Gov. Brian Kemp. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Multiple TV, film productions not coming to Georgia due to ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill as backlash builds

Originally posted Wednesday, May 22, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The fallout from Gov. Brian Kemp’s signing of the “heartbeat” abortion bill and his dismissive attitude toward Hollywood is having a real impact: multiple TV and film productions that were planning to come here have decided to go elsewhere.

Time magazine reports that an Amazon Prime drama called “The Power” was planning to shoot in Savannah and has been scouting locations for months but pulled out after Kemp signed the bill earlier this month. 

The show’s director Reed Marino, who won a directing Emmy for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” told Time: “We had no problem stopping the entire process instantly. There is no way we would ever bring our money to that state by shooting there.”

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

Time and The Wrap also confirmed a film co-written by actress Kristen Wiig calld “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” has abandoned Georgia after the bill’s signing. 

Kris Bagwell, who runs EUE Screen Gems in Atlanta, said he just lost a Netflix movie that was supposed to come to his studio because of the bill, a production that would have provided jobs to 300 crew members. He also represents the Georgia Studio and Infrastructure Alliance, a six-member lobbying group. 

Bagwell said he has heard at least three TV shows, including “The Power,” have decided to go elsewhere. 

WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 18: Kristen Wiig attends the Los Angeles Special Screening of ?Downsizing? at The Regency Village Theatre on December 18, 2017 in Westwood, CA. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Paramount Pictu

This is clearly the worst crisis the state’s burgeoning entertainment business has faced since the sweetened tax credits were passed in 2008. The Georgia film industry now generates an estimated 92,000 jobs and billions in direct spending. It’s the third largest state for  film and TV production in the United States behind only California and New York. It also hands out about $800 million in tax credits a year, more than Canada or any other state in the union. 

Several independent productions companies - including the one that brought three “Hunger Games” movies to Georgia - have publicly stated that Georgia is now a no-go state for them. Dozens of actors such as Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Gabrielle Union, Uzo Aduba and Don Cheadle  have vowed to avoid the state as well. 

Major film and production companies are taking a more “wait-and-see” attitude publicly, but some may just choose to go elsewhere without ever saying so until the matter is settled. 

There were some minor ripples two years ago when the state legislature passed a “religious liberty” bill two years ago but Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it. Last year, a bill unfavorable to the LGBTQ community briefly slowed traffic to the state. 

But Kemp signed this particular bill unapologetically and only stoked the fire over the weekend when he told the Georgia Republican Convention that “we value and protect innocent life — even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk.”

Several productions were already well into planning stages and others had already started when Kemp signed the restrictive abortion bill into law. Given the disruptive and expensive nature of moving a production at this juncture, many producers are choosing to stay put but making public announcements saying they will donate money to organizations fighting the law such as the ACLU. 

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 17: Ron Howard attends the 2019 Writers Guild Awards L.A. Ceremony at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 17, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Among those taking that stance include Ron Howard (Netflix movie “Hillbilly Elegy”),  J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele (HBO series “Lovecraft Country’) and  Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping (”Fear Street” film trilogy, Starz’  drama series “P-Valley”). 

“Some shows are leaving or not landing, yes,” said Bagwell, whose studio has been home to “The Hunger Games,” “Flight” and BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” to name a few. EUE Screen Gems is currently housing multiple Netflix projects, including “Insatiable,” starring Alyssa Milano, a vocal proponent of the boycott who is contractually obligated to work here right now.

But he said plenty of shows are choosing to fight from within: “Leaving is easy. Digging in is harder but makes a much bigger difference.”

Existing shows that have shot here for years are unlikely to uproot and leave - at  least not immediately. Jason Bateman’s Netflix show “Ozark,” for instance, is shooting its third season but he said he will move the show if the law actually happens next year. 

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

AMC purchased a studio in Senoia a couple of years ago, deeply committed to the production of “The Walking Dead” since 2010. 

Bob Lucas, who owns Central Atlanta Props & Sets in East Point, said he hasn't seen a slowdown in his own business as of yet. "We have had many new shows opening up accounts in the last couple of weeks," said Lucas, who owns nearly 300,000 square feet of space for props ranging from artwork to clothing to furniture. He moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in 2014 as the business in the state was ramping up and has since provided props for films as large as the past two "Avengers" films and "Black Panther" and TV shows like "Stranger Things" and "MacGyver." 

But the state may see new productions dry up in the coming months. What other films and TV series Georgia loses may be harder to ascertain because producers may simply knock the state off their wish list before they even start thinking about where to shoot. 

If the courts stop the fetal heartbeat law before it’s set to go into effect in early 2020, Georgia may escape additional pain. Even if that’s the case, many believe the state’s reputation has been marred by Kemp’s actions and the impact might ripple for years, especially if more bills like it pass the legislature in the near future. 

“There was some skepticism in the industry about Kemp early on and justifiably so,” said Rhonda Baraka, a local screenwriter who directed the Atlanta-produced film “Pride and Prejudice Atlanta,” which comes out on Lifetime June 1. “I think the bill - and the mentality behind it -cast our state in a negative light. It sends a message about us that does not accurately depict who we are. Even if this bill is scuttled, I don’t think people will easily forget.” 

Bagwell said “the passage of this law threatens to destroy a significant portion of 11 years of goodwill between Georgia and the national film and television production industry. Isn’t the first rule of job creation ‘Don’t shoot the jobs you already created?’”

Several late-night hosts have already taken jabs at Georgia and so has Funny or Die with this mock tourism video:

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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