Kemp tries to calm nervous Georgia film industry with studio visit

Credit: Jae C. Hong

Credit: Jae C. Hong

On the day he initially planned a trip to Hollywood to court film executives, Gov. Brian Kemp instead privately toured a Georgia film academy amid a growing backlash over the anti-abortion "heartbeat" law.

The Republican made a closed-door visit Wednesday with students at the Georgia Film Academy, which is on the Pinewood Studio grounds, saying in a statement he appreciates an industry that “generates economic opportunity in every corner of our great state.”

That business is under pressure after Kemp signed strict new abortion restrictions earlier this month. The changes, which outlaw most abortions as early as six weeks, would take effect in January but face a certain court challenge before then.

>> Related: Multiple TV, film productions not coming to Georgia due to 'heartbeat' abortion bill as backlash builds

Kemp has long said he signed the measure to uphold a campaign promise and stand for "Georgia values," but over the weekend he went a step further by mocking the producers and actors who have threatened to boycott Georgia over the law.

"We are the party of freedom and opportunity," he said at the Georgia GOP convention in Savannah. "We value and protect innocent life — even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk."

A lengthy list of well-known celebrities have signed a letter to boycott Georgia over the measure, including Alec Baldwin, Ben Stiller, Gabrielle Union and Tracee Ellis Ross. Two producers, Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams will shoot an HBO project in Georgia but will donate fees to abortion rights groups.

» Ron Howard says he will boycott Georgia if abortion law takes effect

And two other Hollywood figures said this week they were pulling out of Georgia because of the law.

Director Reed Morano said she scrapped plans to film her new Amazon Studios show, "The Power," because of the law. She told Time Magazine there was "no way we would ever bring our money to that state by shooting there."

And actress Kristen Wiig confirmed to media outlets through a spokeswoman that her upcoming Lionsgate comedy, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” will no longer film in Georgia after the bill was signed into law.

‘C-list celebrities’

Georgia film boosters worry the pushback could threaten the state’s perch as one of the leading locations for movie and TV productions, thanks to a tax break that allows film companies to earn tax credits for up to 30 percent of what they spend here.

In fiscal year 2018, 455 productions were shot in Georgia with an estimated economic impact of $9.5 billion. The state celebrated "Film Day" in March, and state leaders routinely attend premieres of movies shot in Georgia.

» 'Ozark' star Jason Bateman says he won't work in Georgia if 'heartbeat bill' survives court challenges

The industry has become so influential in state politics that even the fiercest fiscal conservatives see the tax credits as untouchable. That includes Kemp, who said during the campaign he would review every tax incentive – but leave the film breaks alone.

Threats of boycotts from major studios helped compel Gov. Nathan Deal to veto a contentious “religious liberty” measure in 2016. But Kemp has struck a more defiant note with Hollywood.

After he postponed the state's annual trip to Los Angeles to woo studio chiefs, as reports of pending protests and no-shows swirled, he said he was not worried about "what someone in Hollywood thinks of me."

And he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week he's unfazed by the backlash from his recent "C-list celebrities" remark.

“I’m sure people will protest. People protested during the session,” he said.

“A lot of these folks are the same people who worked against me in the election, they said the same thing after I was sworn in, now they’re saying the same thing after I did what I promised Georgians I would do. I know they’re mad at me for doing what I said I would do, but I think most Georgians appreciate that.”