Doubling as almost any location in the world, Georgia has become a one-stop-shop for major and independent moviemakers alike. While Georgia’s plantations and quaint countryside are recognizable in such films such as Driving Miss Daisy and Fried Green Tomatoes, the state’s diverse locations have also attracted We Are Soldiers and Escape from New York, too. Bill Thompson, division director of the Georgia Film, Video & Music Office took time to answer some of MovieMaker’s most pressing questions on state incentives, beginning production in the state and why moviemaking is just as important as fruit.

Mallory Potosky (MM): We all know Georgia for its peaches, southern charm and the cities of Savannah and Atlanta. Why should we be adding film production to that well-rounded list?

Bill Thompson (BT): Georgia has a rich history of film and television production. Since 1972, over 550 feature films, TV pilots, series and movies of the week have been shot in Georgia. At varying times during this period, Georgia has been number three in the nation in film and television production, after California and New York. The total economic impact of film and television production in Georgia in the last 35 years is over $4.2 billion dollars and should surpass $5 billion dollars by 2009.

MM: On average, how many movies are produced in the state each year?

BT: Georgia has averaged about 15 feature films and television series per year for the last 35 years. In 2006 the state was host to six major feature films and 15 independent feature films, as well as three TV series and several pilots. These included We Are Marshall, directed by McG, Daddy’s Little Girls by Tyler Perry and Stomp the Yard, produced by RainForest Films in conjunction with Sony Pictures. The Signal, an indie feature shot in Atlanta, was dubbed the “best movie at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival” and was purchased after its screening there by Magnolia Pictures, entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s company. There are currently two TV series in production in Georgia, one of which is an MTV production. One new Tyler Perry film is shooting now and four indie features are starting production or are in final pre-production in the state. One of these has Billy Bob Thornton attached and another major feature, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, will shoot in Georgia this spring. The pilot episode of “October Road”, a six-episode series shot in Georgia last year, debuted on ABC in March.

MM: Besides Savannah and Atlanta, in what other areas are you seeing burgeoning film communities popping up?

BT: Film communities are gaining traction in many other parts of the state including Macon, Rome, Athens, Columbus, Valdosta and southwest Georgia. Several of these cities are creating municipal film commissions.There is a new production studio in southwest Georgia as well as a multi-county annual film festival. There are several other studio production complexes being aggressively considered in Savannah, Columbus and Atlanta. There is also a significant number of mature and new film festivals throughout the state, the most notable being the Atlanta Film Festival, created in 1975 and among the top 10 film festivals in the nation. Others include the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Savannah Film Festival, the MAGA Film Festival in Macon, the Rome International Film Festival, the Independent Black Film Festival and a dozen more.

MM: Movies like Driving Miss Daisy, Forrest Gump and Fried Green Tomatoes showcase the epitome of what makes the South–and Georgia in particular–endearing. But for moviemakers who aren’t looking for that type of “quaint countryside scenery,” what other looks does the state have to offer? What are some specific examples of locations that are unique to the state?

BT: First of all, Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi River and offers the most diverse set of locations in the eastern part of the country. Within the state’s boundaries, there are the Appalachian mountains, over 120 miles of beaches, 100 barrier islands, an intercoastal waterway, hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams, forests, coastal plains, marshes and the one-of-a kind Okeefenokee Swamp. There are abundant rural areas with farmland, small towns, medium-sized cities, huge metropolitan areas and historic Savannah. There are countless historic buildings, Civil War battlefields and Native American structures. Georgia has doubled for Vietnam, Europe, California, New England, the Midwest, New York, West Virginia and many other locales. Not all movies made in Georgia are “quaint” or traditionally Southern in nature. Movies like We Are Soldiers, Robocop III, Invasion USA, FreeJack, Escape From New York and many more have nothing to do with our rich heritage or traditional southeastern countryside or the perception of what the South is like that is prevalent outside the South. Georgia can be almost any locale in the world, as long as the scripts do not call for the Rocky Mountains, the Sahara Desert or large amounts of snow and ice. Other than that, we are open for business every day!

MM: When deciding on where to shoot a film, one of the first questions a moviemaker asks is: What are the financial incentives? Can you talk a little bit about the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act? How does it help major and independent moviemakers who choose to shoot in the state?

BT: Georgia’s incentives are based upon a base tax credit and several additional tiers of tax credits, as well as a state sales and use tax exemption. Film and television series producers can save up to 17 percent in Georgia plus a seven percent point of purchase sales tax waiver. Also, unlike some other state’s incentive plans, Georgia’s is a plan that makes sound business sense and is sustainable for the long-term. Our incentives are not limited; there are no caps on what a production can spend and no caps on the credits that those companies may receive, as long as they meet a minimum annual qualifier. Our incentives do not run out or expire after a certain amount of money is given back to filmmakers. Georgia’s investment act has been a huge success with 2006 being a record year for film and television production in Georgia.

MM: Okay, so you’ve sold a moviemaker on shooting in the state. What’s the first step he or she should take to begin working with your office on getting this idea up and on the big screen–with Georgia as its background?

BT: Filmmakers should contact the Georgia Film, Video & Music Office as soon as they begin development on a project. We love to read their scripts well in advance and provide insight as to how their storyline could be enhanced or perfected by shooting in Georgia. We use the Reel-Scout software system that allows our location specialists to search locations online with our clients and makes the process very interactive and efficient. Our team will assist filmmakers in identifying locations that they would like to see and then conduct initial location scouting trips anywhere in the state. Later, after the general location types have been determined, we work closely with the film’s location scouts and location manager to ensure that the perfect locations are identified and available. We also then provide information on Georgia’s extensive crew base of over 3,000 experienced professionals, as well as equipment suppliers, studio infrastructure, production office space, other resources and more. The state’s infrastructure is second to none in the South. Remember, Georgia has been at this business longer than any other Southern state. Our office also qualifies all projects in terms of eligibility for the incentives and administers all the tax credit and sales tax exemption applications and claims.

MM: Anything else you’d like to add?

BT: Georgia has a 35-year moviemaking heritage that has helped enrich the lives of hundreds of millions of moviegoers throughout the world. The state has an incredible transportation system, with 20 direct flights to LA every day. Clients don’t have to change planes one or two times before they get to where they are going. They can fly directly to Georgia and get right to work. It’s also easier for them to go home on weekends or holidays. The state has a very mild climate with a longer shooting season than most states and is not susceptible to natural disasters or anything that might shut a production down. Georgia is a right to work state and we enjoy very good relationships with the various production unions including IATSE, the Teamsters, SAG, etc. There is a new bill in our legislature right now that will further improve Georgia’s entertainment incentive plan and we will continue to be aggressive and competitive in this area.

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