Gov. Brian Kemp, shown leaving the Georgia GOP convention on Saturday, gave a defense at that gathering of the state’s new anti-abortion “heartbeat” law in the face of opposition from the film industry, a big spender in Georgia. “We value and protect innocent life — even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk,” Kemp said then. On Wednesday, after canceling a trip to Los Angeles when there was talk he’d be greeted by protests, he toured Pinewood Studios in Fayette County and the state-financed Georgia Film Academy to thank executives for their investments in the state. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia governor tries to tamp down film, TV fallout over abortion law

Gov. Brian Kemp toured Atlanta movie facilities Wednesday to show his support for an industry facing mushrooming fallout over his decision to sign Georgia’s anti-abortion “heartbeat” measure into law. The damage, though, may be just beginning.

Several Hollywood figures announced this week that they’re pulling TV and film productions that were originally set to shoot here. And more actors, directors and producers announced they would not do business in Georgia if the stiff new restrictions take effect.

The blowback was evidenced by not just the high-profile celebrities who posted their disdain for the law on social media, but also by the projects that bolted more quietly. Kris Bagwell, who runs EUE Screen Gems in Atlanta, said he recently lost a Netflix movie that would have brought about 300 jobs.

“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,” said Bagwell, who also heads the  Georgia Studio and Infrastructure Alliance. “Isn’t the first rule of job creation ‘Don’t shoot the jobs you already created?’ ”

The governor had initially planned to fly to Los Angeles to attend an event Wednesday in Hollywood to court film executives, but he postponed it last week amid talk of protests and no-shows. 

Instead, he privately toured the state-financed Georgia Film Academy and a nearby studio. Hours later, his office released a statement touting the benefits of an industry that “generates economic opportunity in every corner of our great state.” 

The pressure on the industry has mounted after Kemp signed House Bill 481 into law earlier this month at a ceremony surrounded by anti-abortion advocates. The changes, which would outlaw most abortions as early as six weeks, take effect in January but face a certain court challenge before then.

Kemp has long said he signed the measure to uphold a campaign promise and stand for “Georgia values,” but he took a more confrontational tone over the weekend when he mocked Hollywood personalities who have vowed to boycott Georgia over the law.

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

‘Stay and fight’

Georgia film boosters worry the blowback could threaten the state’s perch as the nation’s third-biggest state for movie and TV productions — behind only California and New York. In 2008, the state passed generous legislation that allows film companies to earn tax credits for up to 30 percent of what they spend here.

In fiscal year 2018, Georgia hosted 455 qualified film and TV shows generating $2.7 billion in direct spending. While other states cap their tax credits, Georgia’s is unlimited. As a result, the state doled out more tax credits last year than any other state by a wide margin: $800 million.

The magnetic lure of those incentives has led studios to invest in a network of infrastructure across metro Atlanta, including lighting stages, sprawling sets and editing bays. The state has chipped in, too, with a Film Academy that trains hundreds of students for jobs in fields such as lighting, post-production and editing.

With each big name that pans Georgia, though, the industry cringes. Alec Baldwin, Tracee Ellis Ross, Ben Stiller and Gabrielle Union recently joined a lengthy list of celebrities threatening a boycott over the measure. Some producers have promised to never work in Georgia again.

And two Hollywood figures captured national headlines when they said they were pulling projects out of Georgia because of the law.

Director Reed Morano scrapped plans to shoot her new Amazon Studios show, “The Power,” in Savannah because, she told Time Magazine, there was “no way we would ever bring our money to that state by shooting there.” And Kristen Wiig said her upcoming Lionsgate comedy will no longer film in Georgia for the same reason.

Georgia film boosters, suddenly on the defensive, are highlighting the decisions of several celebrities, including J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard and Jordan Peele, to stay in Georgia but donate fees to opponents of the law.

And a “stay and fight” movement has pushed celebrities to think twice about their boycott threats, warning that leaving Georgia will devastate the tens of thousands of people who work as crew members, catering staff or other support roles for the pricey productions that film in the state.

“It’s so maddening. I don’t understand why folks think that uprooting an industry that employs tens of thousands of people here will possibly help women in Georgia,” said state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna Democrat who opposed the law.

“They are incredibly well-meaning to take an interest in this fight, but these are men and women who work so very hard,” she said. “This is their livelihood, and we can’t be glib about shutting down an entire industry.”

‘C-list celebrities’

Some industry officials hope the coming court battle, and the passage of even tighter restrictions in Alabama, sap some of the attention from Georgia. Plus, they add, existing shows that have filmed here for years are unlikely to immediately uproot and leave the state.

That includes actress and producer Alyssa Milano, who has promised to boycott Georgia several times over the “heartbeat” law — but is now filming her Netflix project “Insatiable” in metro Atlanta because she’s contractually obligated to do so.

“We have had many new shows opening up accounts in the last couple of weeks,” said Bob Lucas, the owner of Central Atlanta Props & Sets in East Point, who added that he hasn’t seen a slowdown in his own business yet.

Still, some local moviemakers worry the reputational damage to the state is immeasurable — and could outlast the legal fight over the law.

“There was some skepticism in the industry about Kemp early on and justifiably so,” said Rhonda Baraka, a local screenwriter who directed an Atlanta-produced film that will debut on Lifetime in June.

“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,” Baraka said. “Even if this bill is scuttled, I don’t think people will easily forget.”

Ask Kemp about the fallout, and he’ll say he’s not worried about “what someone in Hollywood thinks of me.” He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that 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,” Kemp said. “I know they’re mad at me for doing what I said I would do, but I think most Georgians appreciate that.”

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