Just outside of Atlanta, there’s a new town springing to life. It’s a place many Atlantans, even those working in the area’s booming film and television industry, might not have heard of. I’m talking about Trilith, a 235 acre ‘live/work/play’ New Urbanist township being developed by Trilith studios on studio property.
One of the first things I learned about Trilith was that Chick-Fil-A CEO and Atlanta luminary Dan Cathy was instrumental in envisioning the community. The liberal arts major in me couldn’t help but remember “I Bought a Little City”, the short story by the postmodernist author Donald Barthelme. It tells the story of a well-to-do philanthropist who attempts to create a perfect city, only to find that he might have gotten more than he bargained for. It starts, “So I bought a little city (it was Galveston, Texas) and told everybody that nobody had to move, we were going to do it just gradually, very relaxed, no big changes overnight. They were pleased and suspicious.” I hadn’t heard much about Cathy since I made the personal choice to quit eating chicken, but a bit of research revealed that he recently made impressive and considerably heartfelt statements regarding Black Lives Matter. All that being said, I felt like I needed to see Trilith for myself.
The Road to Trilith
Visiting Trilith is a bit surreal. Getting there from the east takes you past Truett’s Luau, a Hawaiian-themed Chick-fil-a restaurant replete with flower gardens, a lavish patio, and a waterfall. It may be the most lovingly crafted Chick-fil-a in existence–roll your windows down as you drive by and you might hear cheerful ukulele music trilling out of the loudspeakers. Alternatively, approaching Trilith from the north gives you a chance to feast your eyes on The Gaddy Christmas Light Extravaganza, a 5-acre drive-thru holiday display featuring classic characters from Peanuts, Disney films, and The Nutcracker. The experience is donation-only, raising money for March of Dimes and Toys for Tots, provided you come through at the right time of year.
Entering Trilith feels a bit like walking into a living, breathing film set. It’s exciting, and just a little bit eerie; the architecture and layout of the town were inspired by Seaside, a tourist town on Florida’s coast. It’s the town where the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show was shot, and it has the vibe of everything being a little too perfect to be believable. I made the drive to Trilith myself, about forty minutes from downtown Atlanta, along with my seven-year-old son. I was taken aback by how bright and happy the place seemed, even on an overcast October day.
A Marvelous Community
As we meandered toward the Barleygarden, the first of several restaurants planned to line Trilith’s avenues, we spotted a real estate agent who greeted us with a smile and provided us with a map of the community. He pointed out the lake where Kanye West recently walked on water as a part of his Sunday Service series and reminisced about how he used to fish on that lake back when the area was nothing but forests and farmland. I felt like I had to see the famous Kanye lake for myself, so my son and I started the hike, passing signs promising the advent of Honeysuckle Gelato and Premiere Hair Studio in the coming months. After saying hello at the leasing center and peeking through the wooden lattice at the community swimming pool, I got a phone call from a Trilith representative, inviting me to a birthday party at a nearby park.
This wasn’t just any birthday party. It was the birthday party of Shauna Galligan, Brie Larson’s stunt double from Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. As my son and I cut between European-inspired townhomes, balloons and a large inflatable movie screen came into view. Kids my son’s age were playing a pick-up soccer game and riding around on a toy motorcycle. Moments later, my son was playing along with them as I sat down for an impromptu interview with Shauna. In an industry still reeling from the effects of COVID-19, it was reassuring to hear from Shauna that she, along with most of her coworkers, had work lined up for 2021. Shauna joked about bringing a food fight to life in New Girl, and beamed about stunt coordinating the upcoming film Chick Fight, a ‘female Fight Club’ comedy starring Malin Akerman and Bella Thorne. As we spoke, Shauna’s friend Dom Kegel, a stunt performer came by to let Shauna know that they were planning to tarp up the electronics in case of rain. As he walked away, Dom turned to me and said, “We’re not closing down, so don’t go anywhere, Trent… Damn it.”
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The Creative Space
Continuing my conversation with Shauna, she talked about rubbing elbows with the crews of the Marvel streaming shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and War Machine (Spider-Man 3 is in full swing in Atlanta as well, as confirmed by Tom Holland’s Instagram). I couldn’t help but check Shauna’s IMDb to see that she’s also a credited stunt performer on the upcoming WandaVision, not to mention projects ranging from Jumanji: The Next Level to Where’d You Go Bernadette. When I asked Shauna about other upcoming projects, she mentioned plans to develop her own talk show on the town stage, a soundstage designed for use by Trilith residents. “They said I could have it and I said, ‘I need it for twenty years,’” she explained, only slightly joking.
When I asked Shauna if anything could persuade her to move away from Trilith, she deadpanned, “A really sexy man that’ll bring me to Europe,” continuing, “No, I will always have a house here until the day I die. This is my community.” Gesturing to the party, where my son and hers were now riding together on the toy motorcycle, she said, “To be able to do this, we do this on a weekly basis so if someone’s going through a hard time we’re always there for each other. Some of us are in the film industry, some of us aren’t, but we’re all in the creative space, so it’s truly a platform for people to just live in a safe place, and live to their full potential in every area of life. It’s amazing. You can’t wrap your head around this experience unless you truly experience it.”
The missing factor in Los Angeles is community, as Hollywood grew, the city sprawled to be a flat giant thus reducing community. That missing factor of “community” in LA is the vibrantly and readily present in Trilith. Trilith is community and the residents benefit from it.
