8 Southern cities that double as filming spots
By Cowgirl Candace | Originally published for the AJC
Now that Atlanta is considered the “Hollywood of the South,” the entire region has increasingly become a backdrop for both motion pictures and small screen projects. Popular series like “Stranger Things” and “The Walking Dead” — as well as scenes from the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe films — are all shot in Georgia and nearby locations.
Entertainment buffs looking to vacation in the real-world backdrops of their favorite series are finding opportunities to re-enact iconic scenes all over the Southeast. If you’d like to walk in the footsteps of Forrest Gump or do a little dirty dancing, consider adding the following cities and counties to your 2019 travel plans:
Asheville, North Carolina, set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, is well known as an oasis for outdoor thrill seekers. One of the best ways to experience the area’s open-air enchantment is a stay at Biltmore — the largest house in America. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt, Biltmore features 250 rooms and its 8,000-acre backyard includes a winery, farm, conservatory, shops, dining, 250-acre pleasure park and garden of more than 1,400 roses. “The appeal as a filming location is obvious,” said Marissa Jamison, public relations manager for Biltmore. “The estate includes Biltmore House — a majestic French Renaissance-style chateau that can easily be seen as a castle — plus acres of formal gardens and miles of rolling hills and scenery conveniently located in Western North Carolina.” Biltmore’s grandiose facade, lagoon, bridge and barn have been featured in films including “The Swan,” “Last of the Mohicans,” “Forrest Gump” and “Hannibal.”
Fayetteville started out as a small agricultural town in 1823. Today, it’s home to Pinewood Atlanta Studios, the second largest purpose-built film and entertainment studio in North America. Pinewood Atlanta features 18 sound stages, ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 square feet. It’s where “Black Panther” shot before going on to break box office records. Although visitors can’t enter the studio complex, nearby (right across the street) Pinewood Forest is home to much of the creative talent behind the studios. “It’s the only ecosystem for artists of its kind in the nation that’s part of a movie studio,” said Rob Parker, president of Pinewood Forest. “This walkable, European village is where the next generation of storytellers — from actors and makeup artists to carpenters and welders — can call home and create community. It’s sustainable, modern but still feels rural. We have a farmers market on Saturday, and Thor played by Chris Hemsworth has been there.”
Home to mountain towns Cashiers, Sylva and Dillsboro, Jackson County offers visitors waterfalls, lakes, forests, mountainsides, hiking trails and charming small town living — all reasons that movie scouts love the area too. Travel along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Dillsboro to experience the train wreckage scene from “The Fugitive,” book an elevated resort stay in Cashiers where the “Dirty Dancing” remake filmed or walk along the downtown streets of Sylva, which became the set of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
As the first capital of France’s Louisiana colony, Mobile boasts an extensive multicultural legacy along the Gulf Coast. The port city is home to a U.S. Navy battleship (the USS Alabama) an Underground Railroad bike tour and Mardi Gras celebrations galore. “The USS Alabama has hosted films such as 1992’s ‘Under Siege,’ 2014’s ‘USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage’ and 2018’s ‘This is the Year,'” said Tommy Fell, location coordinator for the Alabama Film Office. “It is a unique location as a museum to Alabama’s War Heroes. The WWII-era battleship provides film makers with a view to the open sea of Mobile Bay with no visible structures or land.” Downtown Mobile and Dauphin Street provide movie producers and visitors with 1800s architecture, coastal cuisine, art galleries and Southern nightlife. Jordan Peele’s popular film “Get Out” also shot scenes in midtown Mobile. Celebrity sightings throughout the years have included Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, Gina Carano, Thomas Jane and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
This beach community sits along Florida’s Atlantic Coast and spans 17 miles of sandy coastline. Dubbed the “Redfish Capital of the World” for its world-class offshore fishing, New Smyrna Beach has played movie and TV host to “Tomorrowland” starring George Clooney, HGTV’s “Beachfront Bargain Hunt” and several programs on the Travel and Cooking channels. “David Arquette visits our Bob Rossi painting studios and now is an instructor in Hollywood painting,” said Debbie Meihls, executive director and NSB Area film commissioner for New Smyrna Beach Area Visitors Bureau. “A few of our iconic movie locations to visit are our Flagler Beach sign, historic Dairy Queen and Canal Street.”
Considered a geological and botanical marvel, Rock City is a boulder-laden garden atop Georgia’s Lookout Mountain. Only a few miles from downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, this Southern destination draws tourists to its 4,100-foot walking trail of caves and ancient rock formations, more than 400 native plant species and its panoramic “See Seven States” view. During the holiday season, the award-winning light extravaganza, “Enchanted Garden of Lights,” attracts guests from across the nation. “ABC’s ‘The Chew’ came down and did a special on the lights,” said Meagan Jolley, public relations manager for See Rock City. “In recent years, celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Elijah Wood and Matt Lanter have visited. In years past, Walt Disney also visited as he was developing Disneyland.”
Just south of Tampa, Sarasota County stretches across six islands. Its white sand beaches make the area a pure beach bumming paradise. TNT’s hit series “Claws” starring Niecy Nash shot on Sarasota’s Lido Beach, which offers turquoise waters, as well as shopping, dining and plenty of mid-century modern architecture. Previous Hollywood productions in and around the sunny county have included “Great Expectations” starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert De Niro and “Out of Time” starring Denzel Washington.