Filmmakers have Georgia on their minds
EmptyWhen Georgia-based animal wrangler Renee DeRossett heard that Gov. Sonny Perdue was signing a law upping her state's entertainment production tax credit to as much as 30%, she could barely contain her joy.
"Oh, my land!" she exclaimed. "That is the best news I've heard in a long time."
It may seem like a silly thing to get so excited about, but for people like DeRossett, incentives such as these can mean the difference between buying a bigger, more expensive home and facing foreclosure on a smaller, cheaper one.
What's truly good news for both DeRossett and Hollywood studios is that Georgia's new incentive is generous, but not so generous that a skeptical public and fickle legislators are likely to demand it be repealed two or three years down the line.
"This is something you can count on," says Georgia State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, noting that the bill had near-unanimous support in both houses before being signed into law by Gov. Perdue on May 12. "And we're not going to be taking it back. We want to build a long-term relationship with the industry."
It's been a rough few years for the Georgia film and TV community. The state had been on a hot streak in the late '90s and early '00s, attracting such studio films as 1999's "The General's Daughter" and 2000's "The Legend of Bagger Vance." But in 2003, Louisiana and New Mexico made available rich incentive packages, luring away productions that would have otherwise gone to the Peach State, such as 2004's "Ray" (shot in Louisiana). The Georgia legislature fought back with a 9% tax credit in 2005, creating a record-setting economic impact in 2006, with film, television and video game companies contributing $475 million to the state economy, an increase from $124 million in 2004. But business fell off sharply again the following year as more states one-upped each other with increasingly generous incentives, culminating with Michigan's passage of a 40-42% tax credit earlier this year.
Through this dark time, one of the bright spots has been mutlihyphenate Tyler Perry, who has shot a string of films in Atlanta, from 2005's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" to the 2009-slated Lionsgate release "Madea Goes to Jail," as well as 100 episodes of the TBS series "House of Payne."
In 2006, Perry paid a reported $7 million for Atlanta Stage Works, a soundstage and production office complex in the city's Inman Park district, and rechristened it Tyler Perry Studios. Later this year, he plans to move his operations to a 30-acre space near Greenbriar Mall that will feature five soundstages, a 400-seat screening theater and a backlot.
Although Perry has taken full advantage of the state's tax incentives, his primary motivation for basing his business in Atlanta is personal, according to the studio's COO, Oscar Turner.
"One, Tyler loves the city, and two, it's the town where he got his start and really began to develop his career," Turner says. "Thirdly, it's a great place for us to conduct business without a lot of the distractions a young up-and-coming company may have in Los Angeles."
Although Perry's productions typically employ crews of 100-plus people, it's not enough to support an industry. What have others done during the production downturn?
"Starve," says Gene Witham, a veteran makeup artist based in Savannah.
In truth, many followed the work to Louisiana, South Carolina and other states with more generous incentives. Some diversified, like DeRossett, who, in addition to wrangling animals for stage productions has also worked as a set dresser and served as a script supervisor for a visiting episode of "America's Most Wanted." Others, like Witham, found short-term work on the numerous commercials and photo shoots that come to the state to utilize its deep green forests and diverse architecture that ranges from antebellum mansions in Savannah to the modern high-rises of Atlanta.
The production infrastructure has also been sustained by the Turner Broadcasting System and its various divisions (including CNN), which are headquartered in Atlanta. Music video production also flourishes here thanks to the presence of several high-profile hip-hop artists and producers, including Dallas Austin, Big Boi and Jermaine Dupri.
When -- and, the pessimist would add, if -- productions return to Georgia en masse, RiverWood Studios is ready to pick up the slack. Its studio complex, a turnkey facility on 120 acres, 25 miles south of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, currently boasts four soundstages, a backlot, production offices and a 10,000-square-foot construction mill and machine shops. A mile from the studio, the company is redeveloping Senoia -- a 142-year-old town that has hosted 22 film and TV projects over the last two decades, from 1991's "Fried Green Tomatoes" to Tyler Perry's March release "Meet the Browns" -- as a live-work community that can double as a movie set. It has new structures for residential, restaurant and retail space that match the authentic period architecture, featuring back alley access that enables productions to shut down streets without disrupting residents' access to their homes.
"We want to roll out the red carpet here in Georgia," says RiverWood Studios president Scott Tigchelaar. "It's been a long time and we're ready."
Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office Contact:
Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner
75 Fifth St. N.W., Ste. 1200, Atlanta, GA 30308
Recent and continuing shoots: Red Five Entertainment's "Conjurer," Shadowlight Pictures' "Good Intentions," Wonder Entertainment's "The Hill," Lionsgate's "Meet the Browns" and "Why Did I Get Married?" and TBS' "House of Payne"
Production Incentives: Georgia now provides a 20% base tax credit for all in-state spend on qualified productions, including films, TV series, commercials, music videos and video game productions. (Prior to May 12, the state offered a 9% base credit.)
--An additional 10% tax credit is given to productions that include a qualified Georgia promotion. Examples include a five-second-long animated state logo appearing within a finished film and all promotional trailers, or TV programs embedding a five-second-long Georgia promotion during each broadcast half-hour.
--Productions must spend at least $500,000 in Georgia.
--Only $500,000 of any individual salary for a single project can be applied when calculating the tax credit.
-- Projects must be certified by the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office.
--The incentive has no cap.
--The tax credit is transferable, meaning it can be sold to third parties. But the credit is not generated or available for use until all expenditures have been made and the production's tax return has been filed with the Georgia Department
--The incentive has no sunset date. It will remain on the books until repealed or amended by the legislature.
--Additionally, the state offers a point-of-purchase sales tax exemption that can save qualified productions up to 8% on most below-the-line materials and service purchases, leases
Georgia on film
1. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Morgan Freeman chauffeurs Jessica Tandy all over Atlanta and its surrounding areas in the dramedy based on Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
2. My Cousin Vinny
The Peach State stands in for Alabama as Joe Pesci tries to defend his cousin and sidekick from a murder rap in the South.
3. Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil
John Cusack discovers that Southern hospitality in
Savannah is not so cordial as he gets tangled in a local
millionaire's murder trial in Clint Eastwood's thriller.
4. Meet the Browns (2008)
Tyler Perry introduces audiences to the Browns of Georgia in traditional "Madea" fashion in this family dramedy.
When in town ...
Whether you're looking for trouble in Atlanta or lying low in Savannah, there's no shortage of places to wine, dine and unwind in Georgia. Here are some of the peachiest
By Chris Edling
Joe Odom's raucous parties at this historic Savannah haunt inspired the noir tome and subsequent 1997 film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The current incarnation as a swank B&B is less scandalous but similarly inviting, combining warm Dixie charm with mind-easing contemporary amenities. 330 Abercorn St., Savannah;
Maxim Prime Steakhouse
A joint endeavor of Maxim magazine and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow, this modish steakhouse is being hailed as the hottest concept nosh in Atlanta. Offering lighter fare and sleeker decor than your typical Ruth's Chris, this recently opened flagship chophouse is sure to be a star cluster for visiting celebs. 110 Marietta St. N.W., Atlanta (inside the Glenn Hotel);
Jermaine Dupri and Janet Jackson are among the glitterati spotted at this upscale see-and-be-seen nightspot. Verve's three floors of entertainment offer dining, drinks and dance grooves from a diverse medley of DJs. A red carpet and a rooftop VIP area help Hollywood guests feel right at home in the ATL. 511 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta; 404-888-8880; verveatlanta.com