Williams St

Williams St alley used in Avengers: Endgame (2018) and Ant-Man (2015)

by Jennifer Tan

Only a block behind the hustling Peachtree Street in the heart of Downtown Atlanta and hidden in the back pocket of three average parking decks lies a vacant one-way alley. To its daily visitors who park their cars there and speed walk to their corporate cubicles it’s just Williams Street, but to billions of movie-goers around the world it’s where the Avengers began their mission to restore the universe, where Ant-Man eluded the police, and soon where Chris Pratt will save humanity from yet another alien invasion.

Williams Street sits on the edge of Atlanta’s Fairlie-Poplar District, once called “The Fireproof District,” as it was known for the city’s “shift in building technology from load-bearing masonry and timber walls to steel and concrete framing” (National Park Service), a change from the conventional Southern style depicted around the rest of Georgia to a more Metropolitan look.

This historically business-hub district typically only sees the usual office worker or student attending Georgia State University just around the corner, and when the sun goes down, a line of homeless people setting up camp for the night. But with Georgia’s 2008 film tax incentive, the little block garnered a lot more attention from Hollywood creatives looking for a more affordable “New York.”

While this specific neighborhood, and the city of Atlanta in general carry its own
background and culture, the features on the big screen only depict it as a non distinct section of a more notable city; a place the audience wouldn’t specifically recognize if they were to wander the streets of the depicted city, but also wouldn’t immediately spot for being a locational standin.

After all, this neighborhood radiates the similar industrial, business, metropolitan aura one would find in the Northeastern or Midwest United States. The City of Atlanta’s Film and Entertainment Office states that Atlanta provides a “distinctive urban setting,” but with places in Atlanta only being masked as different cities, what exactly makes “The Hollywood of the South” so distinct? America’s other leading media capitals – New York and Los Angeles – have specific regional characteristics that add to any plot taken place there. The public filming locations there are visited daily by countless tourists, recreating notable scenes from popular movies. But what about these areas of Atlanta?

As Atlanta is being used in larger productions that contribute vastly to the state’s economy, has the Atlanta Film Commission’s new mandate also become to just attract more productions looking for an inexpensive place to film, or are these earnings feeding back into Atlanta-based production houses and studios that promote our own city’s distinct culture? The location scout continues, “I’m not going to hopscotch to another neighborhood if I [have the basic necessities
for production] in one place” adding that their knowledge of the city and familiarity with past works there is what draws runaway productions back to the same places.

In that way, perhaps the debate of retaining Atlanta’s own culture boils down to the fact that above the line creatives who develop the story and make all the big decisions do not know the city well enough to venture out to locations that would not typically be seen on the big screen, but showcase Atlanta’s
uniqueness.
References

asnyder7. “Fairlie-Poplar: The Fireproof District.” Blogs for Georgia State University, 22 Nov. 2016, sites.gsu.edu/asnyder7/category/fairlie-poplar-historic-district/.
“Fairlie-Poplar Historic District.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/atlanta/fai.htm. “Film Industry in Georgia (U.S. State).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Dec. 2019,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_industry_in_Georgia_(U.S._state).
Longwell, Todd. “Georgia’s Production Incentives Seal the Deal for Hollywood.” Variety, 26 Oct. 2018, https://variety.com/2018/film/features/georgias-production-incentives-seal-thedeal-for-hollywood-1202990450/.
Mayer, Vicki. “Hollywood South.” Almost Hollywood, Nearly New Orleans: The Lure of the Local Film Economy. University of California Press, 2017. Print.
Tinic, Serra. “Hollywood Elsewhere.” The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, II, 2012, doi:10.1002/9781444361506.wbiems053.
Simmons, Kenna. “GA GA LAND.” Georgia Trend Magazine, 11 Feb. 2019,
http://www.georgiatrend.com/2018/03/01/ga-ga-land/.

What Has Been Filmed Here? | Atlanta, GA, City of Atlanta,
http://www.atlantaga.gov/government/mayor-s-office/executive-offices/office-of-filmentertainment/
filmed-here.