Georgia’s movie industry surges in 2016

Hollywood spending in Georgia — buoyed by high-profile projects such as “Captain America: Civil War” and “The Walking Dead” — reached an all-time high in fiscal year 2016.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said Tuesday that total film spending in the state topped the $2 billion mark in the fiscal year that ended July 31. Georgia remains the No. 3 filming location in the U.S., behind California and New York.

Total movie and television production expenditures in Georgia were up nearly 19 percent over the year before, and are more than seven times the figure Hollywood spent here in 2008.

The primary driver of that spending is the state’s production incentives. Georgia’s tax credit program provided $925 million in incentives to production companies from 2009 to 2014, the most given to any industry, according according to a study by Georgia State University.

Production companies can earn tax credits up to 30 percent of what they spend in Georgia when they meet certain standards. What they can’t use to defer their own taxes — many aren’t based here and have little tax liability — they can sell to other taxpayers for cash at upward of 90 cents on the dollar.

That’s caused a stampede of production companies and the industries that service them — such as studio operators like EUE/Screen Gems and Pinewood Atlanta Studios — to Georgia.

“Georgia’s film industry provides a significant impact on our state’s economy, employing thousands of Georgians while developing infrastructure and boosting small businesses,” Deal said in a news release. “The film industry has created a home in Georgia, and I am committed to retaining this relationship by constructing a strong, film-ready workforce that will continue to help the industry thrive.”

The governor’s office said 245 television and film projects were shot in Georgia in the last fiscal year, down by three total projects from 2015. The state said the economic impact of the industry is estimated at more than $7 billion.

The Georgia State study said there were about 4,200 film jobs in 2014, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But industry estimates say Hollywood supports 24,000 Georgia jobs, counting supporting industries.

The incentives, however, remain controversial. Critics say the jobs created locally are often low paying and easily moved if the credits were to ever dry up.

Indeed, when Michigan folded its program, Hollywood disappeared. Southern rivals Louisiana and North Carolina capped the value of their programs in recent years, and Hollywood responded by shifting work to Georgia and other states.

The state, in addition to the hefty incentives, also recently opened a physical film training academy at the Pinewood campus in Fayette County, and a number of technical colleges and state and private universities offer film training to improve the local base of behind-the-camera crew members.

“As long as we continue to deepen our crew base and add even more studios and businesses to support the industry, Georgia is ensuring its place in the film industry well into the future,” Chris Carr, the state’s commissioner of economic development, said in the release.

The development community is sensing opportunities in Georgia.

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy and partners started Pinewood Atlanta Studios a few years ago and the Fayette County campus is currently undergoing a large expansion. The studio has attracted big budget projects including “Captain America: Civil War” and the upcoming “Spiderman: Homecoming.”

Cathy and partners recently started a mixed-use development outside the studio called Pinewood Forrest, which would include 1,300 residences, shops, offices and hotels.

Other studio projects remain in the pipeline, including a sprawling campus in Covington.

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