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Georgia Film Industry Reaches New Height—“Hollywood of the South” Fuels Creative Economy, Culture

Photo Credit: Jaunted

Georgia’s film, television, music and entertainment industry has grown by more than 1,000 percent over the past five years, helping build the metropolitan Atlanta area into a vibrant center for creative professionals from around the world.

The Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office reported for the entertainment industry spent a record $879.8 million in the Peach State during fiscal 2012 (which ended on June 30). The entertainment sector had a $3.1 billion economic impact in Georgia, a 29 percent increase over the previous year.

“Our competitive incentives, talented crew, diverse locations and accessibility give us an edge when productions are picking a location,” said Lee Thomas, director of the state film office. “All of these assets build upon an infrastructure that is increasingly positioning Georgia among the go-to locations for entertainment purposes.”

During fiscal 2012, Georgia hosted 333 feature films, TV series and movies, and music videos. Stars such as Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Justin Timberlake, Reese Witherspoon, Woody Harrelson and Robert DeNiro have worked in the state over the past year. They joined Robert Redford, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Anniston and others who have worked in the “Hollywood of the South” since 2010. Recent global hits filmed in Georgia include “The Blind Side,” “Zombieland”, “X-Men: First Class”, “The Last Song” with Miley Cyrus and “Fast Five,” the state’s first $100 million-grossing production. Other movies now shooting or scheduled for work in fiscal 2013 include the second “Hunger Games” movie and other projects starring Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Georgia is also home to several ongoing television series, including “The Walking Dead,” which launched its third season in October with 10.9 million viewers, a record for a basic cable show. Other series include “The Vampire Diaries”, “Drop Dead Diva”, and “Family Feud.” Atlanta’s Tyler Perry has a studio in the city where he produces all his movies and TV shows, including the “Madea” films.

The growth in film and video entertainment productions in the Atlanta area has also propelled the growth of studios and other infrastructure to support those productions. EUE/Screen Gems is building 40,000 square feet of new sound stages at the former Lakewood Fairgrounds near downtown Atlanta to support future projects. Riverwood Studios in Senoia, about 30 minutes from downtown, has grown over the past five years as it hosts a growing number of film and television projects. Turner Networks – which includes CNN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and other cable channels – has been based in Atlanta since the 1970s and operates a number of studios around the city.

As Georgia’s industry has grown, the entertainment professionals who formerly lived here but worked elsewhere – cameramen, stunt women, grips, foley sound artists, set designers, editors, musicians, and other creative technicians – have been able to stay closer to home to pursue their careers. More production support companies have been launched, providing more employment opportunities for local talent. In turn, more and more entertainment companies are establishing more permanent offices here to be part of the action.

Tax Credit Drives Growth

Georgia has always hosted some productions, including the “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, the TV series “In the Heat of the Night”, “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” However, those were mostly projects that required a strong Georgia setting, such as the gardens of Savannah. In early 2007, the state was only hosting one production, an MTV reality series that had a $244 million economic impact.

So what changed to launch the booming industry that exists today? The main factor is a highly competitive 30 percent tax credit introduced by state government in mid-2008. Production has grown by more than 1,100 percent since that time, with hundreds of millions spent annually on entertainment projects across the state. More than 60 new entertainment-related businesses have moved to Georgia or expanded here since 2007, officials say.

While state officials say they are grateful for the many projects that have located here, their long-term goal is to continue building a permanent entertainment infrastructure that will support the industry for many years to come. New studios, soundstages and other facilities encourage filmmakers to “drop in for a few months” to shoot a picture. But Georgia is also seeing a growing permanent residence by television producers, music video directors, animators, commercial photographers and others who are drawn to the vibrant, creative entertainment community that is developing in the Atlanta area.

The growing entertainment industry provides a “cool” factor – such as visiting the nightclub where dancing scenes were filmed for “Footloose” in Kennesaw, sitting on the park bench in Savannah where Forrest Gump observed, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” or running into a movie start at a popular Midtown restaurant. But the film, television, animation, computer games and music sectors also provide exciting career opportunities to seasoned professionals as well as young people just breaking into the business.  Industry leaders and local officials say the outlook is bright for the “Hollywood of the South.”

Questions or comments? Please email Michael Fenton at mfenton@atlantapacificgroup.com