Georgia Crafts a Peachy Deal to Keep Productions Filming in the State

When Gov. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., recently trekked to Los Angeles to woo movies and TV shows with Georgia’s generous tax credit, he conveyed a message that could make California’s artisans community nervous: The Peach State is making its production base permanent.

The aim, he says, is to overcome the back-and-forth of state legislatures that have traditionally bedeviled local incentives. Georgia neighbor North Carolina has rolled back its program; Louisiana’s is under greater scrutiny.

Deal wants to establish a more permanent production industry in his state and spare its film and TV credit from being a political target.

“If you get caught in the trap of having to defend tax credits to the entertainment industry vs. having to not use that money for things like education, then sometimes it is hard to defend,” he says. “We have avoided being caught in that trap.”

Georgia’s 30% credit is not only more generous than that of most states, including California’s; it also allows producers to count salaries of directors and actors in addition to below-the-line crew as part of their qualified expenses, as long as the payment is for work performed within the state.

Moreover, while California is hoping for a big boost in production since it more than tripled the size of its incentives program to $330 million annually, Georgia has no cap on the amount it is prepared to dole out in credits — which also happen to be transferable, i.e., they can be sold to other entities that may have a greater tax liability.

California has upped the ante. In the first round of allocations under its expanded program, four TV series are relocating to Los Angeles and will receive a special 25% credit. Among them: VH1’s “Hindsight,” which shot its first season in Atlanta.

Deal, however, says that his visit wasn’t motivated by greater competition from California.

“Studios basically said to us, ‘If you get the tax credits right, we will continue to come.’ And we said, ‘OK. We will take you up on that offer.’ We put our tax credits in order.”

Georgia essentially streamlined its credit in 2012, and production continued to grow. According to the state Dept. of Economic Development, $1.4 billion was spent on production in fiscal 2014. In 2007, it had been $132.5 million.

With the state now No. 3 in production, after California and New York, Deal says the goal is to establish a more permanent base for a workforce.

Infrastructure development plays into that strategy. For example, Pinewood Studios’ facility near Atlanta, which opened in 2014 and recently saw “Ant-Man” among its productions, plans to double in size.

Deal is also promoting a Georgia Film Academy — a partnership of universities and technical colleges — as well as an expansion of a grant program to include more recipients who are studying to be part of the film and TV workforce. The idea, he says, is to address a shortage of skilled crew members.

“We think if we have that permanency, (the film and TV business) will continue and stay there with us,” the governor says. “We are doing what the industry needs us to do to be successful.”

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