Strolling about the 330 acres of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia is like stepping back in time.
Or into the future.
It just depends on what production is happening on the lot at the moment.
When Perry opened the sprawling development last month, complete with 12 sound stages and a scaled down version of the White House (more on that later), he made history as the first studio fully owned by an African American and helped cement Atlanta as a major player in the entertainment industry.
Atlanta for years has been referred to by many as “Black Hollywood” or “Hollywood of the South” – in large part due to Perry.
Each of his sound stages is named after esteemed African-American stars like Halle Berry and Denzel Washington.
The grand opening in October included a gala event that attracted a virtual who’s who of accomplished black artists and leaders, including Beyoncé and Oprah Winfrey.
But with major projects like the hit AMC series “The Walking Dead” and the mega-successful “Black Panther” being shot at Perry’s studio, there is no denying that Atlanta is now a significant production center for Hollywood as a whole.
With more than 200 acres of green space and a prime location minutes from the airport and downtown, the studio complex has been attracting a wide range of projects.
And it’s not just a venue for movies and TV series.
On Wednesday, MSNBC and The Washington Post will host the fifth Democratic presidential debate at Tyler Perry Studios and the 2019 Miss Universe competition will air live from there on December 8.
Steve Mensch, president and general manager of studio operations, recently gave CNN a behind-the-scenes tour of what formerly was the Fort McPherson army base.
“The history on this property is immense. Founded in 1885, we have 40 buildings on the national register, we’ve built a dozen state of the art sound stages,” Mensch said. “We’ve got a dozen practical shooting locations. So what Tyler has built here is the only major motion picture studio on the East coast.”
Old meets new in the historic district where the post commander’s house – built in 1889 – maintains its original craftsmanship. It now serves as the home of the character Brian Simmons (played by Perry), who has appeared in multiple Perry productions.
It’s a house where former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt once stayed and now retired general Colin Powell lived while commander.
Mensch said their process of “blending the new technology with what exists here is actually quite good.”
“We can take advantage of a hundred years of Hollywood history, of best practices and we’ve done that in incorporating the stages,” he said. “Then we use the very best technology in our infrastructure, so we have the best of both.”
Perry’s productions, including his new show “The Oval” for BET, are all filmed at the studio, which is where the replica of The White House comes in.
It resembles the actual White House in striking detail, from the press room right down to the crown molding in the Oval Office.
There’s evidence of Hollywood magic throughout the complex.
A prefabricated block of stores could be any main street in America. The ship that figured prominently in Perry’s 2018 film “Acrimony” is “dry docked” not far from the facade block and ready to be used for future productions.
Not just Tyler Perry productions, of course.
Perry has been outspoken about wanting his studio to be a economic boon to the city it calls home. He’s already succeeded in attracting major companies, including Netflix, NBC, Universal and others to film on site.
“Tyler’s had an immense impact on the business because there’s really three things that make this business work: a robust tax incentive, infrastructure and a skilled workforce,” Mensch said. “Tyler’s provided two of those three.”
There’s never a dull moment at the complex, according to Mensch.
“With the ‘Walking Dead’ here, you never know what you’re going to see,” Mensch explained. “Some days there’s horses, some days there’s 500 zombies.”