What do Dustin Hoffman, the tiger from The Hangover, and the musician Machine Gun Kelly all have in common? If this sounds like the setup for a six-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon story, you should know he’s actually involved too.
They answer is they’ve all filmed movies in Thomasville, Georgia. The fourth-generation Thomasvillian Allen Cheney and his production company Thomasville Pictures are responsible for bringing a bit of Hollywood to this charming southwest corner of Georgia. Movies filmed here include The Tiger Rising with Dennis Quaid and Queen Latifah, Bandit with Mel Gibson and Josh Duhamel, and One Way with Machine Gun Kelly and Kevin Bacon. Cheney and his partner, Ryan Smith, also recently wrapped Sam & Kate with Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek in the titular roles.
Today, Cheney divides his time between Los Angeles and Thomasville, embracing the best of each location, and taking immense pleasure in wending the two together. We recently sat down to discuss the process of bringing moviemaking to this part of Georgia and why fall might be the best time to visit.
How hard was it to convince Hollywood types to consider filming this far off the beaten path?
A few years ago, a couple of films that I was attached to as a producer were looking to film in Atlanta. With the costs and logistics being so constraining, I had the idea to bring the rest of the team to experience Thomasville and see if we had a shot of making it work here.
That visit could not have been better—it was like a scene from Chevy Chase’s Funny Farm when everything is almost too perfect: the weather, the accommodations, the restaurants, the people. It was incredible. That day, the whole scene just already felt like a movie.
Thomasville has long been touted as the quail-hunting capital of the world, which is a big draw this time of year. What else is going on in town?
Thomasville really does have a worldwide reputation for the caliber of quail hunting we have here. I was in England not too long ago and happened to strike up a conversation with a born-and-raised-Englishman who asked where I was from. When I told him, he replied, “I’ve been to Thomasville to shoot quail. One of the coolest experiences of my life.”
The other thing people might not know about is how robust our arts and culture scene is here. Now in its twenty-seventh year, the Wildlife Arts Festival (November 10–20) coincides with the opening of quail season. For ten days, there are art shows and events like the Red Hills Rover Rally and Whiskey in the Woods that support the Thomasville Center for the Arts, which does amazing work here. You might come for quail season but you should stay for the Wildlife Arts Festival.
Tell us about your Thomasville.
For breakfast, my brother Stephen and I like to grab breakfast at Savannah Moon Bakery. Dennis Quaid and Mel Gibson fell hard for the breakfasts at Empire Bagel & Delicatessen, located in the Bottom District of Thomasville. Grassroots Coffee has the best coffee in town.
For lunch, Jonah’s Fish & Grits on Jackson Street is my go-to. Right next door is Liam’s Restaurant, where owner Rhonda Foster has created an English-pub-feel of a place with an outstanding menu and the best cocktails. Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox loved Sweet Grass Dairy Restaurant and Cheese Shop on Broad Street and often sat at a table by the front window just to watch town pass by. George & Louie’s is a Thomasville institution and where I meet my grandparents for lunch.
I’ve always thought that if you want to understand Thomasville by walking into one store, it’s undoubtedly Kevin’s: it’s Thomasville in a box. Walk through Kevin’s dark-stained double doors and you’ll see why. (Kevin’s annual Southern Game Fair, November 10–11, is not to be missed either.)
For antiques, Thomasville’s hard to beat. Stop in C.H. Whitney, owned by Charlie Whitney, who has an artist’s eye for buying and collecting. Toscoga is another favorite—it is not uncommon to hear, post-filming, “We have stuff from Toscoga to ship back to L.A.” At Abode, the owners Bryce Gilliard and Thomas Duncan have been instrumental to the remodel of Paxton House, a storied bed-and-breakfast I purchased in early 2022, to support our need for more production lodging. Since you can’t get in to the Paxton House while we update, you need to book a room at the Marriott Courtyard at the corner of Remington Avenue and South Dawson Street, which is within walking distance of downtown. Let me just say: This is not like any Marriott Courtyard you’ve visited before. The penthouse on the top floor is incredible and where Dustin [Hoffman] and his wife stayed. There is an easy bar and café in the lobby, so you really have everything right there.
Honestly, you kind of have to just experience Thomasville to get it: the smell of cinnamon rolls coming from Flowers bakery; the sound of bells from the courthouse; kids running around playing; and people strolling by with their dogs. Sometimes it’s like a perfectly staged movie scene.