Small Cities and Towns: 1. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the returning champion of our Small Cities and Towns list—not bad for a population of just 145,674!
Dare we say that its ascendance this year was even more emphatic than before? For one, an impressive armada of features took to the cobblestone streets (lined by giant oak trees covered with Spanish moss). On the major side, there was Paramount’s Baywatch, the TV sensation-turned-blockbuster; on the indie side the list goes on: Lizzie, with Chloe Sevigny as Lizzie Borden; horror film Mara with Olga Kurylenko; John Cusack thriller Misfortune; the William H. Macy-directed Krystal; comedies The Divorce Party and Coup D’etat… Elsewhere, in the TV realm, Underground shot its second season, and Tyler Perry’s Savannah-set soap opera The Haves and the Have Nots shot its fifth season, among other scripted and reality shows. All told, that’s $62 million in estimated expenditure.
That figure shouldn’t surprise, considering Georgia’s whopping 30 percent tax credit—and the fact that Savannah moviemakers now receive an additional 10 percent local rebate for their projects, and even relocation incentives for crew. According to Beth Nelson, executive director of the Savannah Area Film Office, “The Savannah Entertainment Production Rebate Incentive has had tremendous success during its first year, exceeding expectations.” A TV series and several feature films utilize the incentive, Nelson reports, and the annual cap was reached in November.
With this flurry of activity, it’s no wonder the City of Savannah Film Office expanded in 2016 to become the Savannah Area Film Office, with added staff and a new website, covering multiple municipalities in Chatham County.
Local moviemaker Samone Norsworthy (producer and director of My Brother’s Keeper) says you can make a living here once you tap into the intimate film circle. “I’m proof positive of that statement—I returned to my hometown of Savannah from L.A. four years ago and have been working here consistently ever since. It’s a tight community; we look out for one another.”
Last year’s opening of the Georgia Film Academy through Savannah Technical College established GFA’s fourth location in the state. For now, though, Savannah College of Art and Design, and its companion annual Savannah Film Festival, are the institutions that largely dominate the landscape, and deservedly so—the school lends its students truly state-of-the-art spaces, and the fest puts the town’s gorgeous and historic movie theaters to good use. And while the infrastructure admittedly isn’t as extensive as in larger moviemaking cities, production services and rental companies like Savannah Film Company and the new branch of High Output, and studio facilities like Savannah Film Factory and the recently opened River Oaks Film Studios, are holding down the fort.
Yes, you’re thinking, but what about the lifestyle? We’re happy to report that it’s as charming as you’d hope: the beautiful vistas come alive with food and music festivals, farmers markets and outdoor sports. Norsworthy puts it this way: “Savannah is addictive. Staying focused can be difficult when surrounded by such amazing people and scenery. And weight gain is likely.”