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Gainesville man recalls his time spent with stars, bringing the movie industry into Georgia
Ed Spivia with actor Chuck Norris


Listen as Ed Spivia recalls conversations with Ned Beatty and Jackie Gleason

Georgia movie facts

Economic impact of entertainment industry projects handled by the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office in 2009 was approximately $770 million.

There were 348 productions shot in the state in 2009.

There are approximately 25,000 entertainment industry jobs in Georgia.

More than 700 feature films, TV movies, TV series, single episodes and pilots have been produced in Georgia since 1972, generating $7 billion dollars in economic impact.

The state's second and most progressive tax incentive, the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, was signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue in May 2005 and updated in May 2008.

Georgia-lensed movies "Zombieland" and "The Blind Side" both opened at No. 1 at the box office.

Three of Tyler Perry's made-in-Georgia films have opened at No. 1 at the box office.



Ed Spivia knew more than 30 years ago that from the Georgia coast to the foothills of the Appalachians, the Peach State could offer nearly any location that a TV or movie producer could ask for.

So Spivia set out to market Georgia as the perfect movie set.

"I was actually working for the Department of Industry and Trade, which is now the Economic Development Department, putting out a magazine about things happening in the state called ‘Georgia Progress,'" Spivia said. "They were doing ‘Deliverance' (in Rabun County) and I went up to do a story on it and saw them spending money on hotels and drivers and food and came back and told (Gov. Jimmy) Carter that we ought to try and get more movies in. He said ‘devise a program and we'll do it.'

"I saw a couple of things: money, the creation of jobs and the opportunity for people in Georgia to get involved in the arts in a way they wouldn't be able to otherwise."

Spivia promptly went to Hollywood and started talking to directors and producers about bringing their productions to Georgia.

"I had pretty good success and that's how I got to be the first film commissioner," he said.

Over the years, Spivia had the chance to meet many famous actors and musicians such as John Wayne, Paul Newman, Walter Matthau, Ray Charles, Chuck Norris and Rachel Ward, just to name a few, he also worked with five governors and five mayors.

As he sat looking over Lake Lanier from a massive wall of windows, Spivia said the combination of geographic location, natural beauty, terrain and topography always has made Georgia a no-brainer for film production.

"The airport puts people right where they need to be, and the crew base has grown here where you can get good qualified people to work on your movie in Georgia," he said.

To date, more than more than 700 film and television projects have shot in Georgia, many due to Spivia's hard work, including "We Are Marshall," "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Forrest Gump," "In the Heat of the Night" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

After about 10 years of serving as the state's first film commissioner, Spivia decided to begin his own film company.

"We had a stroke of good luck or bad luck, however you look at it - we got the opportunity to take the lease on the old Lakewood Fairgrounds with the idea of turning that into a movie studio and Universal-tour type facility," said Spivia, who added that about 30 pictures were shot at the location.

Tax incentives dwindled in the 1980s for Spivia and his partners made a decision to turn Lakewood Fairgrounds south of Atlanta into an antique mall.

"That became wildly successful and we did that until the city wanted to buy back the property from us in 2006," he said. "We made a deal with the city (of Atlanta) and that has resulted in Screen Gems putting a movie studio in Lakewood."

Screen Gems, a New York-based production company, began renovation of the Atlanta studio this year. Director Tyler Perry now is filming at the location.

Today, Spivia is the owner of the Lakewood 400 Antiques market. He and his wife, Barbara, has lived in Gainesville for 15 years.

Seeing the movie industry in Georgia slowing recently, Gov. Sonny Perdue asked Spivia to come back and chair the Film Commission in 2006.

"Movies had kind of declined in Georgia, but now with this new tax incentive program that we've put together we're hotter than a pistol," Spivia said.

In 2009, "The Blind Side," "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," "The Last Song," "Zombieland," and "Halloween 2," among others, were filmed in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development's website.

These silver screen hits likely were filmed in Georgia because of the massive tax incentives offered to production companies.

"We'll give you 20 percent for shooting in Georgia if your budget is over half a million dollars," Spivia said. "We'll give you a 20 percent tax credit on any tax liability that the company owes, and if they don't owe a tax liability, they can take that and sell it to a company or individual that does need the tax break.

"Then if you'll put Georgia in your credits, and we have a little logo program, we'll give you another 10 percent."

The total tax break can be up to 30 percent for productions in Georgia.

From all the productions, what Spivia calls "movie tourism" becomes a lasting moneymaker for communities around the state.

Even though the characters in "Deliverance" may make you think twice about rafting and camping, it has brought many visitors to the state.

"That movie has helped make the Chattooga River one of the most popular rafting sites in the whole country," Spivia said. "Recently ‘The Last Song' with Miley Cyrus is popular. They photographed all the beaches and all the fun stuff going on and made Georgia look really great."

Spivia, who grew up in Murphy, N.C., and originally came to Atlanta to be a disc jockey, said that he is proud of the entertainment industry in Georgia.

"It's not something that you could have planned, we just ran with it," he said. "It's brought millions and millions of dollars to the state and employed an untold number of people."



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