something that is not easy to duplicate. Raleigh’s long reach helps put the company in a good position, especially when cemented with RiverWood in the Georgia market.
“The marriage of RiverWood and Raleigh is an important thing for each individual company because its a win-win deal. Raleigh has a long history of running studios throughout the world. They have their hand on the pulse of the industry. What I mean by that is they know who is making movies, not just now but in six months and 16 months and 24 months. So they’re working with a lot of people on projects that aren’t even on the board,” said Lombardi.
The new relationship between the companies also comes with a significant amount of Hollywood history. Perhaps unknown to some in the Coweta and Fayette area, Lombardi grew up around the motion picture industry, with his father, Joe, working with RKO and Desilu studios. Paul continued in the family business and, today, North Hollywood-based Full Scale Effects is the largest physical effects company in Hollywood.
Given his background, the idea and significance of history is front and center in Paul’s thinking and in his business outlook for the marriage of RiverWood and Raleigh.
“You have people here that have been in the motion picture business, not for 10 years or 15 years, but for generations. And with that long life in the industry there are relationships that are developed, like any other business,” Lombardi explained, citing a couple of examples. “I’ve known one of the Raleigh principles for over 30 years, ISS for over 20 years. My business, Full Scale Effects, has been in business many, many years. So we bring all this stuff together.
“And what’s so cool about this is that these guys are really into it, I mean really into it and they love the town. And the way the town dovetails into the studio is very, very interesting. Frankly, I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have because I’m looking at it from one perspective (as a long-time resident of Senoia). These guys are coming, never having seen the place, with a clean slate, and they’re saying, ‘Wow, look at this. This is beautiful, everybody’s so nice to us.’ These guys coming in have been all over the world. They’ve been there, done that, seen it all. And they come here and say, ‘This is really cool.’”
Though Lombardi and Tigchelaar have been lived and worked in and around Senoia and have also been involved in its commercial and residential development for quite some time, the two in no way resemble what many would consider as being so directly connected to Hollywood. The two are about as laid back as it comes and much more likely to be seen around town in shorts and sandals.
Anyone who knows the duo also knows they care about their city. An example of that is in their most recent commercial building at Seavy and Main. Though constructed to “look” 100 years old, the three-story building was also constructed to withstand an F-5 tornado.
And Nelson in his comments at Saturday’s open house didn’t fail to mention the two and their outlook on their hometown.
“One of the real treats for us to be here is the partnership with Paul Lombardi and Scott Tigchelaar. They’re terrific people and they have such a passion for the film industry and the local community,” Nelson said with a smile. “They care about what’s good, and what’s good about creating a great environment here. And every one of the vendors are excited about helping them be successful in this community. It’s because of the people they are and how much the success of this project and the success of this community means to them. It’s a great environment and very rare. You don’t come across that as much as you should these days. They’re special people, and Paul’s passion for making it right is very infectious. We’re proud to be a part of it.”
The longest continually operating studio in the United States, Raleigh Studios operates in Hollywood, Playa Vista, Manhattan Beach, Baton Rouge, Budapest and now, Senoia. Support services operating out of the Senoia studio include Hollywood Rentals, Branam Enterprises, Hollywood Trucks, ISS Props, Cat Entertainment Services, Full Scale Effects, Radish, Movie Rags, Laurent’s Catering and, perhaps as important as any service, tax credit financing.
A mainstay of the Senoia area while operating as RiverWood and now as Raleigh, the studio features a number of amenities of which many area residents might be unaware.
Those include four sound stages ranging from 7,500-15,000 square feet and with 2,400-amp power to all stages, a 10,000 square-foot mill and production space, a 140×24-foot Cyc (Cyclorama) wall, 18,000 square feet of office space, make-up and dressing rooms, more than 100 acres of back lot that includes a six-acre lake and two creeks and close proximity to Hartsfield Airport.