In 2008, the state of Georgia upped tax credits for movie and TV production companies to 30 percent. That is a huge give away, but supporters argued this was the only way the state could compete for these types of jobs with Canada and other states such as Louisiana and New York.
The good news: it worked. In came big budget films, both good (”The Blind Side,” “Zombieland”) and not so good (”The Killers,” “Hall Pass”). Several TV series have planted roots here, several which could be around awhile, including the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva,” and AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
BET has practically turned Atlanta into its second headquarters with series (”The Game,” “Let’s Stay Together”), a talk show (”The Mo’Nique Show”) and awards shows (”BET Hip Hop Awards,” “The Soul Train Awards”). On top of that, a massive 30-acre studio has just been built at the old Lakewood Fairgrounds to accommodate new production, including BET’s “Sunday Best” gospel reality program.
So far, thousands of jobs have been generated for caterers, costume designers, make-up artists and technical crews as well as actors. And celebrity watchers have had a chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Betty White, Jennifer Garner and Robert Duvall. Georgia is now one of the top 5 states in the nation for film and TV production.
But the state legislature is grappling with major budget shortfalls. The Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness in January recommended the state eliminate the entertainment industry tax credits as part of a general reworking of the tax code.
Ric Reitz, a local actor who helped design the tax breaks in 2008, said this threat cost the state at least 10 projects, though no existing TV series chose to leave.
Fortunately, this week, the state legislature took the tax breaks off the table. And with Michigan, one of Georgia’s biggest competitors, also threatening to cap its incentives under the governor’s current budget proposal, Georgia may see even more production.
Film and TV production in Georgia tripled to $770 million in 2009, then grew to $897 million last year, according to the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Even with some early losses, 2011 could be another record year.
Lee Thomas, a director of the office’s film division, said she’s gotten a flurry of calls from production companies that had originally planned to go to Michigan but are now seeking climes with incentives.
“A lot of people are relocating here,” she said. “And some have changed professions. People who were in construction are now building sets because of the downturn.”
Currently, she said, 16 films or TV shows are being produced right this second in the state of Georgia, one of the busiest times ever. The tax credits, she said, “pays for itself in state and local taxes” generated by all this business. “We feel good about it,” she added. “It’s proven its worth. We’re excited the legislators feel the same way.”
This uncertainty the past few weeks didn’t stop ABC and CBS from filming pilots of potential TV series here. CBS’s “Hail Mary,” a crime drama pilot starring Minnie Driver, is being shot now in metro Atlanta. ABC’s “Partners,” another crime dramas featuring two detectives who are secretly half sisters, is set to wrap on April 1. Both shows await clearance from their respective networks for them to return. An NBC movie called “Magic Eye” is also being shot here and could potentially be turned into a series.
Thomas did say that USA Network’s “Unnecessary Roughness” starring “Rescue Me” star Callie Thorne has been given a green light and will shoot in Atlanta. (The pilot was produced here recently.) I just got confirmation from USA Network that the show will begin production this summer. A launch date will be announced next week.
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog