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Filmmakers bring their lights, cameras and action to Georgia, boosting the economy
A scene from "Wanderlust" starring Jennifer Anniston and Paul Rudd filmed in Clarkesville.

Maybe you've noticed it when stuck in traffic on Ga. Highway 211. Or when strolling through downtown Athens. And you may well notice it next week when driving down a certain stretch of Ga. 53.

Much of Northeast Georgia is film crazy lately, and one doesn't have to look far to notice it.

The excitement is understandable. Hollywood stars tend to have that effect.

Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake have all been in the area lately filming a movie called "Trouble With the Curve." The production has already used The Globe in Athens and some rural locations nearby, and will film at locations in Dawson County next week.

The presence of Hollywood legends and young stars draws a lot of attention, but this production is merely part of a growing wave of movie making and film culture in the region.

A home for runaways

Georgia has been one of the country's leading locations for Hollywood film production for a couple of years now, thanks to the tax breaks and incentives the state offers.

Passed in 2008, the Georgia Entertainment Industry Act initiated an aggressive program of tax credits and breaks.

If a production company spends a minimum of $500,000 on production and post-production within Georgia, the company gets a 20 percent tax credit across the board. The company gets an additional 10 percent tax credit if the Georgia promotional logo appears in the credits of the finished product.

Those benefits are available to qualified feature film, television series, music video or video game projects.

Georgia is benefiting from what the movie industry has long called "runaway productions." The term was coined during the post-World War II era when studios began filming abroad to avoid high labor costs and to spend "frozen funds."

Some foreign countries wouldn't allow U.S. companies to export currency, which made direct investment difficult. So the studios would use foreign currency to fund productions in the foreign country, then "export" the film back to America.

Now, movie and television productions are running away to Louisiana, Illinois, Florida, Georgia or one of the other 46 U.S. states or territories that have instituted incentive programs.

This isn't good news for California's economy, but state incentive programs have helped keep U.S. production dollars within the country.

According to the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the incentive program has been a boon for Georgia.

From July 2010 through June 2011, more than 336 productions invested more than $683.5 million in Georgia. These projects alone generated an economic impact of $2.4 billion.

Those figures, moreover, only include investment from television networks, studios based in Hollywood or elsewhere and independent producers, and not the revenue generated by the music or video game incentives.

Beyond the tax credits, productions are drawn to Georgia by the state's diverse landscape, moderate climate and broad range of cities. The state's Camera Ready program is also key to the growth of the industry.

The Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office launched the Camera Ready program in 2010 to "train and certify Georgia counties to work effectively with production companies and provide local, one-on-one assistance in every aspect of production, from location scouting and film permits to traffic control, catering and lodging."

For a county to be deemed Camera Ready, an individual or particular office has to be deemed the official liaison and must provide those services. So far, 136 counties have been awarded the label.

Hall County was among the first 17 counties to earn the designation when the program launched, said Stacey Dickson, who works with the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau and serves as Hall County's Camera Ready liaison.

Area residents may remember when the movie "Hall Pass" filmed in Gainesville, Cumming and surrounding locations in 2010. Other Hollywood productions, including "The Three Stooges," "Wanderlust," and "American Reunion" have also filmed in Northeast Georgia in recent months.

However, Dickson said the Camera Ready program and tax incentives have brought several lower profile productions to Hall County over the past two years as well.

Support your local filmmaker

All of this activity has helped feed Georgia filmmaking and independent productions, too. One reason is that in-state productions get the same tax breaks as runaway productions, and many moderately budgeted, homegrown movies have benefited from the programs.

The runaway productions also hire extra crew and cast members each time one films in Georgia, which has created jobs for many people in the local industry. Able to support themselves, those aspiring filmmakers get to helm their own independent productions and hone their craft.

Charles Judson has worked with the Atlanta Film Festival, which runs from March 23 to April 1, for over four years. Judson has watched the talent base in the Georgia film industry expand greatly, especially recently.

"This year, almost 40 films in the festival have some sort of Georgia tie," said Judson. "Those filmmakers might have moved on in the past, but now there are enough opportunities for them to stay."

Other ripple effects can be seen in Hall County, too. The jobs created by the film industry are skilled positions, which creates a need for more educational programs. Gainesville State College has seen the demand for film and video production classes climb.

The college opened a new academic building last August which houses state of the art media production facilities. The Department of Communication, Media Studies and Journalism now offers students a soundstage and broadcast control room, a postproduction lab and audio recording room. The department is currently working to expand its program offerings to include a Bachelor of Arts with a film and video production track.

"It's exciting to see the opportunities that the growth of the film industry creates for people in school now," said Sandy Turner from the Athens-Clarke County Public Information Office, which serves as that county's Camera Ready liaison. "We need to be training the next generation of this work force."

It isn't often that a legend like Eastwood comes to the area, because there simply aren't many legends like him. But it's becoming increasingly common for movie stars to take up temporary residence in northeast Georgia.

And you never know. Maybe the next Clint Eastwood is living in our midst right now.


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