Roughly 50 people are working in a sleek, modern office with breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline. A 20-foot display that changes colors welcomes visitors to a sports and entertainment management agency. The reception desk mimics the sign's change from green to blue to violet. Jumbo flat-screen TVs display the firm's logo. The desks are neat, the design minimal.
In a glass office, an executive is bickering with a professional athlete. Underlings walk by in professional attire, carrying portfolios. A lackey sits by the phone handling calls. Words are exchanged between the executive and the athlete.
"Cut!" yells the director. The executive relaxes, the underlings hop back on their iPhones, and an army of camera operators, lighting technicians, and production crew members scurry to set up another shot.
In reality, the scene is unfolding in a nondescript Chosewood Park warehouse, hundreds of miles from Manhattan. The office, one of two local sets built for the USA TV series "Necessary Roughness," is a 32,000-square-foot shell, albeit one that could accommodate an actual marketing agency if it needed to. The computers work. The lighting is state-of-the-art. Books about sports line the shelves and there are outlets in the floor to plug in electrical devices.
In 2008, Georgia implemented one of the country's most aggressive film tax incentive programs. On the surface, everything also seems to be in perfect working order. By all accounts, the industry has exploded. The economic impact of the more than 330 feature films, TV movies and shows, commercials, and music videos filmed from Hiawassee to Savannah in 2012 totaled more than $3.1 billion, according to the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office — up almost 30 percent from 2011. The industry provides an estimated 25,000 jobs — 11,000 of which are full-time. No longer is Georgia just a place where you can find some experienced behind-the-camera talent, a variety of scenery, including a post-apocalyptic-looking capital city, and the world's busiest airport. Now there is major money to be made — and saved.
Exactly five years in, it's safe to say that Georgia has arrived as a movie-making hub much sooner than anyone expected. What's harder to determine, though, is whether the tax credit is worth the tens of millions of dollars sacrificed annually in state revenue as a result. And whether the now ubiquitous presence of Hollywood stars, top-flight crews, and deep-pocketed producers is doing anything to help foster a local film community. With about a dozen new studios opening or already open in Georgia, the next five years will be a critical period that will largely determine the industry's long-term sustainability here. How the state, and, in turn, Atlanta, positions itself as a media brand beyond being a second-rate Hollywood is critical as it vies for a place alongside New York and California as one of the top media markets in America.
When Michael Akins moved to Georgia in the late 1980s and started working in the film industry, there were 150 film technicians in Georgia. Labor union meetings were held in the back room of Manuel's Tavern. Five years ago, roughly 500 technicians paid dues to the organization.
"Now we're sitting at about 1,800," says Akins, the business agent of IATSE Local 479. That's not even counting the number of workers who don't belong to the union, considering membership isn't mandatory in Georgia, unlike in California and New York.
Film, TV, and commercial production is no longer a fringe industry in Georgia. If you're skilled, serious, and plugged into the right network, there's more than enough consistent work to book a full schedule. Want to stay in state rather than hopscotch across the country, working on sets in far-flung locales and sleeping in hotels? That's now possible in Georgia.
The biggest shot in the arm to the state's film industry was the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act. Passed in 2008 by the Georgia General Assembly and signed the same year by Gov. Sonny Perdue, the law overhauled a tax credit for companies that produce films in the state. The move, which was built upon a similar
But often lost among the headlines about new films and studios and publicist-pushed-sightings of celebrities dining in Midtown is how the credit actually works. Under the program, companies that spend at least $500,000 on production and post-production in the state can qualify for a 20 percent tax credit. If they slap on a promotional Georgia logo at the end of the credits they receive an extra 10 percent. Georgia was expected to pay out $75 million in the tax credits for the last fiscal year, which ended July 1. Next year that number is expected to rise to $86 million.
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