Film Credits A Blockbuster for GA

June 2, 2015

When I was a kid, I thought Georgia became famous because Burt Reynolds filmed Smokey and The Bandit here. When I was in High School I recall a few scenes of Fried Green Tomatoes being filmed in our local Winn Dixie parking lot. Savannah got a huge tourism boost in my twenties when Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil was released.

These were but a few of the movies that have been filmed in Georgia during my lifetime. Each of those seemed somewhat rare as if Hollywood had stumbled into our world for a brief, almost accidental visit. This has transformed into something much more intentional, with Georgia’s tax policy aimed at attracting not only these kind of productions, but a permanent base of jobs that supply the movie and television industry.

Georgia now offers a state tax credit of up to 30% of the costs of production for movies, television, video games, and animated features. The goal of the law implemented a decade ago was to anchor the very transient industry of those filming on location. The success has surprised even some of its most committed supporters.

There are at least seven major motion pictures being filmed in the Atlanta area this month according to 11Alive News, including installments in the Captain America and Hunger Games series. There are also five television series actively filming according to the station, with four additional locally filmed pilots approved for fall production.

The goal of the aggressive tax credits has been to attract enough of these productions that the companies that film them and the workers that staff them will make a home in Georgia. This too is showing overwhelming success.

Pinewood Studios – the British company behind James Bond, Harry Potter, and Superman – has opened the first portion of their sprawling new campus on 288 acres in Fayette County, just South of Atlanta’s airport. Local mogul Tyler Perry will be expanding from his Southwest Atlanta studio onto much of the property that was vacated by the closing of Ft. McPherson just south of downtown Atlanta.

Studios are under construction on the site of the former GM plant in Doraville. A sprawling fiber optic cable plant off I-85 in Gwinnett County is making way for seven sound stages. The former Shannon Mall just south of the Airport has also been razed for a planned studio location. Many other projects are under construction or have been proposed.

The bad and good news is that Georgia does not have enough skilled workers to meet the growing demand. As such, Georgia’s colleges and technical schools are adapting their curriculum to produce students with employable skills in the industry.

The University of North Georgia has received approval from the Board of Regents to begin offering a four-year degree in Film and Digital Media. Last year, Governor Deal expanded the Hope Grant program to offer Film Set Design as a category for Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grants, where students may receive tuition paid based on their course of study.

Supporters cite the rapid expansion of the industry’s infrastructure in Georgia as a sign of the success of the film tax credit. The economic impact of the industry in Georgia in 2014 is estimated at $5.1 Billion dollars, up from $3.3 Billion just a year earlier.

With the increasing success comes an increased “cost” of the tax credit. Critics looking for quick ways to cut spending in Georgia’s budget routinely single out the growing line item for Georgia’s film tax credit as a source of funds. This is both ill advised and short sighted.

The tax credit is responsible for an emerging industry that has made Georgia the third largest center of film production in the country, behind only California and New York. We’re fifth in the entire world. The state’s estimated $53 Million tax credit for 2013 added over $5 Billion to Georgia’s economic activity with a growth rate of 55%. That’s quite a return on investment.

As the industry is incredibly transient, it can go away as fast as it has appeared. Other southern states have cut their tax credit programs back as Georgia has expanded ours. Their losses have been our gain.

The Georgia Film Tax Credit is one of our finest examples of setting broad tax policy and letting the market then work. Ten years after initial implementation, the physical investment in studios and the shortage of available workers demonstrate that the state has cultivated an industry with long-term prospects and expanding employment opportunities.

We need to keep the sequels running. The credits are starting to look really nice for film production in the peach state.

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