States like Georgia are trying to lure in movie producers with big tax credits and other incentives.
Both states wanted the movie to film in their state, and North Carolina was close to sealing the deal with an attractive tax incentive package. But Georgia snapped up the production, largely because it had recently expanded its own tax credit for films.
The state hasn't looked back since. Not only are TV shows like "The Walking Dead" and films like "The Hunger Games" sequel filmed in Georgia, but tens of millions of dollars are being invested to build up critical infrastructure. No fewer than five major studio developments or expansions have been announced in recent months.
"It really is about the whole package," said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. "They can do everything here now."
Last fiscal year, productions filmed in Georgia generated an estimated $3.1 billion in economic activity, a 29 percent increase from the year before, according to state estimates. And Thomas said that will only increase with the studio projects in the works that will add large soundstages and back lots to lure big productions, such as "Iron Man 3," which Georgia wasn't able to accommodate.
Of the studio projects in the works, one being planned in Fayette County, a short drive south of Atlanta, could be a game changer. British film studio Pinewood Shepperton PLC, home to the James Bond franchise, has reportedly been in talks with a group of investors to manage and operate the facility.
The project, once finalized, would underscore how much Georgia has become a film destination and be another sign that California continues to struggle with runaway production.
A survey last year found that California lost $3 billion in wages from 2004 to 2011 because of film and TV production moving to other states and countries, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Half the wages went to states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana that offer tax incentives and rebates to the industry.
Georgia has come a long way since the 1939 Civil War epic "Gone With The Wind," arguably the most famous movie about the state, was filmed in California. Three decades later, the 1971 Burt Reynolds movie "Deliverance" helped put Georgia on the map as a shooting location.
Now, Atlanta truly has the feel of Hollywood South.
Georgia provides a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend $500,000 or more on production and post-production in the state, either in a single production or on multiple projects. Georgia also grants an additional 10 percent tax credit if the finished project includes a state promotional logo.
"The industry follows the dollar," Forshee said. "They are going to go where they can do the best product for the cheapest cost. This tax credit has made Georgia a viable and lucrative place to make films."
The economic benefits have been debated in Georgia, although the state has remained committed to the film incentives. Meanwhile, lawmakers in North Carolina are debating a plan that would place certain limitations on the state's program, with supporters of the effort saying there's no evidence the $30 million in tax breaks in 2011 matches the job growth cited by the industry. In comparison, Georgia handed out $140.6 million in tax credits in 2010.
There are a number of ripple effects. The films bring jobs, and the state already has an estimated 5,000 union and non-union professionals associated with the film industry along with more than 1,000 production suppliers and support companies.
This week, Atlanta-based Jacoby Development announced plans to build an estimated $1 billion multiuse project north of downtown Atlanta that will include 12 soundstages as well as production offices and an arts and media school.
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