Georgia town takes pride in being "Hollywood South"

Senoia, Ga., has attracted many filmmakers -- and tourists -- after the state passed a major tax incentive.
Senoia, Ga., has attracted many filmmakers -- and tourists -- after the state passed a major tax incentive.
CBS News

(CBS News) SENOIA, Ga. - While the spotlight may be on the Oscars and Los Angeles Sunday night, CBS News took a look at the place that says it can lay claim to the title of Hollywood South: The small town of Senoia, Georgia.

Reese Witherspoon in "Sweet Home Alabama."
Reese Witherspoon in "Sweet Home Alabama." Touchstone Pictures

In "Sweet Home Alabama," Reese Witherspoon played a small town Southern girl who wanted something grander.

Senoia, Ga., where that movie was filmed, wanted the same thing.

Scott Tigchelaar, a film producer and entrepreneur, spotted the star power in Senoia, population: 3,300.

"We're about 25 miles and basically about 100 years away from Atlanta. And that's unique," Tigchelaar said.

This small town has played itself in two dozen major pictures, starting in 1989 with "Driving Miss Daisy."

"And it's kind of like Universal's back lot," Tigchelaar said. "There's the fighting temptations Church."

They just put dirt in the streets and ran around some model crosses and it was the 1930s.

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In 2008, Senoia was struggling through America's recession. Georgia passed a major tax incentive to woo filmmakers.

Tigchelaar doubled down, investing $15 million to buy 22 commercial properties here, and rolled out the red carpet for Hollywood.

"We have done everything from 1930s rural Alabama in this town to modern day Los Angeles to post-apocalyptic zomebieland," he said.

Senoia, Georgia.
Senoia, Georgia. CBS News

AMC's The Walking Dead, the most watched drama in cable history, is set in the fictional town of Woodbury.

In 2008, Main Street had a half-dozen stores. Today there are 49, and there's a waiting list for retail space. Movies put Senoia on the map, but The Walking Dead made the town come alive.

Melissa Smith and her husband own The Redneck Gourmet just off Main Street.

"We have people in our restaurant that come in and eat and drive five or six hours just to catch a glimpse of one of the actors," Smith said.

A major film studio is about to begin construction nearby. Senoia has been discovered, the sort of happy ending Hollywood does best.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.