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Sign of growing power: the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition is launched

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce helped form the group

Originally posted Wednesday, September 12, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Ten years after the state created a film and TV tax credit that has brought in billions of entertainment dollars, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is planting a lobbying flag with a new coalition to ensure the tax credit endures.

Today, the Chamber announced the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition, which consists of major corporations and organizations such as Delta Airlines, Floyd County Productions (creator of FXX’s “Archer”), Georgia Power, the Georgia Game Developers Association, Lightnin Rentals, Synovus and Turner Broadcasting. 

Four of the largest production studios are involved as well: Atlanta Metro StudiosBlackhall StudiosPinewood Atlanta Studios and Tyler Perry Studios. 

Steve Mensch, president and general manager of studio operations at Tyler Perry Studios, said the coalition wants to educate Georgia politicians of the broad positive impact the tax credit has had statewide. 

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“It’s supply-chain economics,” he said in an interview today. “If you look at a place like Dalton, how much additional carpet have manufacturers sold for sets?”

Frank Patterson, chairman of Pinewood Atlanta Studios (home to many big Marvel films such as “Ant Man,” The Avengers” and “Captain America”), compares it to the “farm-to-table” concept with restaurants. In this case, it’s “farm to film.” 

“Down in South Georgia, lumber companies may not be aware they are selling timber for sets at Tyler Perry Studios,” Patterson said. “Food prep companies provide food to feed crews. That helps agriculture. It’s becoming a rich ecosystem. There are revenue streams for a broad array of industries in the state.” 

Pinewood Studios in Fayetteville, where several big-budget Marvel movies have been shot.  (WSB-TV)

The tax credits have brought in tens of thousands of jobs into the state and billions in infrastructure investment. In the most recent fiscal year, the state estimated $2.7 billion in direct spending from production companies and billions more in indirect benefits. The state dispensed about $800 million in tax credits to qualified production companies, the most of any state in the country and second only to the U.K. worldwide. 

The state was once a decent draw for Hollywood in the 1970s and 1980s (the late Burt Reynolds helped) but lost out when states and countries began offering tax credits. Georgia quickly became noncompetitive and from 1995 to 2005, it was largely a dead zone for film and TV. Some work came back in 2005 when Georgia began offering some tax credit relief but the floodgates only opened in 2008 with an unlimited 30 percent tax credit, among the most generous in the world.

“We’re like a phoenix,” Mensch said. “We rebuilt this industry into a multi-billion-dollar business. It’s our job to be stewards of that. We have put together this broad group with the assistance of the Chamber to provide information to ensure our future. I want our kids to grow up in this business and our grandkids to be in this business.”

Added Patterson: “Once we woke up and jumped back in the game, we were able to build on that multi-decade foundation and history of producing content.” 

He sees the tax credits as part of a three-legged stool analogy, which also includes infrastructure and a skilled workforce, to ensure the viability of the industry in the state. 

Current Georgia governor Nathan Deal has been a full-throated cheerleader for the tax credits and his possible replacements Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp have both vowed to support them as well. 

There are two other existing Georgia entertainment lobbying groups: the four-year-old Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance (which features most of the other studios such as EUE Screen Gems and Eagle Rock) and the Georgia Production Partnership, a grassroots group of professional trade organizations, producers and vendors that launched about 20 years ago.  

This new coalition purposely used the phrase “screen” instead of “film and TV” because it wants to include gaming and anything that shows up on a screen, be it short films on YouTube or a traditional game show on a broadcast network. 

There is more such content being pumped out than ever before, leaving plenty of work available all over the world, rather than just New York and Los Angeles. 

And the industry is maturing in Georgia. Crews are now largely homegrown and more actors are planting themselves in state such as Melissa McCarthy, who bought a home here. Currently, most of the creative forces such as executive producers, directors and writers still hail from Los Angeles. But more and more are coming here. 

“Everybody likes to sleep in their own bed,” Mensch said. “Many people who used to live here have come back. This is the natural maturation of the business.”

Patterson said Georgia has become “a world-class production center. The numbers speaks for themselves with our facilities and manufacturing expertise. Now we aspire to become a robust enduring global entertainment media center. It’s like we are currently building the drivetrains of a car. We’re not designing them or selling them.” The goal, he said, is for Georgia to cover it all, from idea creation to content creation to post production to marketing and distribution. 

About the Author

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

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