Pinewood Atlanta Studios officially arrives in Fayette

Studio CEO Ivan Dunleavy addresses Fayette C of C Annual Luncheon; Pace details genesis of landing a studio

By BEN NELMS — The banquet room at the Dolce Atlanta-Peachtree Hotel in Peachtree City was packed Jan. 17 for the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce 2014 Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon. Chick-fil-A CEO and prime mover of the Pinewood Atlanta Studio project Dan Cathy was the scheduled keynote speaker, but Cathy was taken ill after a trip out of the country.

In his place at the podium, and with little notice, were Group VI co-founder, Rivers Rock LLC manager and Pinewood Atlanta Studios lead developer Jim Pace, followed by Pinewood Studios Group worldwide CEO Ivan Dunleavy.

At right, Rivers Rock LLC General Manager Jim Pace (L) and Pinewood Studios CEO Ivan Dunleavy await their introduction from the podium Friday at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Pace gave a brief history of the events that resulted in Pinewood’s entree into Fayette County. Pinewood in 2012 was searching for a site in the United States and was shown a Cathy-owned Falcon Field site due to the successful filming of Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” television show at the location, said Pace.

After viewing the area around the airport, Pace said he asked Pinewood representatives what they thought of the site and was told they did not want to build near an airport.

But Matt Forshee, CEO of the Fayette County Development Authority, came up with a plan B, Pace said, by suggesting the group look at a site in the middle of the county, known as the Rivers property. That aerial view proved to be the key.

A subsequent trip to London by Dan Cathy and his wife Rhonda led to a continued interest in having Pinewood explore other options in Fayette County, with Cathy saying he wanted to be involved in a potential project even if the location was not at his facility at Falcon Field, Pace noted.

Further trips to London by others from Fayette County led to meetings with Pinewood in December. Those meetings would prove historic in terms of Fayette County’s future.

“In a couple of days we hammered out what I believe is probably the most significant deal we’ve seen in Fayette County in my lifetime,” Pace said.

Pace noted the efforts and the contribution of the various members of the team, whose work on the project culminated in the unfolding of Pinewood’s presence in Fayette County.

“It was like a symphony. It was like an anointing on it, right up to this event. Everything just happened when it needed to happen. It all came together,” Pace said, noting the conditions such as inclement weather that can play havoc with construction activities. “It is going to be an epic change in our county. The people that have worked on the project have been an inspiration to me.”

Below, among those present at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce 2014 Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon held Jan. 17 in Peachtree City were, from left, Pinewood Studios Group CEO Ivan Dunleavy, Pinewood Atlanta Studios Vice President of Operations Brian Cooper, ProMaker Development Group partner Len Gough, Group VI co-founder and Pinewood Atlanta Studios lead developer Jim Pace, Foley Design Associates founder Bill Foley and Promaker Development Group partner Rick Halbert. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Taking the spotlight off himself as the keynote speaker at the event, Pace was quick to recognize various members of the team of companies in Fayette whose contributions have and are leading to a successful project.

Prior to introducing Dunleavy, and as a way of illustrating the genesis of Pinewood in Fayette County and the future it could hold, Pace turned his comments to an aspect of chaos theory in mathematics known as the “Butterfly Effect.” The effect is one where small changes, perhaps sometimes seemingly singular events, can lead to much larger outcomes. Taking an example from U.S. history, Pace then brought the conversation into the present, and back to Fayette County.

“The things you do, (they) do matter. And the significance of Pinewood Atlanta Studios is just the beginning, not only for this county but for this region. And as we move forward, we’ll never know the significance of this event until we’re down the road a few generations. But I can just see so many wonderful things coming out of this thing that we call Pinewood Atlanta Studios. It’s just at the beginning. But I can tell you this. We have just received an opportunity to do something that is epic. I believe history will record that the people involved in this … were hand-picked … were hand-picked,” Pace said, his voice breaking and the emotion in his words clearly evident.

“In a way I’ve trained my whole life for this event. I didn’t know it. I just built buildings. Lots of them. But this thing today goes way beyond what I could have done on my own. It’s not just about us.”

With that, Pace passed the microphone to Dunleavy, the Pinewood chief executive he met in London nearly a year ago.

Providing his perspective on the Fayette County project, Dunleavy first thanked Fayette for the warm welcome Pinewood has received here.

“One of the things that struck me when I was doing my due diligence on Fayette was (Fayetteville’s) motto, “A History with a Future,’” Dunleavy said. “It seemed to describe what we were all about and the kind of things Jim touched on in his closing remarks about (the project being) long-term, forward-looking and investing for a future.”

Dunleavy noted a variety of large-scale film and television productions, such as the James Bond and Harry Potter movies, which have been part of the Pinewood legacy in both recent and past years.

“We are delighted to be welcoming those kinds of customers to our business in the U.K., and hopefully similar film projects here at Pinewood Atlanta Studios,” Dunleavy said.

In describing Pinewood’s participation in the film, television and video game markets, Dunleavy said, “That is part of what we want to see as this business here in Fayetteville develops, so that it becomes a rounded audio-visual production center.”

Dunleavy said Pinewood initially considered Georgia as an exciting potential location due to the fiscal advantages and, more importantly, the skill base that exists in the state.

“That’s vital to providing the kinds of services that a film studio has to do,” said Dunleavy.

Dunleavy then turned his remarks to Dan Cathy.

“Before I go any further I have to pay tribute to Dan Cathy, someone with vision, someone with tenacity and a sense of values with which we clearly identify,” Dunleavy explained. “One of the most attractive of Dan’s traits is his vision for Fayetteville in terms of the film studio. And that sense of vision and the team he assembled is what really made our partnership work.”

Dunleavy noted the glamour that is often associated with the film industry, saying that it is what occurs behind the scenes that makes movie-going possible.

“Film is a serious business in its own right. The next time you’re at a theater just wait for the last few minutes of the film and see all the skills on display in the end credits … a vast array of skills – artistic, technical, creative, professional skills. And what that means is economic activity. In the U.K., a (British) ‘pound’ invested in the film industry creates 12 pounds worth of economic activity. And that’s important because that means jobs. With jobs that requires training, and that training will create the opportunities for the young people of Fayetteville to go forward into the future,” Dunleavy explained.

Below, Ivan Dunleavy speaks to the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce. Photo/Ben Nelms.

But it is also about having a little bit of fun, Dunleavy said with a chuckle as he concluded his remarks. By way of example he noted having a train dropped on James Bond’s head in “Skyfall” or having Moses in Ridley Scott’s version of “Exodus” walking across the Red Sea at Pinewood Studios in the middle of Buckinghamshire.

“These are the ingredients we’re looking forward to in working with you to make a success of our venture here in Fayetteville,” Dunleavy said.

Taking the podium briefly as the event ended, Pace said it has been heart-warming to see Fayette County rally around the Pinewood Atlanta Studios project.