'Walking Dead' filming in Senoia regularly in month of May

By W. Winston Skinner
Zombies are coming back to Coweta County in May, but if you stay in Senoia, you’ll be safe.
At least that’s the plot of the next season of “The Walking Dead,” which will be filming in Senoia on a regular basis this year.

Mike Riley and Seth Zimmerman with AMC Television attended the Senoia City Council meeting on Monday — telling the council that the film series will be shooting in Senoia throughout 2012 and possibly in 2013, too.

“The Walking Dead” is in its third season and has filmed in Senoia and in other locations in Coweta County. Senoia has been a site for filmmakers including “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Pet Sematary 2” and television series including Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva.”

“Senoia’s going to become a major set for us,” Riley, location manager for the series, said. He has met with merchants and with Senoia city officials about the filming process.

“I’ve gone door-to-door. I’ve met all but two or three personally,” Riley said of the merchants. He said he has talked with merchants about “what we’d like to accomplish.”

While there has been some “Walking Dead” filming in Senoia in the past, the town is becoming a regular setting this season. “Senoia will become a town that is a sanctuary from the zombie apocalypse,” Riley said.

In the series, the town will be a place cordoned off from the zombie infested world outside. “You’re in a safe environment, If you’re outside it, you’re not,” Riley said. He said the town will be governed by “a benevolent dictator.”

The television crew will “build a temporary, movable perimeter wall,” Riley explained. Portions of Travis and Main streets will be closed to traffic at times during scenes that show the wall.

“It will look like a gate” made from “various paraphernalia — old tires, doors,” Riley said. The wall will be made so that is can be stored between episodes.

The block from Travis Street to Seavy Street “right now is being considered as our main set,” Riley said. An area of Johnson Street may also be used.

Some episodes may be almost entirely filmed in Senoia, and it is possible one or more episode might not be filmed in the town at all.

Cast and crew will arrive in Senoia on May 31 to film “the episode that premiers the town,” Riley said, “Once the town is established, it becomes a recurring location for us.”

“Walking Dead” has its principal set at Raleigh-Riverwood studio in Senoia.

For the first episode, “we’ll be filming in Senoia, for eight days,” Riley said. “We may be doing some filming at night in that episode. We may be filming at night for some of the other episodes, as well.”

Most filming will be done on weekdays.

While there is a general outline for the upcoming season, there are no scripts yet. Riley said he will know more about how much filming will need to be done in Senoia for each episode as the scripts are completed.

“We will have to control the traffic. Through traffic on Main Street will be diverted around us,” Riley said, adding that he is looking at alternatives for parking in the area.

Keeping daily life and commerce moving will be a priority, Riley promised. “How are people going to access these businesses? A lot of these businesses have back doors. Some of them don’t,” he noted.

“There are deliveries that take pace to the restaurants. There are deliveries that take place at Hollberg’s Furniture,” Riley said. UPS and similar companies “have to keep working,” he acknowledged.

The executive producer for “Walking Dead” is scheduled to arrive in Senoia today — to spend a few days. “Hopefully he’ll have some answers for us abut what he envisions in more detail,” Riley told the council.

Riley said grass would need to be left uncut in certain areas at times and said signs would be placed to let local residents know why the grass was high. He also said “anything we do to the buildings — anything we do to Senoia” will be put back in “as good or better shape when we pull out at the end of the season.”

Riley said the “Walking Dead” season of shooting will be different from what the town has experienced with previous productions.

“This is long-term,” he explained. “You’re used to having a film crew come in and shoot for week or two, and then they’re gone.”

The season long filming will involved “a sort of in-and-out process.”

Scripts typically are read five or six days before filming starts. “We have to move fairly quickly,” Riley said.

Riley expressed some concern about a requirement that the council approve the closing of streets. He said he hoped there could be “a little bit of flexibility there,” since filming needs could arise between council meetings.

He said the production will be using email to keep city officials and others in Senoia apprised of what is happening with “Walking Dead.” “We will constantly be updating that,” Riley said. “It’s really about keeping everybody informed.”

Ongoing filming like that envisioned in Senoia has been done in other places, including the Georgia city of Covington. “There was a way to make it happen through good communication,” Riley said of past experiences.

“There will be glitches. I’m sure there are thing that will happen that will not go well for someone,” Riley said. He said every effort will be made to avoid glitches – and to repair them when they do occur.

The season long filming is “something that can work well in Senoia,” Riley said. He said the process will provides a “positive economic impact for the city.”

Councilman Maurice Grover said once episodes are planned, a master plan can be shared with City Administrator Richard Ferry and Police Chief Jason Edens who have been authorized to make necessary decisions between council meetings.

Riley said ongoing productions develop a pattern. “That pattern will find its own rhythm when we get started,” he said.

He said he will be meeting with “a couple of merchants who have specific concerns” in the next few days. “We have a comfortable amount of time to figure this out,” Riley said.

“We’re excited to have you in Senoia. We’re excited that you’ve chosen us,” Grover said, pledging the town’s cooperation as filming proceeds.

Riley said the film company wants Senoia residents to feel the town in benefiting from the project “even though they may be inconvenienced from time-to-time.”

Riley said, “You’re helping us do this. We’re not going this by ourselves.” Based on the popularity of the season last year, Riley said it is likely “an influx of people” who are fans of the show will be finding their way to Senoia.

Looking ahead to 2013, he said “Walking Dead” is “right now scheduled to return next season” to Senoia. “I can only assume that if the ratings are good, we’ll be back,” Riley stated.

Senoia businessman and movie studio executive Scott Tigchelaar was asked if filming will create any difficulties for the Southern Living House this summer, which is expected to bring large numbers of tourists to Senoia.

“We don’t anticipate a problem,” he said. “It’s just going to add to the excitement in town and make the Southern Living House that much more of an attraction.”

Riley said a meeting will be held with merchants before May 31.

Senoia restaurateur Todd Baggarly praised the city for promoting the town as a location for filming and Tigchelaar for efforts to create tax credits that make Georgia attractive to filmmakers.

“This move is putting us on the map more than we have been in the past,” Baggarly said. “It’s just fantastic were sitting in the middle of it. As a merchant, I’m cooperating 100 percent with them.”

Baggarly was unconcerned about minor inconveniences that will doubtless come with filming a television series in town. “In all our jobs, we have headache or two,” he said.

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