Modern studios, retooled incentives ensure a steady flow of work

The ink was barely dry on EUE/Screen Gems’ deal to transform Altanta’s 94-year-old Lakewood Fairgrounds into a state-of-the-art studio in May 2010, when the facility secured its first client, BET sitcom “The Game,” to shoot on Stage 4 the following October.

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There was only one problem: the 15,000-square-foot building needed a few not-so-minor upgrades, including a new roof.

“We hustled to get the studio ready,” admits EUE/Screen Gems prexy Chris Cooney. “(BET representatives) would come by the property to inspect the progress and that gave us all the motivation we needed to get it done.”

Not that he expected to be hurting for clients. “There was a strong demand at that point,” he says.

A year later, the demand has only intensified. Films have been pouring into Georgia one after another, including Universal’s “Fast Five,” Paramount’s “Footloose” remake, Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” and the Farrelly brothers’ “The Three Stooges,” which begins lensing this month. The state is also hosting more than a dozen TV shows, including AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” and Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and “For Better or for Worse,” which starts shooting this summer.

The chief attraction is undoubtedly the state’s production incentive, which in 2008 was revamped from a complicated four-tier system offering producers a tax credit ranging from 9% to 19% to a base 20% transferable tax credit, with an additional 10% if the finished product features an animated state logo.

“It’s a very competitive rate,” says Joe Chianese, who, as senior VP of taxes, business development and production planning for Entertainment Partners, advises clients on the use of incentive programs. The credit is applicable to both resident and non-resident crew, as well as for above-the-line talent, “and those are all really important factors, especially for large-budget projects,” he says.

EP recently opened an office in Atlanta to service the state’s burgeoning activity.

Still, Georgia is just one of 43 states that have production incentives, and several — including New York, Illinois, Florida and Michigan — offer tax credits or rebates with raw percentages that are equal to or better than those of the Peach State. Yet aside from New York, none have generated the enormous overnight influx of high-profile projects that Georgia has seen.

“Fiscal year 2007, our economic impact from the film industry was about $240 million, and by fiscal year 2010, it was $1.4 billion,” points out Lee Thomas, director of the film division of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office. “That’s quite a runup.”

One of the secrets to Georgia’s success is its crew base, which boasts both breadth and depth. “Very few places have that,” says Cooney.

Georgia also boasts a wide variety of locations, from beaches, swamps and the North Georgia Mountains to dense urban areas.

“We don’t have deserts or glaciers, but pretty much everything else we can cover,” Lee says.

To help facilitate the current spread of production across the state, the film office has launched a program called Camera-Ready Communities.

“They have designated people who have all the answers about where permits are required and who the fire chief is,” Thomas explains.

However, the bulk of the activity remains centered around its largest city and state capital, Atlanta.

“Atlanta has this extreme wealth, this rich Southern history and also this burgeoning hip-hop scene,” says Beau Bauman, exec producer of recently completed ABC pilot “Hail Mary,” starring Minnie Driver, set and shot in Atlanta. “The show is all about contrasts between the different worlds of the two main characters, and city provided an incredible backdrop for that.”

Georgia has certainly come a long way since the dark days of 2007, when its production community was subsisting largely on commercials, work from the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System and the creative output of Peach State loyalist Tyler Perry.

In addition to Perry’s new 200,000-square-foot studio complex in Southwest Atlanta, and EUE/Screen Gems’ now-completed complex — which includes a new 37,000-square-foot purpose-built structure, dubbed Stage 5, where the USA Network series “Necessary Roughness” begins shooting this month — the state also has RiverWood Studios in Senoia, 35 miles south of Atlanta, now managed by Raleigh Studios.

Another vote of confidence came when Panavision returned to the state after a 13-year absence a to open a 12,000-square-foot showroom on the west side of Atlanta last month.

“It makes all the difference in the world to have that kind of infrastructure here,” Thomas says. “It’s like we have everything now.”

SCOUT & ABOUT: GEORGIA:
Peach State retools for film, TV biz | Tax credits add to Georgia’s strengths | Scouts sound off

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