GA Film Industry Ready For The Next Level

This week’s Courier Herald column:

The easiest way to kill success is to take it for granted.  The growth in Georgia’s entertainment industry has been an unqualified success.  Georgia’s leaders are taking steps to quantify where the industry currently stands in the state, as well as to prepare to anchor the industry for years to come.

The Georgia House of Representatives currently has a study committee focused on the Creative Arts and Entertainment industry.  Chaired by Representative Matt Dollar, the group is focused on assessing where the industry is, what is working, and what challenges remain to ensuring success in the state.  As Chairman Dollar noted during the group’s first meeting, “a statement needs to be made that the legislature understands what these industries mean to the economy and the growth and jobs that come with them.”

The groups second meeting, held last week at the Capitol, featured Lee Thomas, the Deputy Commissioner of Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment for Georgia’s Department of Economic Development.  A native of the entertainment business, Thomas now shepherds the industry’s efforts on behalf of the state.

Thomas’ presentation led with a historical perspective of the industry’s growth.  From when the film office was created in 1973 by Governor Jimmy Carter until 2008, the industry had a cumulative $5 Billion economic impact on the state.  In 2018 alone, the industry had 455 projects based in the state, spending $2.7 Billion in direct dollars and having an economic impact in just one year of $9.5 Billion dollars.

The studio infrastructure has grown as well.  When Georgia’s tax credit program was expanded a decade ago, there was one purpose-built sound stage in the state.  Raleigh Studios in Senoia, where The Walking Dead is filmed, had 45,000 square feet. Today, there are 2.3 million square feet of purpose built sound stages. 

Georgia now boasts the largest two sound stages in North America, the second largest studio complex in North America.  There are currently 14 dedicated, purpose-built studio complexes operating in the state.  Most are fully leased.

Thomas cited the Motion Picture Association of America’s estimate that the industry represents 92,100 jobs and 4.6 billion in wages in Georgia.  The industry average for film crew wages is $84,000 per year, a figure that Thomas noted was probably a bit low for Georgia given that our high demand has many projects paying above scale to recruit and retain talent.

The impact goes well beyond the timeline of a film shoot.  Thomas noted that The Dukes of Hazzard shot only five episodes in Newton County back in 1979, but the show remains a top reason for tourism in the area today.  That bodes well for the town of Senoia in Coweta County, who has seen the downtown grow from 6 businesses to 85 in the years that The Walking Dead have become a part of the town.

So what is next for the industry, given the documented success to date?  State officials and industry leaders are working to grow the creative side of the business here at home.

Writers and directors often choose the location television series and of post-production film activities based on where they live, and the creative base of the industry is still centered in Los Angeles.  For the industry to be truly anchored in Georgia, the state needs to foster the next generation of writers and directors here.

To that end, the University of Georgia last week announced a Master of Fine Arts degree in film, television, and digital media.  The program will train those who want a career in creating film content, with students spending one year on campus in Athens, and the second year the students will be based at Pinewood Forest, adjacent to Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayetteville.

Jeffrey Stepakoff, Executive Director of the Georgia Film Academy, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that the state “doesn’t have a film and television industry, it has a film and television production industry.”

“Production” is the key word there, as it is quantified by the number of studios, the crew jobs and respective salaries, and the spending on materials, meals, and other items that come from the local community when a film shoot comes to town. 

For Georgia to have a fully mature film industry, we will have to continue to foster the home grown talents of Georgia writers, producers, and directors.  The industry’s next level of success will have arrived when the creative side of the industry truly calls Georgia home.

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Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

So is that a net $2.7B or a gross $2.7B? I’m guessing its gross, in which case $2B is a better figure.