By Collin Kelley
Back in the early 90s, there was a flurry of films being shot in and around Atlanta – including Driving Miss Daisy and Fried Green Tomatoes to name two – and the moniker “Hollywood South” was hatched. There was a lull in the late 90s and early part of the century, but over the last few years a new renaissance has begun
New tax incentives, the transformation of the old Lakewood Fairgrounds south of the city into a production facility and readily available talent have made Atlanta hot once again. AMC’s hit The Walking Dead films here, as do the Vampire Diaries and Drop Dead Diva. Major motion pictures have been filming here, too, with celebrities spotted all over town.
In the middle of all this new madness, is Mark Simon’s Fizz City Films, a company that produces commercials and films for emerging media. Simon’s expertise in the film business stretches back 30 years, including working as cameraman on some of the most iconic films and television shows of the 80s and 90s, including The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Risky Business, This Is Spinal Tap, thirtysometing and In the Line of Fire.
Simon decided to move his family to Atlanta after the 1993 Northridge Earthquake and acted as director of photography on commercials around the world. Fizz City was the next evolution in his storied career. Since it’s creation, Fizz City’s client list has included Scana Energy, Belk, Georgia Lottery, Hyatt Hotels, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and many more.
We asked Simon about his venture and his life in film.
Are you still working on major motion pictures and TV or are you focused on Fizz City? What recent projects have you worked on?
In recent years I have taken day calls on movies Intown to shoot a second unit or operate a camera. One Missed Call and The Rosa Parks Story would be two examples. I have been entertaining some long form projects of my own. One is a green-centric animated kids’ show called Me, I am the Earth and the Earth is Me written by Atlanta writer/location manager, Mark Cottrell. Another is a short about guns, prejudice and modern culture called Short Notice. But yes, most of my time is focused on Fizz City Films core business.
After so many years as a director of photography and camera operator, why did you decide to branch off and form a production company? Was there a niche you saw that needed to be filled?
I spent three years teaching cinematography at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena while still working on movies and commercials in Hollywood. When I first opened Fizz City, it was with the intention of helping launch the careers of five of my former students, who were rising stars in commercials and film, and creating an opportunity for the local advertising community to offer amazing new options.
Can you speak about the Atlanta area’s re-emergence as a place for movies and TV shows to set up shop and film? What makes Atlanta perfect for “Hollywood south”?
The tax incentives are the keys to the film kingdom. We have gone from having barely a film industry to the envy of the rest of the country. All of a sudden major infrastructure is being built, studios, hotels, motion picture vendors are opening up shop here, and crew are moving to Georgia in droves.
Can you share a highlight about your time working with John Hughes on all those great 80s films?
The first day met John was on Sixteen Candles. I walked into the gymnasium of the high school in suburban Chicago where we were going to shoot the day’s work. John was barefoot wearing a white t-shirt and shorts kneeling on the floor playing 3 Card Monty with Anthony Michael Hall. He was a regular guy who liked to have fun and joke around, and even after his mammoth success, he was always still a regular guy who liked to have fun and joke around.