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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.



For the great sales job. He and Mr. Cathy reeled this in with Mr. Pace leading the charge through the grand opening. Hopefully this will be a boon to the county and it's people.

This studio was and still is being presented to Fayette County as a jobs maker for Fayetteville and Fayette County.

The city of Fayetteville has an entry for Pinewood Studios job opportunities on their web site, and is referring ALL job inquiries to Future Staff in Newnan.

Fayette County has multiple staffing agencies with their offices in this county. Multiple.

So, as a point of order here, please explain why Pinewood is sending staffing duties to Newnan, out of our county. Future Staff has a Newnan office and a Conyers office. None in Fayette County.

Does Matt Forshee of the Fayette County Development Authority not see an issue here? What gives? Anyone know?

I'm sure there will be an excuse like non of them have experience in this market.

I met someone a few weeks ago that is scheduled to work at the new facility. Of course he has 2 other side jobs in order to make ends meat.

While I commend Mr. Pace for putting the deal together, I am still not convinced that this will be the boon presented.

There are studios being built throughout the state and metro Atl. In fact, Gwinnett will have five up and running by years end with a training center. Soon we will have state subsidies followed by each studio fighting for the work. It's like having 5 Chick-Fil-a's within a mile radius. Too many. Sure I want them to succeed, pay good wages and provide permanent jobs. I guess we will see how successful it will become and hope other states don't start matching or exceeding Georgia's tax credits.

I just found that Future Staff is going to open a staffing office inside the studio complex. Please disregard my other post on this.

As the Pinewood sound stages rise along with the accolades for Fayette County's prominent revenue-generating industry, the criticisms of the "Road to Nowhere" seem so muted. You may remember that the current county commissioners ran on a platform opposing the very West Fayetteville Bypass on which Pinewood resides. They hope you forget.

NUK_1's picture

They also hope you forget entirely the diatribe Steve Brown had in favor district voting a few years ago right here:

None of Steve's supporters has ever commented on this, and this is about the 10th time or so I have posted it. Brown quickly discovered he couldn't get elected again for even dog-catcher with this viewpoint in FC and is trying to run away from it as fast as possible because he isn't a man of convictions or principles; he's your usual politician. Sort of like his stance on TDK a few different times, Westside annexation, smearing the crap out of opponents and lying over and over and over again, etc. etc. Or, Commish Allan McCarty stating "I have done nothing to kill the WFB" after running on that very agenda.

The sheeple love it though, so God bless them.

Truth is always stranger than fiction!

Plans change when one finally wrestles control. He has it now, and will fight tooth and nail, especially when it's not being paid entirely by him.

I don't like the idea that the Feds are telling us how to manage our local business, but I also hate wasteful spending. If the county can produce a case where this was overturned, I'll listen. If not, they need to explain the rationale for spending 1/4 million bucks.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

Nice trip down memory lane. There is some justice to all this as he will have to win in an all-PTC district to get reelected. Pretty impossible task.

Yea, the "I will kill the WFB" crowd is pretty quiet nowadays.

Live free or die!

Robert W. Morgan's picture

Remember how that Doug dork on TV news called Steve Brown the political architect of the Pinewood deal?

Are you freaking serious?

Can you even imagine any of the men (yes, real men that actually do something) that are standing in that photo ever giving Steve Brown the time of day?

Was he there Saturday? Friday? Was he invited? The others? Barlow and Ognio? Don't think Oddo got into this. Whatever.

Live free or die!

I would bet money they were invited and went. Mr. Barlow never turns down a free meal and it looks like Mr. Ognio doesn't know when to push away from the table.

Had a meeting downtown on Monday with a competitor who knows I live in FC. He said he went on Saturday and kind of gave me the laugh about a lot of Huckleberrys.

I am not against a temporary certificate of occupancy, but it is obvious this special called meeting approving this new policy was written so specific, not many other businesses, besides the studios, will be able to utilize this.

I wonder if any commissioner actually read the information because it is incomplete. It states that if a TCO is authorized, the building owner has 45 days to complete the remainder of the work. If the work is not complete within 45 days, the owner is subject to a fine.

Nowhere does it state what dollar value is for the fine. This is a big mistake because it needs to have some steep costs involved. In fact, it should state that after 45 days, the building shall be closed to any business and a hefty fine paid each day until the CO is given. Otherwise, if it's a small fine $1 day ect.. Businesses will take liberties thinking they can continue because the fine is small and the county won't shut them down.

Seems none of the 5 commissioners read the proposal in their 15 minute meeting. They just didn't want to be the bad guys ruining the party.

Maybe next time they will actually put some thought into their work.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

I know Brown did. I seem to remember Barlow and Ognio making that same pledge. OMG, this is so inconvenient! They gonna be scrutinized like Brown wanted to do to Lenox. Oh wait, no they are not. This is different somehow.

Still have not heard - did Brown, the" political architect" of Pinewood,go to the party? Was he invited?
Did Doug the dork from Channel 5 go?

Live free or die!

The county's announcement for this ordinance change made it sound that allowing temporary certificates of occupancy's would be good because it would be business friendly. I agree, there are circumstances that warrant this.

However, this is not really business friendly. They wrote it so that this could only be secured if the building was situated on 50 acres and with a footprint over 25,000 square feet. Now someone tell me, how many business owners meet this criteria? Will the small business owner, building a facility to support Pinewood get this same treatment?

There is also no mention of a fee for the extra paperwork and inspections. There should be. Every other municipality charges these fees.

This was approved because a party was scheduled and no one wanted to have egg on their face should they have had to reschedule.

And yes, Brown, Barlow, Ognio, and McCarty all were vocal opponents of this developers road to nowhere.

according to their website. And........?????? Drum roll, we have a big announcement....or not?

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