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|Raleigh Studios Atlanta President Scott Tigchelaar
Approximately 25 miles south of Atlanta, is small town where big things are going on. Senoia, GA is
home to the Atlanta branch of the longest continuously operating studio in the country, Raleigh
Studios. With 4 soundstages, Raleigh Studios Atlanta is a film and TV goldmine.
I Am Entertainment Magazine sat with Scott Tigchelaar, President of Raleigh Studios Atlanta (RSA),
to discuss how he was able to bring a Hollywood studio to Georgia.
IAE: Until recently, Raleigh Studios Atlanta was known as Riverwood Studios. Tell us how it all
ST: It started with my uncle, Paul Lombardi, and his Academy Award Winning father, the late Joe Lombardi. Joe
started in the film business in 1947 and did all of the special effects for all of the DesiLu Productions (Lucille
Ball and Desi Arnaz) shows, including “I Love Lucy,” “ISpy,” “Mod Squad,” and “Star Trek.” When the old studio
system broke up and everyone became independent contractors, Joe started the first special effects company,
which was called Special Effects Unlimited. His business morphed into Full Scale Effects and they do the
effects for shows like “24,” “CSI Miami,” “X-Files,” “Last Samurai,” “The Secretariat” (in theatres at the time of
this publication), and they built all the gags for the currently running ABC show, “Wipe Out.” They are probably
the largest physical effects company in Hollywood and that business is still going strong.
Riverwood Studios was born out of the effects business that Paul and Joe were doing. By the late 80’s
everyone was unemployed every 6 months, because they were independent contractors who no longer worked
for the big studios. The whole soul of the business, the comradery that existed had dissolved, my uncles
wanted to get back to that. In the 80’s Georgia was the “hotspot” for film, so they decided to buy 100 acres and
build a studio to make their own movies. They wanted to do it with their friends outside of Hollywood. When
they built Riverwood, because there was so much work going in Georgia, the facility stayed rented all the time.
Then about 7 years later the film industry tanked in the USA and all the work went to Canada and offshore
where the film incentives were. In the 90’s, once everything started to fizzle, we went to our “Plan A” and
started making our own productions. But when Joe died, it threw a monkey wrench in everything and we had to
shut down production. The effects business was going crazy so Paul had to focus on that, which led to a long
dry spell for us here in GA. By 2001 I had moved back to Toronto, where I’m originally from, and Paul had
gone through the loss of his wife, he decided it was time to shut the studio down.
IAE: Well, it looks like you’re back in business [laughs]. So what got you guys back on track?
ST: In 2003, after the dust had settled for Paul, he called me and asked what we were going to do with the
studio. I told him it was all about incentives and if Georgia wasn’t going to do an incentive for film and TV, then
he was better off selling it as warehouse space. So I came back down to Georgia and met with some of the
local politicians to inform them that we’d be pulling up stakes and leaving, unless they did something to
incentivize the industry in the state. Mitch Seabaugh, a local senator, said “lets figure this out and do
something.” Long story short, over a 5 year period we passed 2 incentives, and the second one was great
because it really made a huge difference in the GA film industry. In fact, we’re one of the best states to shoot in
because of our incentives. Our company is finally back to our “Plan A,” and we now get to ride on the coattails
of Raleigh Studios, one of the largest studio owner/managers in the world. Paul and I want Raleigh to come in
and establish a big presence here in Georgia, and use their marketing power in Hollywood to bring shows to
Georgia. We want Hollywood to know about the amazing crew and acting talent in the state.
IAE: Speaking of Raleigh Studios, how did they become interested in setting up in Atlanta as
“Raleigh Studios Atlanta”?
ST: We started talking to Raleigh Studios around Christmas 2009. We noticed that they were branching out
and creating a studio presence outside of LA, so it seemed clear that with Georgia’s incentive being as good
as it is, it was only a matter of time before Raleigh would be here [GA]. They have a number of top notch
facilities, with one in Hollywood, which is across from Paramount, another in Manhattan Beach, which is a
beautiful studio that Marvel Comics is set up in, and Raleigh is now managing Playa Vista, which is the old
Howard Hughes place. Outside of LA there are facilities in Baton Rouge, Detroit, and Budapest. The folks from
Raleigh flew out to see the Riverwood facility and the town of Senoia, and we’re now known as Raleigh
Studios Atlanta. Because they have grown and built this infrastructure around all of their facilities it brought
with them companies like: Independent Studio Services (ISS) which is the biggest prop company in the world. It’
s unbelievable all the stuff they build and what they have in inventory and all of that’s available now to Georgia
productions. Hollywood Trucks is also here, and they are a big transportation company. Hollywood Rentals,
which is a company Raleigh owns, is here and they are the largest grip and lighting company in Hollywood. Full
Scale Effects, which is the effects company that I told you about earlier that my uncles started. There’s also a
costume company here called Movie Rags, as well as Laurents Catering. These are all huge components
because we have a campus similar to many of the LA based facilities, with everything onsite. All these high
caliber companies create a production campus of resources for the projects that come to RSA.
IAE: So what’s the story on Senoia, GA and why you guys chose to stay here?
ST: Senoia is a 150 year old historic town just south of the Atlanta airport, that is very conducive to film work.
On the property of RSA we have 4 Stages ranging in size from 7500 sq. ft. up to 15,000 sq.ft. We also have
10,000 sq. ft. of construction mill space complete with machine, carpentry and electical shops, make-up and
dressing rooms, a screening room, production office space, and plenty of storage space. So all production
companies need to do is come in and set up. The town of Senoia has actually served as our backlot.
Part of the backstory is, about 5 or 6 families owned the land in the historic district for generations and they
wouldn’t sell it to anybody. They had what they would call a draw bridge mentality, up comes the draw bridge
nobody comes in, and we don’t want anything to change. So for generations no land was bought or sold in the
historic district. While every other town in the metro Atlanta area was saying yes to the state roads going
through the middle of Main Street, these families didn’t want it in Senoia.
But what’s interesting is that these same people liked that the film industry loved their town. They took pride in
saying “Fried Green Tomatoes” was shot here. In the past 20 years there have been more than 20 films
shot using this town as a backdrop.
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