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Film industry on a roll in Georgia

Productions spending billions each year

POSTED: July 14, 2017 12:30 a.m.
/For The Times

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson poses with fans while in Gainseville in June to film scenes from the upcoming movie "Rampage."

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Georgia’s film industry is gaining momentum as it hosts hits from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and the state is reaping serious benefits.

Georgia’s film industry spending has grown almost 40 times over in the past 10 years.

Direct spending within the state from production companies working on television and movies sat at $67.7 million in 2007, Gov. Nathan Deal’s office announced on Monday, and the industry’s 2017 spending checked in at $2.7 billion.

“It’s such a labor-intensive industry, so lion’s share is spent on people — crew people, off-duty police and fire, security personnel, extras,” said Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office. “It’s catering, location fees and it’s rental of warehouses and rental cars while they’re here — hotel rooms.”

The average large-scale production usually interacts with “literally hundreds and hundreds” of vendors before they leave Georgia, she said.

Georgia offers a generous tax credit to production companies working in the state: 20 percent of their income and another 10 percent if they put the Georgia logo at the top of their credits.

As a result, 320 productions were based in Georgia in fiscal year 2017, according to the state.

Hall County has hosted at least 29 productions since 2007, according to the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. Last year, “Baby Driver” and “Thank You for Service” had scenes shot in the city of Gainesville. “Baby Driver” came out in June, and “Thank You for Your Service” is scheduled for an October release.

The bureau has provided location and production assistance to shows and movies like “The Vampire Diaries,” “Hard Knocks,” “Need for Speed,” “Blended” and “The Accountant.”

Way back in 1992, the bureau assisted with the production of “My Cousin Vinny” in Gainesville. And it’s had a hand in a few productions that have yet to be released, according to its president, Stacey Dickson.

One recent and notable example is “Rampage,” which features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and had a few scenes filmed at Brenau University. It is scheduled for an April release.

In 2014, Adam Sandler’s “Blended” was almost entirely based in Hall County. Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison, rented offices and spent 56 days shooting in the county, Dickson said.

Statewide, other big-name productions have spent serious cash on local people. The staff of “The Walking Dead” was 97 percent from Georgia, Thomas noted.

“They don’t want to bring in people; they want to hire locally because that’s going to save them money,” Thomas said.

That’s one of the reasons Georgia’s film industry is picking up steam — there are now 91,000 people working in the film industry, Thomas said. Her department estimates the total economic benefit of the film industry sits at $9.5 billion each year.

Coupled with easy access to the world’s busiest airport and Georgia’s geography — there aren’t many states that have huge cities, small country towns, grasslands, forest, coastline and mountains within their borders — the state is likely to remain a prime location for production companies.

But is Hall County?

Filming in the area has picked up since 2007, as with the rest of the state, but Hall County still tracks far behind hot spots like Atlanta and Savannah.

One reason for that is Hall’s distance from Atlanta.

“Communities that are closer to the airport have also had exponential growth,” Dickson said. “... We’re outside of the union mileage loop for productions that are based in Atlanta. We’re just, just a little too far north to be able to have locations where the productions are housed in Atlanta and it’s not considered an out-of-town shoot.”

Out-of-town shoots drive up personnel costs for production companies. As the industry expands in the state, that could change.

“We keep on having new infrastructure built,” Thomas said. “Pinewood is at 18 stages now. Tyler Perry Studios is going to roll out a lot of new soundstages soon. Three Rings in Covington is being built right now. We have a new one that’s going to be built in Clayton County.”

As that growth continues — especially if it turns northward (Covington and Fayetteville both sit south of Atlanta) — Hall County and Gainesville can bet on seeing more production activity in the area.

Meanwhile, Hall County approved a new production permitting system that will give the area government a head’s-up on any commercial filming in the area. Up to now, the county has only learned about filming if a production needed to hire off-duty police or close a street.

That permitting will also give the county more information about the economic benefits of the industry in the county — data it currently lacks, Dickson said.

“In order to keep all of those facilities busy, we’re definitely going to have to have a lot of shows in here, so we’re hoping that once all of those are built that we can keep them full,” Thomas said.



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