Competition from other states increasing pressure on Georgia’s film industry

New Jersey, Louisiana, New Mexico among states vying for Georgia’s productions | First in our series on Georgia’s film industry
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 7:12 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2022 at 10:21 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - A number of states have Georgia on their minds when it comes to attracting film companies operating in the Peach State - away from us and over to them.

But those on the Atlanta film scene say Georgia is and will continue to be a top filming destination.

“I don’t want to diss on other southern states but I think as an overall package, we really have everything and our incentives are a huge part of that,” Atlanta Film Society’s Linda Burns told CBS46.

Georgia has been working to entice TV and movie producers since 2005 – when former Governor Sonny Perdue signed a generous tax incentive program. Since then, the tax credit for production companies has only increased – now up to 20% with an extra 10% if the film includes the “Made in Georgia” logo in their credits.

The tax credit for Georgia productions is 20% with an extra 10% if the film includes the “Made...
The tax credit for Georgia productions is 20% with an extra 10% if the film includes the “Made in Georgia” logo in their credits.(Rachel Polansky)

But Burns said it’s not just incentives that make Georgia so special.

“We don’t have one iconic look. You can make it look like New York. You can make it look like L.A. You can make it look like a small town. You can make it look like a big metropolitan city,” Burns added.

It appears Georgia’s efforts have paid off. In the fiscal year 2021, 366 productions were filmed in the Peach State with $4 billion in direct spending going into Georgia’s economy.

In fiscal year 2021, 366 productions were filmed in the Peach State with $4 billion in direct...
In fiscal year 2021, 366 productions were filmed in the Peach State with $4 billion in direct spending going into Georgia’s economy.(Rachel Polansky)

Other states are taking notice - like New Jersey.

“Georgia is the biggest player on the East Coast,” said Darryl Isherwood, who leads the New Jersey Economic Development’s film and digital media efforts. “We’d be foolish not to look at what they’ve done. But we offer a better deal in a series of incentives that are capped at more responsible levels.”

In 2018 and 2020, New Jersey reinstituted a 35% tax incentive for film and digital media production and wants to build a brick-and-mortar production industry like Georgia’s but at levels that are capped. Georgia’s film tax incentives have no cap.

A total of 31 states now have tax credits designed to bring productions to their state. Michigan has passed a 40% tax credit, while New Mexico has already lured the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things” from Georgia to metropolitan Albuquerque.

About 9,000 New Mexico residents work in the state’s film, television, and digital media industry. According to the state, a 2021 economic impact study indicated the industry generated more than $1 billion in economic output. (The New Mexico Film Office declined a CBS46 interview request, saying the office was short-staffed.)

Louisiana’s film industry may finally have the stability it was looking for five years after the state of Louisiana restored a 25% tax credit for movies being filmed here. Last year, the film industry spent more than $1 billion in New Orleans and the city is on track to break that record in 2022.

“There are more productions in the city than ever before and there appears to be no slowing up,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell told KVUE Fox 8. The New Orleans Film Office’s Carol Morton also told the station that since January 1, productions have spent $435 million in the city.

As Hollywood film costs began soaring in the 1990s, other nations began passing tax credits to lure film companies outside the U.S. Hollywood and the Motion Picture Association began lobbying Congress to provide financial incentives to spur domestic film production.

In 2004, as part of the American Jobs Creation Act, Congress included an addendum that provided immediate tax write-offs for domestic film production. That spurred states such as Georgia to provide their own tax incentive programs.

The Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act was passed by the General Assembly in 2005 and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue. It provided a 10% tax credit for production companies that spent money in the state. Three years later, that tax credit was increased to 20%, and an additional 10% was tacked on for any film that included the “Made in Georgia” logo in its end credits.

By the numbers: Georgia film industry

  • No cap on the film/ TV tax credit program
  • In fiscal year 2021, 366 productions were filmed in the state, represented by 21 feature films, 45 independent films, 222 television and episodic productions, 57 commercials, and 21 music videos.
  • In fiscal year 2021, the film and television industry set a new record with $4.1 billion in direct spending on productions in the state.
  • In fiscal year 2021, Georgia doled out $1.2 billion in film and TV tax credits. That was 40% higher than the state’s previous record, $860 million, which was set in 2019.
  • Georgia was the first state to allow filming during the pandemic.

“The biggest threats to the industry are some folks in the state senate,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Lyons), who was a co-signer of that 2005 law. “They believe taxpayers are not getting the bang for the buck and that we’re giving away too much to the industry. They want to cap the credit and sunset the credit, which will kill the industry.”

“When you cap a tax credit, you’re capping prosperity,” Stephens said. “It won’t work.”

“It’s hard to say what the industry will look like in 20 years,” said Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. “You see the proliferation of all this new technology and the worlds of gaming or melding with feature films and television. When we look at film and television and gaming, they’re just becoming as one.”

Assembly Atlanta is a 135-acre mixed-use real estate complex centered around the studio industry at the former site of the General Motors plant in Doraville.

The signature component of the Assembly Atlanta development is the 43-acre Assembly Studios complex featuring soundstages, production offices, warehouse and mill buildings, studio bungalows, event space, and a parking deck. Next to the Assembly Studios complex is Third Rail Studios, a movie and television production facility spanning seven acres that opened in 2016, and that Gray acquired in September 2021.