State says Georgia films generated nearly $1 billion impact

Those lights and cameras mean plenty of economic action in Georgia.

Georgia’s filming industry spent $933.9 millionduring fiscal year 2013, the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office announced. That time period runs from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.

That is up from $880 million last year.

The state’s numbers were rolled out on Friday, just as “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which filmed here last year, debuted. It went on to a scorching $161.1 million weekend box-office haul.

“Not only did ‘Catching Fire’ create hundreds of jobs here, but millions of people around the world will see Georgia locations on the big screen,” said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office.

But there is a cost involved to Georgia taxpayers. The state hands out lucrative tax breaks to studios and moviemakers. Production companies can earn a credit in Georgia of up to 30 percent of what they spend on qualifying projects, including salaries of star performers. What they can’t use to defer their own taxes —- many aren’t based here and have little tax liability —- they can sell for cash at upward of 90 cents on the dollar. Companies that buy the credits can then use them to reduce their Georgia tax bills.

The credits have attracted the industry here in a big way.

Metro Atlanta locations featured in the highly anticipated Hunger Games sequel included the Swan House, the Clayton County International Park, the Goat Farm Arts Center and the Georgia World Congress Center. The third in the series, “Mockingjay,” started filming here several weeks ago. So far, filming locations have included Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, the Pullman Yard in Kirkwood, a Polk County cornfield near Rockmart High School and a rural patch off Elliott Family Parkway in Dawsonville.

Other Georgia-filmed movies coming to theaters soon include Tyler Perry’s “A Madea Christmas” (Dec. 13) “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (Dec. 20) and “Ride Along” (Jan. 17).

Television shows filmed here include AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals,” BET’s “Reed Between the Lines” and “The Game,” and Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” and “Drop Dead Diva.”

Georgia-made movies coming out next year include “Endless Love,” “Need for Speed,” Tyler Perry’s “Single Moms Club,” “Million Dollar Arm,” “The Familymoon” and “Fast & Furious 7.”

“The economic impact goes well beyond the productions themselves,” said Chris Carr, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “With 11 soundstage facilities locating in Georgia, and more than 70 film-related companies locating or expanding here, this industry is creating jobs for Georgians.”

Visiting celebrities serve as walking publicity campaigns for places they visit.

“I love Thumbs Up (Diner) for breakfast. That’s my favorite place in Atlanta,” “Ride Along” star Gary Owen said during a recent interview.

“You guys have good food,” “Anchorman 2” director Adam McKay said during an interview as his star-studded project wrapped up earlier this year. “I had to really fight gaining weight. We liked Flying Biscuit. We liked Ecco and the Optimist. South City Kitchen, whoo! Judd Apatow came back a couple of times and half-admitted that he was coming back for the fried chicken at South City Kitchen.”

These days, Jessica Alba, who is in Atlanta filming “Barely Lethal” with Samuel L. Jackson, along with Toby Sebastian, Hailee Steinfeld, Sophie Turner, Thomas Mann, Emma Holzer and Thom Bishops, has been chronicling her stay online. Photos and posts on Instagram and Twitter show her cheering on the Atlanta Falcons, enjoying dinner at 10 Degrees South and taking in the holiday lights display at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

“It’s always fun when celebrities visit the garden because they seem to know it’s one of those places where they can come and escape the crowds of adoring fans and not be bothered,” said Danny Flanders, marketing manager for the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Its past celebrity guests have included Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, who visited with their daughters while she was in town filming “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”

In slightly unsexier film-impact news, Georgia’s growing status as a filming destination has come to account for 20 percent of a Norcross tent rental business.

“It’s a major amount for us,” said Steven Eisenstein, president of Classic Tents & Events. He bought the business three years ago from a previous owner who was ready to retire, never dreaming he’d be pitching his products at the sets of movies including “Anchorman 2” and “The Good Lie,” with Reese Witherspoon, or television shows including “Devious Maids” or “The Game.”

Eisenstein’s team sets up before the talent arrives and strikes after they’re gone, so he’s had no famous encounters yet. And the nature of filmmaking makes for plenty of hustle.

“It’s very last minute,” he said. “A lot of times, we don’t find out until 12 hours ahead of time. A lot of these people change their plans at the last minute, or weather impacts them, so we have to react to that.”