You’ve probably been hearing a lot lately about how Atlanta (and Gwinnett) has become the new hotbed for the film and television industry. But while we sometimes are detoured around road closures for unnamed film sets throughout the year, we don’t often get to SEE all of this action taking place. It might make you wonder just where all of these blockbuster hits, like Black Panther and Hunger Games, are being filmed… after all, they don’t always look like the place we call home. So we asked our pal Lisa Anders, Gwinnett’s Camera Ready liaison with the film/TV industry, to hook us up with a behind-the-scenes tour of one of Gwinnett’s main production studio sites—the unassuming OFS campus in Norcross
OFS was once a booming campus in the 70s for Western Electric, which later became AT&T before the optical fiber side of the business was bought out by another company and became OFS. The over 170-acre site was used to make copper telephone lines, but with the advances in technology and the switch to producing glass and fiber lines, less and less space has been needed. (Just think, one very large room was once dedicated entirely to the company’s computer!) So what do you do with unused office and warehouse space? Apparently, invite Hollywood’s leading production studios to come make themselves at home!
The day we arrived for our tour, we were met by Studio Manager Mike Reams, the man in charge of managing the property’s production bookings. Mike fell into the film industry quite by accident about nine years ago; before that, from 1996, he worked as an engineer for OFS, even managing part of the business. One day he cleaned out some space to try and find a purpose for some of the unused areas again, and it just so happened that a blank warehouse canvas was extremely attractive to Hollywood. Since 2013, the rental of OFS space to film productions has taken increasingly more of Mike’s time, and with Gwinnett County having purchased a large part of the property in December 2018 for dedicated production space (which Mike still manages), it is now a full-time job with at times multiple productions all taking place at the same time!
OFS is attractive to the big Hollywood studios for a number of reasons, from its location and proximity to great on-location sites, to its eligibility for federal and state tax credits like the “state opportunity zone.” But its largest advantage according to Mike is its combined size and anonymity. At a studio like Tyler Perry in Atlanta, it can be hard for a company like Marvel to reserve enough available space for as many sets as they’ll need for a production. Rather than having to piecemeal sets across multiple studios and transport cast and crew between them, at OFS Marvel can have all seven sets all in one place, and rather large ones as well! OFS’ niche is repeat business with the three or so studios who know it really well—they know the spaces, know what they can do with them, and keep coming back. It’s the best kept secret in the industry!
Let’s take a tour
The studio side of OFS was mostly unoccupied the day we toured, so we got to see a lot of things that are normally closed off to outside eyes (if a bit eerie in its empty state!). A few people on our team, though, have been when something’s been filming. Pam can tell you about catching a car falling out of a plane from the corner of her eye, for example, while Mary Beth can share the story of the time she was hoping against all odds to catch sight of the great Patti Labelle who was on set! “We could only hang out in front of her trailer so long before we started getting the ‘look’ from the OFS folks,” she laughingly told us. But, on our tour day, with not a soul or prop in sight, we had to use our imaginations to picture all of the fabulous scene that have been filmed on campus. (Luckily for you readers, we have YouTube!)
Studios can rent out office space at OFS for the production crew to use as their base when filming. An Amazon show has recently booked it, and will be the largest use to date of the production offices—7,000 square feet of office space, servicing 150-200 people! This is also where the costume wardrobe usually is.
When you approach “Building 50,” you’re walking in the footsteps of the greats: Jason Statham, Will Smith, Shailene Woodley… The entrance was notably used for Statham’s infamous hospital explosion scene from Furious 7, the upstairs loft became Will Smith’s gym on the set of Bad Boys for Life, Ozark’s torture of Helen scene took place among the metal framing of the warehouse…as did the prison fight scene from The Fate of the Furious (aka Fast & Furious 8). Alongside is a huge recessed open space that was the sheikh’s condo from Furious 7—a set that cost $600,000 to build. Off of this space is a room that still bears apocalyptic paint from its Divergent days, and another warehouse room of about 40,000 square feet was transformed into the Wakandan jungle from Black Panther with the help of green screens.
Fast and Furious / Check out this clip!
Ozarks: torture scene of Helen / Check out this clip!
Divergent / Check out this clip!
Okay, so there WAS something filming the day we toured OFS, a small show in a corner of the building that we can’t talk about and couldn’t access and take pictures of. But we were able to walk through the rest of “Building 30,” which is largely still in use by OFS though there is a unique upstairs space which is used to film things like police precincts, classrooms, hospital hallways. There’s even a hospital lobby set still left behind that we got to walk through. Some of the things that have been filmed in the downstairs warehouse space include: Netflix’ Red Notice (does the bullfighting scene ring a bell?), Avengers: Endgame (when Tony Starks goes back in time and meets his father while fetching infinity stones, there’s a scene by the lockers pictured below), and The Hunger Games (something we did not see is the underground tunnels—you had to climb down a step ladder leading down a round shaft—but Jennifer Lawrence as Catniss reportedly ran up and down these for several scenes).
Building 30 is an area where there’s constantly being new space added for filming; when Guardians of the Galaxy 3 recently shot here a few months back, the producers asked Mike if a particular area currently full of randomly stored items could be used for a scene, to which he replied “of course!” and promptly got to work clearing space. There are still yet more spaces currently unused by OFS except for storage—tons of untapped potential!
Leftover set from a previous production
Tony Stark scene / Check out this clip!
Here’s something new for you we learned—they’re not “green” screens anymore, but blue! (Or black, for night scenes.) In the back lot of the OFS campus you’ll find what looks like a portside container yard, but in actuality is a HUGE, open-ceiling “room” built by stacking containers to form walls. Furious 7 set it up in order to film massive scenes (like cars falling out of planes) with blue screens, which they hung sheets of from dowels sticking out at the top of the walls. Baby Blue was the first such space at OFS, and was record-breaking in size—at least until it’s younger brother BIG Blue came to be…
Open-ceiling “room” / Check out this clip!
50% larger than Baby Blue, Big Blue was first built by Mocking Jay for the scene where gifts fall from the sky. It was also used as a stand-in for Iceland in The Fate of the Furious, and for the Black Panther scene where they fight to see who the next Black Panther will be. For the soon-to-be-released Black Panther sequel, production teams actually dug into the concrete to make a pool for a scene, and filled it back in after filming. The black spots you see in the photos are actually the filled-in pool, not shadows.
Mocking Jay scene / Check out this clip!
also the Black Panther scene / Check out this clip!