In the world of movies and TV, Georgia may become another state, another country, even another planet, explained producer Lisa Ferrell, representing the Georgia Production Partnership, a trade organization for the Georgia entertainment industry.
Athens has everything going for it to cash in on the booming Georgia entertainment industry … except one thing: We’re too far away from Atlanta.
The movie and TV business is burgeoning in Atlanta, and to a lesser extent in Savannah, thanks in part to a generous 30 percent Georgia tax credit and, more recently, a North Carolina bathroom room law perceived as anti-gay, which persuaded some entertainment and other businesses to pull out of the Tarheel State.
Atlanta’s busy Hartsfield airport is also a big help.
“The tax incentive is what changed everything for the state,” Craig Dominey, manager of Georgia’s “Camera Ready” program, recently told a small group of people in a forum sponsored by Letterbox Legal of Athens and presented by the University of Georgia’s student Sports and Entertainment Law Society.
In 2001, when Dominey started with the state, getting five productions to film in Georgia felt like an accomplishment, he said.
The state had 300 last year, he said before reading off a list of recent or continuing film and TV productions — NBC’s “Good Girls;” “The Walking Dead,” now in an eighth season; a documentary on “The Bitter Southerner” for PBS; and movies such as “Ant-Man” and “Godzilla, King of Monsters,” which includes a scene shot in Tunnel Hill.
Most of that is concentrated in the Atlanta area, where there are production facilities, and just as important, where people in the business live.
People like to go home after a long day’s work, and driving distance is a factor, he explained.
When a location is too far away a commute, that means producers have to provide temporary housing and arrange for meals, which impacts the bottom line.
On the other hand, movie and TV producers are driven by visuals, and Athens has a lot more to offer there than just a college campus, said Dominey and Jeff Montgomery, the liaison to the film industry for Athens-Clarke County.
Montgomery played a video narrated by producer and director James Ponsoldt, an Athens native whose latest movie stars Tom Hanks and who chose Athens as a location to film an earlier movie.
Athens is more than R.E.M. and college football, Ponsoldt said. It’s also “per capita one of the most culturally rich places you will ever find,” he said.
The state maintains an online database of possible shooting locations, Dominey said, but needs more images from people who might be amenable to letting a production company shoot in their historic home, hog farm, abandoned kaolin mine, etc. In the world of movies and TV, Georgia may become another state, another country, even another planet, explained producer Lisa Ferrell, representing the Georgia Production Partnership, a trade organization for the Georgia entertainment industry.
Montgomery is also seeking images and places that movie or TV producers might use.
“It’s been a challenge for us,” he said. He is working on a filming guide for Athens.
The $9.5 billion Georgia entertainment industry isn’t just the people on either side of the cameras or microphones, Ferrell and Dominey explained.
All kind of other businesses are pulled in — dry cleaners, dog groomers, caterers, restaurants, hotels.
One skill that’s in demand is software development, said Ferrell, pointing out that Atlanta is one of the country’s top places for the gaming industry.
Networking is important for anyone trying to get in, because a relatively few people are making decisions. Hiring is often done by word of mouth, according to Ferrell.
Though Athens isn’t inside that tight Atlanta orbit, the city still is a frequent site of productions both large and small, Montgomery said.
“It may not be a giant production that takes up all of downtown, but we still benefit,” he said. A company filming rural scenes in Oglethorpe County is likely to house their production crews here, he said.
And prospects throughout the state are improving, Dominey said.
“There really is more of an opportunity now than there ever has been,” he said.
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