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Tammy Williams, set to become the first Black woman to own a major production studio in Georgia, started with a vision. She wanted to build a facility where stories that are too often ignored could be told. Beyond that, she longed for a place where people in underserved communities could get job training in an industry that she’s built her life around.
Williams saw her goal start to come to life in March, when Cinema South Studios, a $135 million project, broke ground. Located on 85 acres (not far from Trilith and Tyler Perry studios), the complex will be spread over 1 million square feet, consisting of 17 buildings with numerous soundstages. It will house various set pieces along with a wardrobe rental facility, transportation company and a three-story office building that will host postproduction and audio production facilities.
The writer-director-producer, whose credits include doc, news and film projects like Ernie & Cerbie and My Mother Was a Butterfly, began her career at news stations in Tennessee and Louisiana producing awards shows, commercials and telethons. In 2003, she started as a freelance producer out of her garage, where she put up a greenscreen and shot My Destiny Place, an educational kids series. She plans to open Cinema South in 2023; it will include her production company, Tammy’Dele Films, as well as its job training and educational division, Tammy’Dele Films Workshops, a certificate program that has graduated more than 2,500 students. She notes the complex also will house Cinema South Lighting & Grip, the largest minority-owned lighting and grip company in Georgia.
“It all boils down to having stories told. TV and film are such powerful mediums. Sometimes, they shape the way society thinks and where culture is, helping to bring understanding,” says Williams, who has been based in Georgia since 1998, seeing the area transform into a major production hub.
Gary Guidry, an investor and CEO of G-Squared Events and Black Promoters Collective, partnered with Williams on the project. “The demand for soundstages is happening globally, and the ownership rarely looks like us, let alone an African-American woman,” Guidry said. “Investing in Tammy Williams and her team convinced me that buying the land in Fayetteville was a sound decision with the talents of her at the helm.”
Georgia enjoys a booming productions landscape thanks to boasting the country’s most generous film and TV tax incentive program. In 2021, it gave out $1.2 billion in such credits for a return on $4 billion in spending from the industry.
Studios spend big bucks shooting tentpole projects — including Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Creed III and Tales of the Walking Dead — in the state because of the program and the production infrastructure built as a result.
Brian Cooper, former vp of Pinewood Studios and a partner at studio and soundstage company S2CO, is working with Cinema South to construct the facility. “There’s so much business here but not enough space,” he says. “We’re trying to be that one-stop shop for the extra ancillary stuff that productions need in Georgia that aren’t here yet.”
More than that, Williams emphasizes her vision for Cinema South to be a feeder of qualified workers into the film and TV industry to take advantage of the production infrastructure being rapidly built in Georgia and “be a place where people can get job training to provide an avenue for a lot of the underserved communities,” she says. German Valle, a partner at Cinema South Lighting & Grip, adds that students are drawn to the creative and collaborative environments Williams fosters. “Everybody has to have something that starts the spark. Something has to motivate you,” he says. “She encourages that.”
This story first appeared in the April 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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