Burt Reynolds, ‘Deliverance’ put Georgia on the film industry’s map

The Peach State hasn’t always been a movie-making hub | Latest in our series on Georgia’s film industry
Philana Williams of the Mayor's Office of Film and Entertainment stopped by to discuss the film production boom in Atlanta.
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 8:52 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2022 at 11:28 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - It all began with a movie about a peaceful little whitewater rafting trip among best buds in north Georgia’s scenic mountains.

One of the first films made in Georgia, “Deliverance” was based on writer James Dickey’s debut novel of the same name. Released in 1972 and starring Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox and Jon Voight, it was filmed in northeast Georgia communities of Clayton and Rabun County, and became a huge commercial success.

“By 1974, we had built an entire whitewater-rafting industry on the back of ‘Deliverance,’” said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Lyons). “The city of Covington was telling us that 75% of their tourism came from people wanting to see where ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night’ were made. In Savannah, people wanted to see the park bench in ‘Forrest Gump.’”

“Gov. Jimmy Carter started our office in 1973 because of ‘Deliverance,’” said Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia film music and digital entertainment office. “He realized this is money coming from outside the state and bringing money to a very poor part of the state, and he wanted to figure out how to get more.”

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

Reynolds, arguably Hollywood’s most famous leading man of his era, used Georgia in several of his later films, including “The Longest Yard” in 1974; “Gator” in 1976; “Smokey and the Bandit” in 1977; “Cannonball Run” in 1980; “Smokey and the Bandit II” in 1980; and “Sharky’s Machine” in 1981, which was filmed almost exclusively in Atlanta.

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.

Stephens is one of the few Georgia lawmakers still in office who was a co-signer of the original 2005 tax credit.

“We were in dire straits back in 2008″ before the tax credit was expanded, Stephens recalled. “We were at the height of the great recession, and we desperately needed jobs and investments. At one point, the state only had two days of operating capital.

“To Sonny Perdue’s credit, we convinced enough people to pass the tax credit plan. We had no infrastructure at the time, but we said if we invest and make a film in Georgia, we’ll give you a 20% tax credit. And if you place that Georgia peach at the end of your production, we’ll give you that extra 10%. Now, we’re a $7 billion industry”

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.

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. The new facilities will include multiple soundstages, production office space, warehouses and mill space, as well as parking and other necessary amenities.

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.