The state House of Representatives’ Working Group on Creative Arts & Entertainment met for the first time ever Wednesday, and heard a tale that began methodically but ended with a bang — this is the best time to be in the entertainment industry in Georgia.
“Through the ’70s and through the ‘80s, we had a vibrant film industry in Georgia,” said Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner for Film, Music and Digital Entertainment. “We were already considered to be a production center. And it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Canada started very aggressive tax incentives to try to take away the U.S. business — and it worked. So, we started losing a lot of our business to Canada. We started losing a lot of our crew that either had to find other jobs, or they had to go into other states to work.
“So, we kind of clunked along, we’d do a few shows a year, and then in 2003 we had scouted a long time for the Ray Charles story — Ray Charles is a Georgia native — we got the show, they were set up here, Taylor Hackford was the director, they were excited to be here, and all of a sudden, Louisiana passed an incentive, and they picked up and left. And so, that was really the impetus, I think, to start, to realize, in order to maintain the industry that we had here, that something had to change.”
During that period, Glynn County pulled its own share of high-profile projects here and there. Thomas said the legislature tried to get Georgia back in the limelight with a 2005 incentive bill, but it was limited in effect. She said the 2008 effort, called the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, turned everything around. The state changed with an industry that went from being location-driven to incentive-driven.
The 2008 law gave a flat 20 percent tax credit on qualified production expenditures and an additional 10 percent uplift to that if the company used a Georgia promotional logo — what many people see at the end of the credits for a movie or TV series filmed in the state.
From the beginning of the state film office in 1973 to 35 years later in 2008, the industry made a $5 billion economic impact. In Fiscal Year 2018 alone, there were 455 combined productions — films, TV movies and series, commercials and music videos — $2.7 billion in direct spending and $9.5 billion in economic impact.
As an example of these efforts, Thomas used the Will Smith film “Gemini Man,” which is set for release in October. That production used more than 330 vendors from 64 state localities, including Brunswick and St. Simons Island.
“It’s all about job creation,” Thomas said. “This has really changed people’s lives.”
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, Georgia was the No. 1 filming location in 2018, worldwide.
Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said the state’s entertainment industry creates other intangible advantages.
“You can’t pay for the marketing exposure that we get from the film industry,” Wilson said. “I was meeting with a company in the Czech Republic — an aerospace company — that was looking at opening a facility in the U.S. And when we got done, we went down to dinner, and our waitress started talking to us, asking, ‘Where you guys from.’”
He told her they were from Georgia, and she makes the connection with the series “The Walking Dead,” saying she hopes to travel to Georgia and tour the show’s locations.
“The way we’ve tackled economic development over the last eight years was really holistically, looking at jobs across — whether it’s global commerce or international trade or tourism or film or the arts — there is something unique in every community in this state, that creates jobs,” Wilson said. “And all of these things work together, and film is a great, big piece of that.”