Film Producer: His long career has included memorable stops on Jekyll
By Wendell Brock
As the sun rises on Jekyll Island, the Atlantic Ocean laps at the gnarly, twisted trees of Driftwood Beach. Just another day in paradise—until you see a zombie writhing in the wet sand and the credits roll for The Walking Dead.
When the storyline of the AMC horror series required an otherworldly oceanside locale, executive producer Tom Luse knew just the spot. Stark, evocative, and strewn with toppled trees, the island’s isolated northeastern tip was the ideal location for an episode of the apocalyptic zombie thriller that begins its ninth season in October. In season seven, episode six, a young woman washes up on a beach and is found by a group of isolationists, who abduct and later try to recruit her. “Surreal” is how the Atlanta-based producer describes the setting—not just the driftwood formations but the timeless hush: “There are no planes, trains, automobiles. There are no steamboats, there are no motorboats, there are no Jet Skis. It’s a world that has stopped in many ways.”
In addition to the raw beauty of the place, Luse praised the leadership and infrastructure of the state-owned island. “From the marina people who helped us get a boat to the Jekyll Island Authority, the Department of Natural Resources folks, the people from the Army Corps of Engineers, everyone worked with us beautifully, and that’s the kind of cooperation you want when you are shooting a show like ours.”
For Luse, who earned a master’s degree in film at Georgia State University in 1981, the only downside of filming on Jekyll may be the tides. He learned this back in 1988, when he arrived to work on Glory, the Oscar-winning film about the Civil War battle of Fort Wagner, starring Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick. “I was instrumental in setting up the boardwalk that led to the beach on Glory,” says Luse, who served as assistant unit production manager on the project. The boardwalk—used to transport hundreds of actors playing soldiers to the waterfront—still stands on Jekyll’s south end, in the area now known as Glory Beach Park.
Back then, the Jekyll Island Club Resort had just opened in the century-old clubhouse, and many of the famed millionaires’ cottages were in ruins. “Now it’s spectacular,” says Luse, who is fond of biking the island. Unfortunately, that rules out the historic colony as a future Walking Dead location. “It is manicured and beautiful and has no place in the zombie apocalypse,” he jokes.
That doesn’t mean the show won’t be back. “Last time I was there, we stayed at Jekyll Island Club and took some photographs of some things that we like there. You never know when The Walking Dead might just pop up.”
Besides The Walking Dead and Glory, several films and shows have used the island as a setting. Here’s a look at a handful.
View From Pompey’s Head (1955)
Jekyll stood in for fictional Pompey’s Head, South Carolina, in this film about a Manhattan attorney (Richard Egan) who returns to the South to investigate a mystery.
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
The Robert Redford–directed movie starring Will Smith and Matt Damon featured the Jekyll Island Club Resort.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
For the superhero flick’s fifth installment, a plane crash was faked on a spot between Beachview Drive and the ocean.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Jekyll’s convention center was used in scenes of a Myrtle Beach strippers’ convention in this Channing Tatum–helmed flick.
The Leisure Seeker (2017)
Helen Mirren received a Golden Globe nod for her work in this film, partly shot on Jekyll, about a terminally ill couple that takes a road trip in a vintage camper.