Georgia is now rated No. 1 in something that doesn’t have anything to do with either football or some poverty-related misery ranking. In fact, it’s very much the opposite of the latter.
The state is now the top filming site in the world. That’s right — the world.
You’d have to consider the source of that information credible: It’s Film LA, the movie production office of the greater Los Angeles region. (You know, the one with the big HOLLYWOOD sign on the mountain overlooking the city.)
In a Film LA survey of the 100 highest-performing feature films released theatrically in 2016, more were filmed in Georgia — 17 — than anywhere else, including California, with 12. In fact, more top-performing movies were produced here than in two other countries — the United Kingdom, with 16, and Canada, with 12.
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According to a release from the office of Gov. Nathan Deal, direct spending on 320 productions in Georgia netted the state some $2.7 billion in the fiscal year just ended. The overall economic impact is estimated at a stunning $9.5 billion.
“Georgia is the new leader in TV and film production on the East Coast," EUE/Screen Gems Studios Executive Vice President Kris Bagwell told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "There are jobs in the production business in almost every occupation, from cook to security guard to driver to construction.”
A film tax incentive program approved in 2008 is cited by the Chronicle as one of the engines of the film industry’s phenomenal growth in the state: Film productions can accrue transferable tax credits worth up to 30 percent of what they spend in Georgia. If those companies are not Georgia-based, they can sell those credits to other individuals or entities with Georgia tax liabilities.
A Georgia State University study cited by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimates that the tax cost to the state of this program between 2009-2014 was about $925 million; GSU estimates this year’s cost at about $376 million. Those are, to be sure, huge numbers; relative to an economic infusion closing in on $10 billion, they’re piggy bank change.
And much of that boost doesn’t even involve tax credits: Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, told the AJC satellite industries that support the film industry but do not benefit from tax incentives have relocated to Georgia.
"Not only do we have incredible amounts of infrastructure,” Ryan Millsap of Blackhall Studios told the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “but we're starting to have discussion about home-grown production companies, which I think is a missing piece of the ecosystem."
In the past, economic development incentives in the South were too often marked by a kind of desperate excess, with the effect, to use the all-too-familiar phrase, of “giving away the store.”
Georgia’s emergence as a film production capital is quite the opposite. Not only is the state not giving away the store — it’s buying up the company.