Georgia Film Industry More Than Studios

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Georgia’s emerging film and entertainment industry has spent the past decade going from a mostly conceptual phase to one where the roots are firmly planted in Georgia soil, and fruits are regularly harvested. As the industry begins to mature and expand, it’s also showing evidence of meeting the long term goal: Employing Georgians year round in an industry that will increasingly have full time companies staffing and servicing the temporary projects that move through Georgia production facilities.

Exhibit A for the film industry is South Georgia attorney Patrick Millsaps. Millsaps’ journey began as a somewhat accidental and quixotic trip through national campaign work and led him to be the Co-Founder and CEO of a Georgia based film production company, Londonderry Entertainment.

In December 2011, he traveled to Iowa to serve for two days as a volunteer on the presidential campaign of New Gingrich. Millsaps, not terribly shy and occasionally outspoken, found himself at odds with much of the paid staff. After suggesting the campaign produce and release a cost-effective YouTube video that earned Gingrich national media attention, Millsaps found himself being asked by the candidate to stay on for a few more days. A few days, led to weeks, and after Gingrich’s win in South Carolina, he was surprised to learn in a follow up staff meeting that Newt was appointing him to be the campaign’s Chief of Staff.

His stint in campaign world gave him many media contacts, as well as others he met along the way. After the election he reached out to actress Stacey Dash, who had endorsed Mitt Romney during the general election and received significant criticism for doing so. He ultimately ended up representing Dash as her manager for a couple of years, with him introducing her to his political and media friends, and Dash helping Millsaps network within the entertainment establishment.

That began a journey that led him through many of the inner workings of the business side of the industry. One of his earliest lessons is that much of the business of Hollywood – particularly its finances – are kept excessively complicated by design. As he began to break down various models to understand where the money came from and where it really went, he began to pick up more and more clients and business partners because of his southern plainspoken manner and use of numbers that were unconventionally straightforward.

His first foray into producing was when he served as Executive Producer to an independent film that had lost much of its financing four days before shooting was to begin. Patrick convinced an investor from Texas to overnight $200,000 to complete the $500,000 budget. That film, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” starring Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Martin Starr, Malin Akerman and Rhea Perlman, was invited to premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, was purchased by a distributor, was released nationally and brought in $16,000,000 at the box office.

In January of this year, Millsaps co-founded a nationwide talent management and production, Londonderry Entertainment. His partner Sheila Wenzel-Ganny was a longtime Hollywood agent who has represented such notables as Amanda Seyfried, Britt Robertson, Katee Sackoff and McCauley Culkin. She now runs the talent management division of Londonderry out of their Beverly Hills office. All of the company’s financial and business operations are headed by UGA graduate Don Grimsley in Gainesville, GA where he leads the team of accountants, bookkeepers, and analysts. Millsaps, originally from Marietta, now living in Albany, Georgia with his wife and three daughters says that his office “is on a Delta jet, reading scripts and reviewing budgets” splitting his time between Londonderry’s Atlanta, Beverly Hills, Nashville and New York locations.

Millsaps has bold plans not only for Londonderry, but for the entire entertainment industry in Georgia. His goal – shared with that of many state leaders – is to make Georgia a “self contained production state”. Much ink has been written about the new studios that have joined the Walking Dead’s Raleigh Studios over the past few years. Pinewood Studios is an established and growing entity remaking central Fayette County. Tyler Perry is planning an ambitious expansion of his Georgia operations in taking over much of the abandoned Ft. McPherson. Numerous other studio projects dot the Atlanta perimeter and across other parts of Georgia.

Other than Tyler Perry’s these studios, mostly, are on a business model that relies on short term facilities rental—cast and crew come to Georgia to film and then leave. Most of the industry is still led by decisions made in Los Angeles and New York. Millsaps wants to change that. He makes it a point to introduce his relationships in the industry to businesses in Georgia. For instance, Londonderry banks with Atlanta-based Atlantic Capital. He is now introducing studio executives to his hometown bank to move some of that business into the state. Millsaps also says that Governor Deal’s Georgia Film Academy is “brilliant” and “will continue to soldering Georgia to the entertainment industry.” Additionally, as Londonderry continues to educate Georgians, not only how to maximize Georgia’s tax credits for film & television, but the opportunities that such as investment present investors with their federal income tax as well, the more firmly rooted the industry will become.

It’s been an interesting if not totally planned journey for Millsaps, one that allows him to have one foot firmly planted in the glitzy world of Hollywood, and one that allows him to enjoy the neighborly qualities (and diet) of Southwest Georgia. His near term goals are to “make great films with great people.” As the father of three daughters, Londonderry’s stated purpose is to provide more filmmaking opportunities to women. The more successful he is at doing that, the closer the two worlds that he currently inhabits will be to becoming one.

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gcp
gcp

If the tax incentives are the same for production companies based in Georgia and those based out of Georgia than how does a production company benefit by basing in Georgia? Why make an investment in property, buildings and permanent local employees if you can import employees and rent or lease local facilities? Millsaps desire to make Georgia a “self contained production state” seems to somewhat conflict with current Ga. tax policy. I do agree with him in that the structure and finances of the film industry are very complex.

NoParty4Me
NoParty4Me

First, full disclosure. I work in the film/tv industry. I am a 35+ year resident of Georgia. The film/TV industry benefits a huge number of Georgia residents and businesses. http://www.georgia.org/industries/entertainment/georgia-film-tv-production/production-incentives/ Note the important point #7, “expenditures must be made in Georgia”. This is the most important selling point and economic benefit for many Georgia citizens. Film business spends huge amounts locally on retail, food, rentals, services and labor. Many normal businesses benefit from film production spending in the state. Here are some examples: warehouse and office rent, hotel and apartment rentals (many out of town crew have to pay for… Read more »

gcp
gcp

Here is another explanation of tax benefits unique to the film industry. While production companies don’t get a tax break on catered meals they do get a credit on a portion of lodging and some transportation.

http://www.credcga.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Film_Tax_Incentive_Brochure_6-2-11_2.sflb_.pdf

NoParty4Me
NoParty4Me

Thanks for the extra link. I have not seen that document. Good point. Local companies doing business with film companies do not get the tax credit, only the qualified production companies. Plus, if there is no sales tax on items purchased, such as food, there is no tax benefit. These items are still essential and necessary to any production. They will be purchased locally and benefit the stores or food vendors.