It started as a hobby; an obsession, really. It morphed into a business-and just in time.
Conyers resident Tim Thompson had worked in information technology for the Southern Company for 35 years. On the day he was told that, because of cutbacks, he was to take early retirement he received a call from a movie studio looking to use an old car of his.
It was the start of Atlanta Picture Cars.
"He went from being very sad to be very excited," said long time friend, Gerald King.
Cars had been his passion, a passion, Thompson said, started when he and King played with toy trucks as five-year-olds in Redan. His first love was a 1934 Ford pick up truck a friend of his father's owned in the 1960s.
"I don't know why, I just fell in love with it," he said.
He bought a 1934 pickup in 1988, he said, "and it's made a lot of money [in the movies] since then."
"Cars are fun," he said. "It's just my love for cars that started this business."
It's a business that's taken off. Thompson owns 26 antique cars, but has access to over 600 cars, including 75 from Rockdale County. Thompson serves as a broker, renting the vehicles to production companies on request.
Currently, he is in conversation with representatives to bring three cars to Memphis for a project that will film in June; with a production company filming in Savannah that needs circa 1948 cars; and with the producers of "The Founder," a film about Ray Kroc starring Michael Keaton slated to film in Atlanta this summer, who are looking for cars from 1955 and earlier.
Thompson will find them.
Networking for cars
"When you run out of cars to supply, you do what you have to do," he said. "When we ran out of cars for "Selma," I started reaching out for cars."
He hunts through Craig's List, Ebay, posts notices on Facebook and networks with friends and collectors. And he keeps his eyes open when he's driving around town. One of the cars he bought for "Selma" was a 1964 Plymouth Valiant that had been a gift to a local man from his son. When the man was killed, the son sold the car to Thompson.
"Selma," the story of the march led by Martin Luther from Selma to Birmingham to secure equal voting rights, needed 80 1964 and older cars. Thompson provided 46 of them, including a 1962 Falcon he found in Conyers and bought. He also supplied the 1961 Desoto that belonged to the sheriff of Selma at the time of the Selma march. The historic car belongs to a client in Conyers, he said.
Another car, a white 1963 Ford, used in the movie had been on the way to the crusher when Thompson rescued it. "It wasn't running, but it can be used for set design. It was used in the bomb scene in ‘Selma.'"
One of the cars, a white 63 Ford was on the way to the crusher when he rescued it. "It wasn't running but it can be used for set design. It was used in the [bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church] scene in "Selma."
Another vehicle Thompson supplied was a 1941 Chevy fuel truck, which came from Missouri. Sometimes, he explained, large vehicles are used to block modern day happenings when filming on location. He also supplied an old, though restored garbage truck, rented from a Chattanooga garbage company.
The garbage truck was also used in the movies, "Jayne Mansfield's Car," and "42." Thompson also found, free, an airport tug that was pulled by a 1940s wagon, in "42."
At the end of the "Selma" shoot, Thompson got three of the cars the studio used in the film.
Like a museum of vehicles
Parked in his garage is a white VW bug, decked out in flower power slogans and drawings that was last seen in the 2015 movie, "Vacation." Next to it is a 1973 silver Corvette, a replacement for the Corvette he purchased weeks before his 20th birthday.
"Back in the 1970s, we would cruise around the park and I saw a bunch of Corvettes, all older than 1975," he said. "I vowed I would have a Corvette before my 20th birthday on 1979."
In the driveway is a red Mercedes that was driven by Kathy Bates in a recent film.
Nearby, a few blocks down the road, is an acre-and-a-half property with a metal building and a large collection of cars. It's Thompson's shop, which he bought long before he began Atlanta Picture Cars. Inside the shop are rows of Plymouths, Fords, Dodges, Chevies and Hudsons. There are motorcycles, bikes, advertising posters, a late 20th century phone booth, real and plastic movie car tags from various states and various eras, vintage Coke machines, antique air pumps and glass globe gas pumps, old oil cans, even a mid-Century Kotex machine.
He loves junk, he admits, and he has a lot of it.
"But it's not junk if it makes money," he said.
Props make money, too
It's not just cars he rents to production companies, magazines and advertisers. He rents props. For example, the telephone booth, which he bought for $50, earned $400 a week on the set of "Anchorman 2."
Like many things in Hollywood, some of the Atlanta Picture Cars seen on screen might give the illusion they function, but many actually don't run. Those that do, do so because of Thompson's long-time friend, King.
"He can fix anything," Thompson said.
His long-time friend, Gerald King, is a mechanic employed by Charles Sirman, a Conyers businessman who owns over 100 antique cars, some that have been used in films.
King learned how to fix cars from his family, many who were mechanics themselves. One of the first cars King and Thompson salvaged was the 1934 Ford pick-up Thompson had long desired. The truck, they said, was in pieces. The truck bed, the motor, the brakes all needed to be repaired or reattached.
But King enjoys working with his friend. "We have fun," he said. "You have to think of it as not work, but having fun."
Both King and Thompson have driven cars as extras in movies. So have other car collectors whose machines are being used on set. King said he enjoys meeting the production crews and actors, especially Vanessa Williams, whom he met during the filming of "A Trip to Bountiful."
In some ways, listening to Thompson talk about his cars and the movies, there's a sense that the business is just a way to fuel his obsession. He says he would buy more cars if he had room, adding that, "I should sell half of them to fix up the rest of them, but they're making money."
He rented his first car to a production company in 1999 (movie, et. al). It was another 10 years before he rented another car out - but he and King dreamed of what the business could be.
Since then, Atlanta Picture Cars can be seen in "Letters from a Wayward Son," 1999; "The Accountant," 2001; "Lost Valentine," 2010; "Jayne Mansfield's Car," 2011; "42," 2012; "Plus One," 2012; "Anchorman 2," 2013; "Watson's Go to Birmingham," 2013; "Endless Love," 2013: "Kill the Messenger," 2013; "A Trip to Bountiful," 2013; "Selma," 2014; "The Longest Ride," 2014; "Vacation," 2015; and "Sons 2 the Grave," 2015.
They have also posed for photo shoots for GQ, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. Atlanta Picture Cars' television credits include Spike TV's Tattoo Rescue; Vampire Diaries; It's Supernatural; Constatine; Resurrection; Adult Swim; Lost in Transmission; Satisfaction; Red Band Society; The Red Road and Halt & Catch Fire.