‘The Walking Dead’ spreads new life

by Clay Neely


Costume designer Eulyn Womble works on a zombie “walker” for “The Walking Dead’ for Season 3, Episode 16.

When AMC TV show “The Walking Dead” began filming its pilot episode in late spring of 2010, no one really knew what kind of impact the show would have. Fast-forward three years.

In the world of popular culture, the verdict is clear – it’s a smash hit phenomenon with no signs of waning interest.

In the world of local business the results are overwhelmingly promising as well. Especially because much of the filming has been or will be done in Senoia and other parts of Coweta County.

“Walking Dead” tours have certainly had a positive financial impact in terms of downtown Senoia’s local retailers. Business in town are benefiting from the tour groups that come to visit the various landmarks from the show.

The show and filming are certainly a hit with local businesses. Many are grateful recipients of the “vertical integration” business model that Senoia’s Raleigh Studios employs. Several local business owners can attest to the positive financial impacts the show has on their enterprises.

As owner of both Nickell Rental equipment firm and Saturn Security Systems, Josh Nickell is quick to point out the impact the show has for not only his business, but for the community as well.

“If you include the direct and indirect revenue from the production, the impact has been huge,” Nickell said.

“Senoia is one of our largest markets. The production’s support of the downtown market and improvement in home values (because of the name recognition of the town) has had a dramatic impact on our revenue. These changes have also allowed us to bring on additional employees in order to keep up with the demand of commercial and residential systems,” he said.

While the single production of “The Walking Dead” has not resulted in an influx of direct revenue for Nickell, there is no denying the impact of the vitality it has had on the region.

Nickell and his father were alerted to the potential for a tax incentive for movie productions before it was passed by Georgia’s legislature. His father had worked at other rental companies in states where productions had come to town and had witnessed firsthand the positive impact it had on the local economy. Father and son knew it would be a huge benefit for local businesses and pushed hard for the incentives package.

“We called representatives and spread the word to other local small business owners to push for the incentives passage. In addition, the husband of a friend from high school actually helped draft the legislation,” Nickell elaborated.

“Even though they have not spent a lot of money with us directly, they have spent money locally, which has grown tourism in Senoia, increased property values, and supported restaurants and shopping.”

Many of these businesses and homeowners are Saturn’s customers. The improved local economy allows them the opportunity to complete renovations and expansions, which directly impact their business.

When Saturn Security Systems ran into a cabling issue at Raleigh Studios that required the assistance of an IT company, Nickell called on Doug Bates, president of CMIT Solutions. CMIT Solutions is a local IT support and services company which provides direct IT support for Raleigh Studios in Senoia.

During the last two years, CMIT Solutions has cultivated a relationship with Raleigh Studios — assisting in many areas including developing a secure Wi-Fi system to cover the entire studio and increase the studio's bandwidth to suit the special effects department, which recently moved from L.A. to the local studios.

Since the beginning of their relationship with the studio, Bates has found his company taking on new clients that reside within the realm of entertainment production. Those new clients included an ABC studio in Atlanta and a movie studio in Hiram.

Vertical integration at work.

Scott Young and his wife, Teresa, were running Cutie Pies & Cakery when their relationship with the Raleigh Studios began.

When “The Walking Dead” was in town filming, people from the studio began buying cupcakes from the local shop, which quickly turned into the purchasing of large cakes as well.

Soon, Scott and Teresa were meeting with the show’s on-staff caterers, which in turn, led them to agreeing to make desserts for the cast and crew daily. The couple also started creating custom cakes.

“We've done Chandler Riggs’ birthday cake the past two years as well as Andrew Lincoln's birthday cake last year,” Young said.

Word of the local shop’s prowess with confectionery spread, and soon the couple found themselves working outside of the show. Scott and Teresa contributed to a benefit for Haiti that was put on by Maria Bello, making a birthday cake for Paul Rudd and delivering it to the studio for the set of Anchorman 2.

“We also have been contacted by representatives from Pinewood Studios which is being built a mile from our new space. They have had our desserts at meetings at Raleigh Studios,” said Young.

“We are excited about the future with Raleigh and contacts that we have made throughout our relationship with them so far.”

And what happens when it’s time to take out the trash? They call in Rhonda Sue Pattishall.

Pattishall refers to herself as the garbage and recycling guru and she discovered early on that she had a peculiar passion for waste and recycling.

“There’s an art to everything, and it’s fascinating what recyclable materials can be turned into,” Pattishall said. “Almost 80 percent of everyday garbage can be recycled — even something as minute as a Hershey’s Kiss wrapper.”

Now in her current Business Development role at Integrated Waste Solutions, her relationship with Raleigh Studios, formerly Riverwood studios, developed around 2008 when she was put in contact with studio executives Paul Lombardi and Scott Tigchelaar through Jean Peck of Camp Southern Ground and Mitch Harbeson, then working with “The Blind Side” and now with Lifetime TV show “Drop Dead Diva.”

Pattishall provides the studio with containers and solutions for their concrete, wood, plastic, cardboard and metal recycling along with food/organic composting and then landfilling what’s left.

How great of an impact has the relationship with Raleigh had on her company?

“It’s been very instrumental,” Pattishall emphasizes.

“Paul and Scott as well as ‘The Walking Dead’ team have given our name to others and we have been able to work and provide solutions to BET, Pinewood Studios and more,” she said.

While some may view any kind of relationship with Raleigh Studios as a “Midas touch” for companies they do business with, Nickell understands that it’s imperative that a business must provide a quality product first and foremost.

“A movie set can cost $300,000. So down time simply can’t happen. When you’re on a set like that, you can’t make mistakes. You have to provide a high quality product. If you can take care of them, they can take care of you,” he said.

During the drought in 2008, disposable water wasn’t necessarily easy to come by. Nickell recalls a shot that called for a wet airstrip at an airport. Undeterred by the logistics that the drought played, he filled up six water tanks at his store and loaded them onto a rollback truck. With one person driving and another one on the back hosing down the runway as they went, the assignment was a complete success for both parties.

“Studios don’t care about the cost. They care about getting it done,” he said. “You just have to make things happen.”

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