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Georgia’s controversial abortion bill has sent Hollywood into a panic as filmmakers and studio executives grapple with how to protest the conservative legislation yet still keep their $3 billion business in the state.
Since Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the so-called “heartbeat” bill last Tuesday, banning abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, most major studios that regularly take advantage of Georgia’s generous 30 percent tax incentives have stayed quiet on the matter, and none have altered production plans. In fact, some filmmakers have announced publicly that they intend to move forward with their shoots in the state but at the same time have pledged to donate money to organizations fighting the legislation, namely the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia. Earlier this week, J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele vowed to donate 100 percent of their episodic fees on their upcoming HBO drama Lovecraft County to both groups, while producers Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping — who will soon film Fox’s Fear Street trilogy and Starz’ drama series P-Valley in the state — have committed to giving a “significant donation” to the latter organization.
Joining them now is Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, who are slated to film the Amy Adams-led Netflix movie Hillbilly Elegy in the state later this month. “After much thought and deliberation, we decided to continue with shooting Hillbilly Elegy in Georgia next month,” the Imagine Entertainment partners tell The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive statement. “We felt we could not abandon the hundreds of women, and men, whose means of support depend on this production – including those who directly contribute on the film, and the businesses in the community that sustain the production. We see Governor Kemp’s bill as a direct attack on women’s rights, and we will be making a donation to the ACLU to support their battle against this oppressive legislation. Should this law go into effect in January, we will boycott the state as a production center.”
The four companies are taking the advice of prominent Georgia figures like former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who are cautioning against boycotts, alleging that they only serve to hurt the local film community and not the lawmakers. And while at least five production companies have said they’d boycott filming in the state in the days following the passage of the bill, some critics question whether those ourfits — which include Christine Vachon’s Killer Films, David Simon’s Blown Deadline Productions, Mark Duplass’ Duplass Brothers Productions, Nina Jacobson’s Colorforce and Neal Dodson’s CounterNarrative — would have ever shot in the state anyway, and if such proclamations actually have any impact on Georgia’s robust film business at all.
But unlike the small handful of production companies who have taken a stand, the vast majority of the filmmakers and executives who are arguably closest to the Georgia film community are remaining tight-lipped on the heated issue. Of the more than six dozen production companies, filmmakers and actors currently shooting or about to shoot in the state that THR reached out to for this story, only two responded, Imagine Entertainment and Ozark star and producer Jason Bateman. Notably absent from the discussion is Tyler Perry, who operates a massive 330-acre studio in Atlanta and provides jobs for hundreds of people there. Says one on-the-ground source, “He likes to stay way below the radar.” The overall hushed reaction is surprising considering Hollywood’s response to Georgia’s anti-LGBTQ bill three years ago. Disney and Netflix threatened to pull their projects from the state if the law was passed, and leading entertainment companies including Time Warner, NBCUniversal, Sony, Lionsgate and AMC publicly denounced the bill. “They got into the gay and transgender rights debate, so why is it that no major studios are taking a stand on a woman’s right to govern her own body?” says one executive who works with multiple studios.
The silence on the new abortion bill can at least in part be explained by the fact that the top studios that do business in the state — Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros., to name a few — are taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping that the abortion bill — one of several passed or in discussions in such states as Alabama and Louisiana —will be challenged in court and deemed unconstitutional before it is set to go into effect January 2020. (The ACLU has already said it will sue.) As MPAA senior vp communications Chris Ortman puts it in a statement on behalf of Paramount, Sony, Universal, Disney, Warner Bros. and now also Netflix, “It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process. We will continue to monitor developments.”
Still, those studios have several projects filming in Georgia in the meantime. Netflix has the most projects of any single company. Its highest profile series to shoot in the state is Stranger Things, though the sci-fi drama wrapped production on its upcoming third season last summer and has yet to be officially renewed for a fourth season. The streamer does, however, have several projects currently shooting there: Debby Ryan dramedy Insatiable (castmember Alyssa Milano has been vocal and called for a sex strike), Dolly Parton’s holiday musical Christmas on the Square, hybrid animation series The Liberator and rom-com Holidate, starring Kristin Chenoweth, Emma Roberts, Jessica Capshaw and Andrew Bachelor. The Jenji Kohan-produced comedy series Slutty Teenage Bounty Hunters is also scheduled to film in Georgia later this year.
Warner Bros. has multiple tentpole films scheduled to film in the state in the coming year. James Gunn is scheduled to start shooting The Suicide Squad sequel in Atlanta in September. The director, along with stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Warner Bros. is currently shooting The Conjuring 3 in the state. Stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson and producer James Wan could also not be reached for comment. Other major studio movies with big stars attached include Paramount’s Coming to America 2, which will begin filming in Atlanta in August. Star Eddie Murphy and screenwriter Kenya Barris did not respond to requests for comment.
Jon Stewart is currently in the midst of shooting his Focus Feature political satire Irresistible, starring Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Mackenzie Davis and Natasha Lyonne. Neither Stewart nor the movie’s top-billed actors returned requests for comment. Same for STX Film’s Gerard Butler movie Greenland, EFO Films’ Bruce Willis thriller The Long Night and Romulus Entertainment’s Mel Gibson-Charlie Hunnam action flick Waldo, all three of which are set to start production in the state in June. (Gibson’s rep said the actor was on a vacation and unavailable to comment.) Both Kelsey Grammer (Charming the Hearts of Men) and Shailene Woodley (Misanthrope) are scheduled to film indies in the state in the near future — but they, too, could not be reached for comment.
On the TV front, no series has offered more of a boost to Georgia’s film economy than AMC’s The Walking Dead, which is in the midst its tenth season in Atlanta. Two MRC projects that feature Bateman in both behind-the-scenes and onscreen roles, Netflix’s Ozark and HBO’s The Outsider, are currently filming in the state. “If the ‘heartbeat bill’ makes it through the court system, I will not work in Georgia, or any other state, that is so disgracefully at odds with women’s rights,” Bateman tells THR. MRC declined to comment, though a source close to the company confirmed a donation was made to the Georgia chapter of the ACLU. (Valence Media, the parent company of THR, also owns MRC.) OWN is shooting two TV shows there, Ambitions and Greenleaf. Comedy Central has a new series Robbie, starring Beau Bridges and Rory Scovel. DC Universe is in production on Stargirl, while the YouTube series Cobra Kai is also films in Georgia. Other TV series about to start shooting in the state include ABC’s The Baker and the Beauty, Fox’s Deputy, CBS’ MacGyver and TBS’ Miracle Workers.
Georgia is also home to a number of unscripted TV series. Among them: Fox’s Dish Nation, Oxygen’s Deadly Cult and Intolerable with Nancy Grace, BYU TV’s Dwight in Shining Armor, Food Network’s Good Eats: The Return, Investigation Discovery’s Live to Tell, VH1’s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, Bravo’s Married to Medicine and Real Housewives of Atlanta, TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress and The Plath Family, Animal Planet’s The Aquarium and Facebook Watch’s The Real World. None of the TV studios THR reached out to responded to a request for comment.
Of course, the attention turned briefly to Alabama on Tuesday night when lawmakers in the state passed an abortion bill even stricter than the Georgia legislation. (Georgia’s includes exceptions for rape and incest, while Alabama’s does not.) Even though sources can only point to one noteworthy film currently shooting in Alabama — the Spike Lee produced civil rights drama Son of the South, starring Lucy Hale and Lucas Till — Georgia film industry insiders can’t help but welcome the distraction. “Thank goodness for Alabama,” quips one source. “At least we have one state that’s worse than we are.”
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