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AMC's "The Walking Dead" returns with new episodes this Sunday. Much of the show was shot in and around the small Georgia town of Senoia. It's one of a long list of TV shows and movies that film in Georgia. In fact, production has increased so much in the state that studios have been built and sets are becoming tourist attractions. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans reports.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: In a walk down the Senoia's Main Street, Scott Tigchelaar beams like a proud papa while pointing out the businesses he helped bring to the downtown area.
SCOTT TIGCHELAAR: So this is the "Walking Dead" store - the Woodbury Shoppe it's called. There's a little museum in the basement of it.
DEGGANS: Besides the Woodbury Shoppe, there's a "Walking Dead"-themed coffee shop - called The Waking Dead, of course - and dozens of other businesses. Many of them are here because of "The Walking Dead," which has filmed in and around the area since 2011. In "The Walking Dead's" last episode in December, viewers saw the fictional town of Alexandria destroyed by explosions.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: (As Negan) Bombs away.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)
DEGGANS: Turns out those blasts burst right in front of Tigchelaar's real home. The development where Tigchelaar lives is transformed into the set for Alexandria's exterior scenes.
TIGCHELAAR: We live on the set. It's been walled in with a 15-foot-high steel wall. All those explosions were happening all around our house. It's kind of entertaining to sit there right in your living room and watch out the window and there's zombies running by.
DEGGANS: Tigchelaar actually helped to create that housing development, built to attract production companies which might want to film there. He used to run nearby Raleigh Studios, a facility bought last year by AMC. Now Tigchelaar co-owns a company that's helped develop the city's downtown and manage its relationships with AMC and "The Walking Dead."
TIGCHELAAR: For many years, many, many years, Senoia was a pretty quiet place. You know, store by store was closing up and leaving town. And in 2006, when we bought property here, there were only five stores on Main Street.
DEGGANS: Tigchelaar said a turning point came in 2012, when "The Walking Dead" turned downtown Senoia into Woodbury, the headquarters of the show's then-villain, the governor. Suddenly, fans had a tangible place to visit and tourism soared. Greg Nicotero, an executive producer on "The Walking Dead," liked Senoia so much he teamed with series star Norman Reedus to open a bar and restaurant there called Nic and Norman's.
GREG NICOTERO: I bought a house near where we shoot and Norman has a house there, so we've kind of committed ourselves to contributing to that area. And it seemed like kind of a no-brainer for us, actually.
DEGGANS: Last year, $2.7 billion in film and TV production came to Georgia, about triple the total five years ago. There's a few reasons for the boom. Tax incentives can refund up to 30 percent of a production's budget. But Georgia also has lots of local actors and crew members and a growing number of studios. One of those is owned by director/producer/star Tyler Perry, who bought a 330-acre historic military base in Atlanta called Fort McPherson to transform into a filmmaker's playground.
STEVE MENSCH: So grand staircase. You've got the revolving door, your cappuccino bar, your lounge.
DEGGANS: Steve Mensch, the general manager of operations at Tyler Perry Studios, beams as he shows off a perfect replica of a luxury hotel lobby. It's on a floor in the studio's main office facility where standing permanent sets occupy 50,000 square feet. Walk a little bit away from the lobby...
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR SLAMMING)
DEGGANS: ...And you're inside a cheap motel room, complete with metal security door. Instead of tearing the sets down after Perry uses them, Mensch says they'll be made available to other productions. A drive around the grounds reveals even more - 12 sound stages, a 16,000-square-foot mansion, a fake trailer park and a '50s-style diner transported from a town 100 miles away.
MENSCH: How do we make it better? How do we make it faster? The vision is a place that you don't have to leave. Generally the idea is to come here and be able to shoot everything you need.
DEGGANS: To make the production boom last, state officials hope to cultivate more film and TV creators who live and work in the state just like Tyler Perry, ensuring their multimillion-dollar projects keep boosting Georgia's economy. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.