How 'Ozark' Recreated Its Rustic Inspiration

Tina Rowden/Netflix

Sometimes the setting of a film or television series can feel so integral that it practically becomes a character in its own right — and the name of the omnipresent un-sentient character in Jason Bateman's new Netflix show is right there in the title. But where is Ozark filmed? The geographical region is a visceral part of the drama series; like the fecund Louisiana bayou of True Detective or the sweat-soaked Florida Keys of Bloodline or the grimy Baltimore streets of The Wire. And that fact is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that none of Ozark was actually filmed in the Ozarks.

For those unfamiliar with the region, the Ozarks contain the biggest mountain range between the Rockys and the Appalachians, with the highland area situated mostly within southern Missouri. (Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas also contain portions of the region that decrease in size respectively.) The area is perhaps most famous for the Lake Of The Ozarks, a massive reservoir created by damming the Osage River, whose winding shape earned it the nickname "the Missouri Dragon."

Filmgoers outside of middle America may be most familiar with the Ozarks from the movie Winter's Bone, the indie drama centered within the rural region that earned Jennifer Lawrence her first Oscar nomination and launched her to worldwide fame.

Ozark creator Bill Dubuque — the screenwriter behind the Robert Downey, Jr. crime drama The Judge and the Ben Affleck crime thriller The Accountant — was inspired by a childhood spent working and living in the Ozarks. According to a profile on Dubuque and his show in the Springfield News-Leader, the writer was employed as a deck hand at the Alhonna Resort & Marina on Lake Of The Ozarks while attending school in the '80s. "He was a good employee," Alhonna owner Shirley Gross-Russel told the News-Leader. "I think it's pretty awesome that he would take his teenage experience and turn it into something."

Although Gross-Russel recounted to the News-Leader how the cast and crew visited Alhonna to research the location and the property, production for Ozark never actually took place in the Ozarks, ironically enough. According to the article, after studying Dubuque's former place of work extensively, the crew built a near-replica of Alhonna on Georgia's Lake Allatoona, a manmade reservoir (like Lake Of The Ozarks, appropriately) located about a 45-minute drive northwest of Atlanta.

The reason for choosing Georgia over Missouri likely has to do with the Peach State's attractive tax incentives for film and television productions. Those tax credits make Georgia one of the most popular shooting locations in the country — the state is perhaps most notable for being the home of the recently-constructed Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, where Disney has filmed every Marvel Studios movie since Ant-Man.

While it's clear that Dubuque and his crew are devoted to recreating the region's atmosphere as faithfully as possible, some residents of the actual Ozarks are skeptical about the decision to film a show called Ozark outside of Missouri. "I think it is just going to glamorize the lake, make it look more like California than it is," Tommy Taylor, the owner of a bar on the lake, told the News-Leader. "Realistically, there is not really any drug cartels or money laundering going on."

Jackson Davis/Netflix

Other residents are more optimistic. "I think it could expose all of the great things that the Lake Of The Ozarks has to offer to the millions of people who watch Netflix," said Tim Jacobsen, executive director of the lake's Visitors Bureau.

To the show's credit, there was some on-location filming done — in Chicago, where Bateman's character lives with his family before moving to Missouri. But when it comes to all the scenes that take place in the Ozarks, well, as a character on Bateman's previous television series would say, "It's an illusion, Michael."