“CBGB” and Georgia tax credits for movie productions: a good match

Voters should be wary of tax credits for specific businesses, but I’m a fan of Georgia’s credits for movie productions. Details about those credits can be found here and here.

Movie productions are by their very nature temporary, but they can provide critical employment to well-trained employees and also buoy small businesses. They can also provide amazing — and free — PR, which I’ll say more about in a moment.

It seems pretty clear that we wouldn’t have CBGB shooting in Savannah right now without the tax credits.

From the Wall Street Journal’s “The Bowery Went Down to Georgia” (emphasis added):

“Is it crazy to shoot ‘CBGB’ in Savannah?” asked director Randall Miller, who is producing the film with his wife and creative partner, Jody Savin, and Brad Rosenburger, a former music-publishing executive. With [Hilly] Kristal’s daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman, on board as a co-producer, as well as the cooperation of the current owners of the Kristal estate, the production was loaned a truckload of the bar’s original parts, including the front doors (complete with the orange bungee cord that tethered them), the phone booth and one of the toilets.

“It’s cost-prohibitive to shoot a movie in New York these days,” explained Mr. Miller, who has limited the film’s actual Manhattan scenery to some exterior location shots. “To re-create the Bowery [circa 1973] is very expensive.”

Generous tax credits made Georgia more appealing for the independently financed production, which could fly in crew from New York and Los Angeles on the cheap. It’s all about “how can you get as much as you can on screen when you’re not paying for Teamsters and everything else,” he said. “As much as New York hates to hear that, it’s all about dollars and cents.”

The film stars Alan Rickman as CBGB founder Hilly Kristal, with roles too for a variety of up-and-coming actors like Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from Harry Potter) and Ashley Greene (The Twilight Saga).

And the filmmakers are apparently on track to shoot another film in Savannah — The Drummer, a story of the Beach Boys. Apparently already slated for that are Aaron Eckhart, Vera Farmiga, and, again, Rupert Grint.

The interiors of CBGB are being shot at Meddin Studios, which President Obama visited last year. Meddin probably wouldn’t have been created if we were not home to the Savannah College of Art and Design. The film offices for Savannah and for Georgia deserve a big nod too.

In addition to some obvious economic activity, film shoots fuel PR. In a decade of writing columns in Savannah, I’ve never seen anything quite like the publicity that CBGB is getting. The shooting of a quintessentially New York story in Savannah has attracted media attention and so have the casting choices for famous musicians who played CBGB in the 70s. But the social media activity seems to be overwhelming stand-alone pieces like the WSJ’s. I’ve made a couple of dozen posts about the movie on my blog (click here for the list), and have gotten thousands of hits from all over the world.

I don’t know how to put a value on Ashley Greene telling her 1.7+ million Twitter followers that Savannah is “breathtaking” or on Stana Katic (“Castle”) tweeting her 138,000+ followers a picture of a fried green tomato or on Rupert Grint posing routinely for fan pictures that go viral.

I suppose one could dismiss the hype as virtually meaningless in the long run.

But during this CBGB shoot, tens of thousands of people around the world are being introduced to Savannah — and Georgia — in an exciting way. If the movie is any good, that effect will be multiplied exponentially when it is released in 2013.

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