I Toured Savannah’s New Hollywood Backlot, And It’s A Game Changer For Filming In The South

 The SCAD Hollywood Backlot.
The SCAD Hollywood Backlot.

Georgia has become a hotbed for film and television over the years. Everyone from Edgar Wright and Clint Eastwood to Tyler Perry and Marvel Studios have used Georgia production facilities – and localized crews – to make their movies and television shows, with the Savannah area accounting for an enormous portion of production. And that’s only going to increase. The presence of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) already attracts all kinds of talents to the coastal Georgian city for its locations, its crew, and its access to eager and talented students. Now, SCAD has a new Hollywood backlot, and I can tell you from experience, it’s the tip of what’s sure to be an incredibly productive iceberg.

I make a pilgrimage to Savannah every year to attend the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, a can’t-miss stop on the awards circuit that promises incredible films, informative workshops, and access to Hollywood’s top talent. As part of this year’s trip, I toured SCAD’s brand new Hollywood backlot at the university’s Savannah Film Studios, which had just recently completed Phase One of its backlot structure – with the promise of more on the horizon.

“More” was the keyword used by SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace, who informed the gathered crowd on the backlot:

More is more: more films being made, more stories being told, more students creating films under the guidance of the very best professors in higher education. Together, the backlot, soundstages, and LED volume form the sought-after trinity of filmmaking opportunities, placing everything at a filmmaker's fingertips, from outdoor shooting locations to indoor sets to entirely computer-generated worlds. Add our television studio in Hamilton Hall and all models of production are being taught right here in Savannah. If you have a story you want to tell on a screen, big or small, you can tell it at SCAD.

The housing exteriors at the SCAD Hollywood Backlot.
The housing exteriors at the SCAD Hollywood Backlot.

Wallace isn’t exaggerating. The Phase One construction on the SCAD Hollywood backlot created the outdoor facade of a classic Savannah street, with gorgeous Old South architecture that can be used to film exteriors for films and television shows. But those facades also opened up into working interiors that offered access to a bar/restaurant, a fully dressed coffee shop, a barber shop, historic Savannah homes, hardware/antique retail space, a general-use lobby for a hotel or hospital with an exterior porte-cochère and automatic doors, and a double-height bank. It was very easy to see how any production looking for a centralized location to complete shooting would head to Savannah and make use of this impressive, 11-acre film studio complex.

This expansion includes two new soundstages, as well as production design and costume design shops. In addition, next-generation LED volume for virtual productions opened adjacent to the backlot in 2021, another invaluable perk for both SCAD students and visiting filmmakers.

SCAD Hollywood Backlot Building Exteriors
SCAD Hollywood Backlot Building Exteriors

SCAD School of Film and Acting dean Andra Reeve-Rabb went on the explain:

When we designed the backlot, we wanted to give our students access to all the filming locations they either cannot access, like a hospital emergency room, or common filming locations like a coffee shop, without requesting permits or competing for space with the studios who are filming in Savannah. Plus, one of the reasons Savannah is such an attractive filming location is it can easily resemble a quaint European town and be dressed for the 1800s or modern day.

What comes next? SCAD tells CinemaBlend that Phase Two will construct a replica of New York’s Financial district, which will arrive in Fall 2024 and include Brooklyn brownstones, an urban alley, a bodega, upscale retail shops, a chic Manhattan coffeehouse, and a classic “Big Apple” subway entrance. Phase Two also will include a 17,000 sq. ft. support building that will house three production classrooms, a costume shop, production wood/machine shop, and additional classrooms.

As for Phase Three, opening Fall 2025, SCAD will build a town square, city hall, single-family home, convenience store, and other facades that help create a small town feel, as well as a 23,700 sq. ft. support building for two sound stages, eight classrooms, and office space.

The enormous expansion at SCAD Savannah Film Studios highlights the significant investment SCAD has made in the futures of the School of Film and Acting, School of Animation and Motion, and School of Creative Technology students. Students from top-ranked SCAD degree programs, ranging from film and television, acting, and production design to visual effects, animation, and immersive reality are collaborating and cross the aisle to use the backlot, soundstages, and LED volume to create industry-ready projects. The backlot concept planning was done in association with Paul Wonsek and Associates, with final building designs and project implementation by SCAD Design Group. Wonsek was the production designer of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

We will continue to bring you updates on developments at the SCAD Hollywood backlot, and plan to cover productions that film there, as Savannah grows as a focal point for Hollywood on the East Coast.