An effort to build momentum for turning Columbus into a vibrant hub for filmmaking in Georgia — with high hopes of grabbing a piece of the state’s $9.5 billion movie industry pie — took yet another significant step forward over the weekend.
A small delegation from Columbus, with a $5 million incentive fund in place for luring prospects, headed to Park City, Utah, home of the famed Sundance Film Festival that runs through Feb. 3. With more than 40,000 people typically attending the nearly two-week event, Sundance, founded by actor Robert Redford in 1978, is the largest independent film festival in the United States.
Those expected to pitch the city and its growing filmmaking amenities during a two-hour “Choose Georgia” reception on Sunday were Chris Markwood, Columbus State University’s president; Richard Baxter, CSU’s associate vice president of Engagement & Economic Development for University Advancement; Pace Halter, president and chief executive officer of W.C. Bradley’s real estate division; and Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau and the Columbus Film Commission.
The group could not be reached Monday, but Bowden has commented previously about the process of creating a viable film prospecting effort in the Columbus area with multiple amenities in place for attracting directors and producers for movies, television shows and commercials.
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“That’s really what we’ve been looking to do, is for Columbus to be in the game,” Bowden told the Ledger-Enquirer. “We’re in there now and there’s a lot of prospecting going on. But the goal is to have production after production happening, where we’re coordinating calendars with the sound stage, with the (Georgia) Film Academy, with the Georgia film office.”
Thus far, CSU has ramped up its education program geared toward developing trained and experienced film crew for those directors and producers needing a location to shoot their project. W.C. Bradley last year opened a state-of-the-art movie studio facility complete with a sound stage, with CSU students also studying on site and expected to work on future productions to gain experience.
The final piece of the puzzle was a $5 million film fund that is now in place, money that will be used to attract commercial projects that are expected to pay off with crews spending money in the area during production. That includes hotel stays, catering and restaurant dining, transportation needs, and rentals of equipment and structures if needed.
“The Columbus Film Fund, made up of $5 million in contributions from the Columbus philanthropic community, is a local incentive designed to provide what is termed ‘gap’ funding for 10 film and/or television productions filming in Columbus over the next three years,” the film commission said in a news release. “Funds are available in the form of a grant to cover expenses such as travel per diem, food, lodging, etc.”
CSU’s Butler Center for Business and Economic Research estimates the current effort should create more than 500 jobs locally. It calculated that if three films with an average budget of $3.5 million apiece were shot in the Columbus area over a year’s span, that would generate just under $11 million in sales of goods and services, $250,000 in sales taxes for the city, and job-related income of $6.4 million.
The Columbus Film Commission also said it is using Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney Carolyn Hunt to represent it in any negotiations and filter through those film projects applying for the incentive funds, helping to determine which ones qualify. The commission also expects to hire a marketing agency to promote Columbus and its infrastructure and possibilities to film producers. The stated goal is to land 10 projects over three years.
At stake in the Sundance Film Festival appearance and efforts leading up to it is a sweet slice of Georgia’s movie-making and television production pie, which has included “The Hunger Games,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Deliverance,” “We Were Soldiers,” and Marvel productions, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Popular TV series shot in the state include “The Walking Dead” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
“It’s a $9.5 billion industry,” Baxter said in an earlier interview. “Atlanta gets 90 percent of that. Now that’s direct and indirect spending. Savannah gets 10 percent of that. What if we got 3 percent? What if we got 5 percent? What if we got 10 percent?”