The mysterious yellow signs, with nonsensical language and random arrows, and trailers congregating in abandoned lots throughout the greater metropolitan area can be traced back to one person: Lee Thomas. As deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Lee and her team have brought some of the biggest names in showbiz to film in our fair city (ahem, rhymes with The Stalking Dread). She has helped bring in a huge source of revenue for the state and put Atlanta on the map as one of the most accommodating, welcoming cities for various productions.
Lee Thomas is a shining example of how hard work pays off — she started as a project manager and worked her way through the ranks. We are proud to include this native Atlantan as part of our FACES family and spotlight how she is giving back to the community that she grew up in.
You were born and raised in Atlanta. What have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed over the years with regard to our growing city?
When we drove downtown when I was a kid, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta hotel towered over everything! Although Atlanta is a huge city now, and constantly growing, it is the series of small neighborhoods that I love. I live in Lake Claire, which is a great, walkable neighborhood, sort of hippy-dippy and laid-back, and it suits me fine.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Probably that I am a partner in a campground and restaurant near Lake Burton in Rabun County. We’ve recently closed the restaurant — it was too hard to keep up with film and a business.
You received a bachelor’s degree in radio, TV and film from UGA and earned your master’s in film studies from Georgia State University, then entered the Tisch School of the Arts‘ doctoral program at NYU. Had you always been interested in the business side of moviemaking, or did you ever have stars in your eyes and seek work in front of the lens?
Never, ever, did I want to be in the front of the lens. If there’s a photo with this article, it’s because you made me do it.
How long have you been working for the Georgia film office? What changes have you seen along the way?
Nineteen years! I started right before the Olympics in 1996 — our main focus at the time was location scouting. We went all over the state photographing locations with film cameras, rushing the film to Wolf Camera, stitching panoramas together and FedExing them to the west coast. Now, of course, everything is digital and immediate, as well as driven by incentives.
Which Atlanta restaurant or local dish makes you start salivating at the mere mention?
Watershed on Peachtree — the best chicken ever!
Which productions have been your proudest to work on and be a part of?
We are excited about all of the film and television productions that shoot in Georgia — the feature Zombieland, because it was a first-time director, and I was happy to see it do so well; I am amazingly proud of “The Walking Dead,” because it has helped transform the town of Senoia, GA; and, of course, being able to get The Hunger Games and the Marvel franchises to shoot in Georgia.
So give us the scoop. What’s the best thing you’ve ever tried at the craft services trailer?
It’s amazing what a variety the caterers have and everything I’ve tried is great. My weakness is the fresh juice stands — they come up with great combinations.
What’s it like dealing with zombies (“The Walking Dead”), dystopic leaders (The Hunger Games) and goddess supreme Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)?
Doesn’t everyone have that in their workplace?!
What’s your favorite place in the city to unwind and people watch?
As the person responsible for managing and handling all the productions that come to Georgia to shoot, has any of the movie magic faded for you when you visit the theater?
We read a lot of scripts here, so it does take away from the novelty of the films if you’ve already read all of the jokes or know who the killer is!
What’s your go-to movie theater in Atlanta? And while you’re at it, what’s your favorite snack to grab at the concession counter?
If you had the chance to create your own movie, what genre would it be and what would be the storyline?
If I was out for the money, it would be horror; if money was no object, it would be anything but horror. I can’t tell you the storyline — I may need it someday!
What is your best piece of advice?
Keep at it. It is not easy to get your first job in the film industry, but when you do and you work hard and do a great job, it will be easy to get the others!
What are three things that you can’t live without (with the exception of family, friends and faith)?
Black coffee, natural wood pencils (I have hundreds!) and my phone.
Lee Thomas, it was great to learn about you and all the amazing work you do for the state of Georgia! The next time we watch The Walking Dead (with our hands covering our eyes), we’ll have a new perspective that your zombies aren’t ALL bad — they make a positive impact on our regional economy, help employ hundreds of Georgians and open the doors for other productions to film here. Plus, they’re kinda cool.
Thank you to Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for today’s great photographs!