To be or not to be "Hollywood of the South"?
Probably a little late to be asking that question, especially since Georgia's film and TV industry has already declared itself such - and generated the state $3.1 billion in economic impact to prove it in fiscal year 2012. With a growing proliferation of production studios - including the recent announcement that Pinewood Studios, the British-based company known as the production home of the James Bond film franchise, will open its first U.S. studio on 288 acres in Fayette County - there's little real debate over Atlanta's "Hollywood of the South" alias.
But now and then the question emerges over how best to custom-fit that title, while carving out an alternate identity in the shadow of Hollywood. It made for some interesting dialogue during last Friday's first celebration of Atlanta's 2013 TV pilot season.
"We don't have to be better than Hollywood, we just have to be professional," said longtime actor Jeff Rose, who played host at the local industry awards event, which was a prelude to this fall's first Atlanta Television Festival. An Atlanta native, Rose's own acting career came full circle when a temporary hiatus from Hollywood turned permanent during his return home in the mid-'90s to take care of his ailing mother. When Georgia's tax incentive program gave the local industry a boost in 2008, Rose's acting career got a reboot. He's since appeared in over 20 productions, including such TV series as "Army Wives" and "Drop Dead Diva."
Joy Pervis, on the other hand, fully embraces the tag. As the CEO of JPervis Talent Agency, she's helped cast a slew of films and shows (Flight, Identity Thief, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and "The Vampire Diaries"). "I am going to say it's the Hollywood of the South because I believe it's the Hollywood of the South," Pervis said after Rose introduced her to the stage. "I get a minimum of five really strong resumes a week from actors that are working [in L.A.] but want to have representation here because they know this is where it's happening."
So far, Atlanta's well-documented brand of Southern boosterism seems to pair well with the kind of preening and promoting that's a byproduct of Hollywood. While some have debated whether or not Atlanta's 30 percent tax incentive will pay off, Atlanta native Jasmine Kaur has no doubts. "Within five years, Atlanta's probably going to be bigger than L.A. or Hollywood," says the actress who starred in the Science channel's first sitcom, the locally produced "Stuff You Should Know."
Brad James and Jasmine Burke, the creators behind the Atlanta Television Festival and last week's Celebrating Pilot Season in Atlanta intend to "bridge the gap between content creators and content distributors," Burke told Fox 5 Atlanta.
It amounted to a whole lot of networking at the pilot season awards ceremony as casting agents, producers, and local studio owners swapped everything from business cards to Georgia tax incentive strategy. Actors in attendance included the casts from Tyler Perry's new OWN shows ("The Haves and the Have Nots," "Love Thy Neighbor"). But the event was also an unabashed lovefest for networks such as BET, which more than 12 productions to Atlanta in 2012. Its parent company, Viacom, has already announced plans to make Atlanta a television hub. Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler was on-hand to present BET's award. "I can tell you, there were a lot of people that doubted any of this would work," Butler said, referring to the state's generous film and TV production tax incentive, which is credited with the resulting boom. "It has done so much and it came at a needed time."
For the time being, Atlanta's reaping the reported economic windfall while remaining immune to the soulless, vacuous connotation the "Hollywood" stamp carries with it.
Actress Renee Lawless of "The Haves and the Havenots" spends most of her time "pound[ing] the pavement" for roles in New York, but the Jacksonville, Fla. resident says she's seriously considering a permanent move to Atlanta because, for her, it offers everything Hollywood and New York don't - including affordability, proximity to family, and seemingly endless opportunity.
"In New York and L.A., the series are all wrapping up [for the season]. But they're picking back up in Atlanta. Plus, there are 36-some odd movies coming here. I have friends here, I have a goddaughter here, I have other stuff." For the time being, Lawless' agent has convinced her to stay in Atlanta, where she had three film and TV auditions last week. "If I can make this work, I'll buy a house here in a heartbeat."
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