Diversity in Trilith
Trilith is a diverse community, both in terms of residents and architecture. Homes are built with filmmaking in mind–there’s a good chance that Trilith homes will be featured in some of the upcoming Marvel streaming series and beyond. Future building phases will include homes built in Nordic and Asian architectural styles. Apparently, the homes can’t be built fast enough.
Shauna explained, “L.A. people are flooding moving here. I get texts daily from new stunt people saying, ‘Just moved to town, where’s a good place to buy?’” While the members of the party were mostly in the industry, many Trilith residents are simply attracted to Trilith’s community vibe. Shauna pointed out the range of professions represented. “Just right now in this park, you have a screenwriter, you have an actress, you have stunt people, you’ve got a schoolteacher, you’ve got transportation, IT, medical, you have everything. Everybody’s just happy here. You can’t live here and not be happy. It makes you happy to live here. It makes me happy.”
Noting that this is a community with seven years’ worth of development ahead of it, I sort of wondered if they might need to add a drive-in movie theater, just in case social distancing becomes the permanent new normal. That’s not something currently in the works, although there is a state-of-the-art movie theater on the horizon. There is definitely a forward-thinking sensibility to Trilith. As we spoke, Shauna explained how the surrounding homes were utilizing geothermal energy. Teslas and other electric vehicles are a common sight, and Shauna singled out one home using Tesla solar panels. “Off the grid, yet on the grid,” joked Shauna, alluding to the tight-knit coziness of the neighborhood layout.
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Gelato – Delivered to your Door
Most of the houses in Trilith are quite close together, creating a sense of togetherness too often amiss in modern urban developments. The micro-homes, canopy-style treehouse homes, and cottages are grouped intuitively, allowing easy pedestrian access to shops, restaurants, green spaces, and a state-of-the-art fitness center once graced by Chris Hemsworth, according to local legend. There’s also an area on the map known as ‘the Enclave’, Trilith’s only gated location, which is designed with A-listers in mind. I asked off-the-record if anyone knew of any big names that might be planning on homesteading in Trilith, but I was rebuffed; there’s a feeling of intimacy blended with anonymity that is likely to make Trilith very attractive to stars looking for an escape from New York or L.A. I asked Shauna if there were any other perks to living in Trilith. “Gelato delivered to your door.”
After I finished my conversation with Shauna, I chatted with some other residents about the frequent Trilith get-togethers. They happily recollected potluck dinners, group escapes to Buckhead, and a film screening of On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic. Someone pulled out a phone and showed me a video of a young guy doing parkour off of one of the roofs–apparently, this had happened just before I arrived. For more information, I caught up with Dom Kegel, a former high school teacher who now stunt doubles for Stephen Amell on the Starz series Heels. Dom told me about how he’d met the roof jumper DW.
A Parkour Story
“DW was a student of mine a number of years ago when he was 16 or 17. He was a kid who essentially was on his own. He was kicked out of the house early on… I think he’s only met his dad a few times and doesn’t have a great relationship with much of his family. One day in class he showed me videos of himself flipping off of ridiculous things downtown like buildings and statues. He actually got kicked out of the school I was teaching at because he flipped off the roof onto the green area. I invited him to come with me to the gymnastics center when I was training for stunt work, and from then on we just hung out whenever we could.
One day I was producing a music video and hired him to do some free running in it. It was an early morning shoot on the beach, and when I got to set at 5:30 AM he was already there. He slept at the beach so he wouldn’t miss it. I could barely get him to class on time… So at that moment, I realized this could be a really good thing for him.
When I was slated to double the lead in the show I’m working on now, I saw a breakdown for a scene that needed someone with his skill set. I told the coordinator that I know exactly the right person for this, and I reached out to DW. He sent me links to some of his most viewed TikTok videos. After 10 seconds he was hired. It’s probably pretty weird to see a Stuntman weeping while watching another performer work, but I’m not ashamed to say that that was the best day in my stunt career. Watching him dive and flip off the house on this show was special to me.”
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South By Southeast
Dom’s story really got me thinking about how isolated people have become, and how important a neighborhood could be to a person’s happiness. The residents of Trilith didn’t expect to have a reporter showing up to their birthday party, but they received me with open arms. Trilith may not be everyone’s idea of a perfect living situation, but there’s no sense of exclusivity there. As soon as we got home, my son asked me if we could go back next weekend.
Not long after leaving, I heard from Rob Parker, Trilith’s president. He told me about how inspired Dan Cathy had been after a trip to South By Southwest, the music/art/film festival held annually in Austin, Texas. It seems to me that Cathy wanted to bring that sense of joie de vivre home with him, and that desire went into Trilith. As Trilith grows, Rob told me, they plan to include more and more affordable housing for entry-level artists. He explained that the term ‘Trilith’ refers to a structure consisting of two vertical stones with a third stone laid horizontally across the top, like the structures at Stonehenge. As per the Trilith press release, the stones represent the three pillars of the vision behind Trilith, “storytelling, purpose-built places, and emerging technology.”
A Portal to the Future
Architecturally, a trilith is a portal, and while there might be Atlanta luminaries drawing up the plans for this community, it will be up to the people who live there where that portal ultimately leads. Conceptualizing Trilith, I began thinking less of Donald Barthelme and more about the psychologist Rollo May, who wrote, “We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness. To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize. We are living at a time when one age is dying and the new age is not yet born. To live with sensitivity in this age of limbo indeed requires courage.” At Trilith, I do believe people are living in the future with courage.
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