COVINGTON — Flip on the spotlight. Covington and its booming film industry is on the cover of the 2017 Georgia Travel Guide.
Film and television production have been growing so much in Covington, Newton County, Rockdale County and Conyers that Gov. Nathan Deal and state tourism and film officials bestowed a deserving honor on the filming hub this week.
Celebrating the annual Georgia Tourism Hospitality and Arts Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, Deal declared 2017 to be “The Year of Georgia Film” and unveiled this year’s issue of the Georgia Travel Guide, a magazine used to promote tourism in the state.
The magazine cover features a full-page photo of Ian Somerhalder, a star of “The Vampire Diaries” TV series. He is standing in the Mystic Grill restaurant in Covington.
The text imposed on the cover photo states, “The Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder on why Georgia is to die for.”
Filmmakers are finding that Covington is to die for.
“Filming has put Covington in a national and even international spotlight, and that is exciting for our community,” said Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston. “The added attention means more jobs, more financial investments, a thriving local economy and more entertainment options. It all equates to a better place for people to call home.”
Johnston and Jenny McDonald, director of tourism and marketing at the Covington Newton County Chamber of Commerce, were among area officials attending Tuesday’s event at the Capitol.
“We have spent many years building our brand, ‘Hollywood of the South,’ and it has paid off greatly. This year is going to be an exciting time for us,” McDonald said. She has spearheaded the drive in recent years to promote Covington as a destination for TV and film productions and the tourists who follow.
“Jenny McDonald does a fantastic job branding Covington as Hollywood of the South,” said said Teri Haler, tourism specialist of the Conyers Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Conyers CVB is excited for our neighbor Covington-Newton County Tourism in landing the front cover of the 2017 Georgia Travel Guide with Ian Somerhalder. We are partial to our family of vampires.” Olde Town Conyers is a setting for “The Originals” TV series, a spinoff of “The Vampire Diaries,” and filming for both shows is done in both counties.
Haler noted that because of the close proximity of Conyers and Covington, production crews can easily utilize the best of both municipalities, as well as rural Rockdale and Newton.
“Occasionally, if Gina Hartsell, the Rockdale Camera Ready liaison, can’t find a specific property request for a location scout, she is sending them Covington-Newton’s way,” Haler said.
Covington currently is popular among TV fans as the mythical town of Mystic Falls, Va. — all eight seasons of “The Vampire Diaries” have been shot in the city. But as one of Georgia’s first “Camera Ready” communities, it has a filming resume stretching back to 1954, when the movie “A Man Called Peter” was filmed there.
The first five episodes of “Dukes of Hazzard” were filmed in Covington in 1979. Beginning in 1988, TV star Carroll O’Connor could be seen eating lunch and having friendly conversations with passersby in the Square as most of the series of “In the Heat of the Night” was shot in the city. Covington has been the setting for more than 125 productions and 1,000 TV episodes.
Filming in Conyers and Rockdale is a mixture of indoor stage production, as well as filming in secluded areas such as the Georgia International Horse Park or private residential properties, which are rarely on the fans’ radar.
Rockdale provides permanent production offices and stages for Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century Fox and temporary stages for other major feature film productions filming in 2017.
While Olde Town has served primarily as the New Orleans setting for “The Originals,” the district has hosted other major movie productions for scenes in movies such as “Selma,” “Bessie, “American Reunion” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” to name a few.
Tourism clearly is fueled by the area’s filming activities.
“Fans from all over the world enjoy filming in Olde Town, they eat in our restaurants, shop, and will stay overnight in our hotels, and this is very good for our community,” Haler said.
Tourists who visit Covington can enjoy a variety of guided and self-guided film tours, ghost tours and food tours. Both Conyers and Covington are tourist points listed on the new Georgia Undead Trail, a new 93-mile tour of vampire and zombie film settings.
“’The Vampire Diaries’ and filming overall have been great for Covington and Newton County,” said Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes, who attended Tuesday’s event at the Capitol. “We’re so proud to be part of a state that supports the film industry. We hope to continue growing in the film industry, and we’re excited to continue to work with new and upcoming productions coming to Newton County.”
Conyers also has seen significant economic growth boosted by its TV and film business.
“The film production industry is a vital part of our community’s economy, and has easily provided a direct economic impact of more than $50 million in the last eight years,” Hartsell said.
Film production has been exploding in Georgia since 2008 legislation offered major financial incentives, including as much as a 30 percent tax break for productions in the state.
Members of hospitality, arts, and tourism departments representing all 159 counties of Georgia were present for the unveiling of the Georgia Travel Guide on Tuesday. The entourages also had an opportunity to network and share ideas Monday night at a “Premiere Party” held at the Atlanta History Center and hosted by Atlanta Magazine.
The event featured actors portraying movie or TV characters, provided by Atlanta Movie Tours, such as Negan and his baseball bat named Lucille (“The Walking Dead”), Rocket Raccoon and Groot (“Guardian of the Galaxy 2”) and Captain America.
It was a good warm-up for Tuesday’s celebration at the Capitol.
“Looking ahead, to this year, we celebrate another creative industry in Georgia, one that has grown exceptionally over the last few years,” Deal told the crowd on Tuesday.
Since 2007, Georgia’s film industry has generated $241 million dollars in revenue for the state and an economic impact of more than $5 billion annually. Deal said that that the Georgia tourism industry continues to see film and TV revenue long after productions have wrapped.
Additonally, he pointed out that all 159 counties in Georgia are now camera ready.
“Every county in this state has the opportunity to be a part of this very growing part of Georgia’s economies,” the governor said.