Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The movie industry has returned to Georgia, and the industry continues to grow. Last week, Fayette County Commissioners gave zoning approval to 288 acres of land that will soon see a movie studio rise from the rolling farmland. The owner, Pinewood Studios, is the organization behind the Harry Potter and James Bond films among many others. In short, it’s a big deal.
Georgia is not a stranger to the entertainment industry. As a kid I grew up just a couple of miles from the proposed studio in an era that saw Georgia give the world the Smokey and the Bandit movies. Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed in the area while I was in High School. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil provided a nice lift to Savannah’s tourism industry on the other end of the state.
More recently, Alcon Entertainment rented my home church in North Fayette County for 6 weeks to be the main set for the film The Joyful Noise. It is difficult to describe how surreal it is to see Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah singing in a choir loft where you performed in Christmas pageants as a kid, other actors talking in the yard of my Aunt Mae’s old house, or the funeral for Kris Kristofferson’s character a few headstones over from that of my father.
Because the production company used local actors, the memories I have of those in the place where I grew up were juxtaposed against these actors, as many from the church’s congregation were used as extras. Thus, along with the stars mentioned above I got to see Bill and Linda Beckwith, Brenda Torbush, Sylvia Higgenbotham, and even a quick glimpse of my Mom during various scenes. Even then, it was easy to note that many of them weren’t sitting in their normal pew. So much for reality based movies.
The movie provided a good shot in the arm to a country church that is finding it tough to meet its budget in this economy, as well as a boost to many local businesses. That is the point of growing this business in Georgia.
While the state has seen its share of film production over the years, tax breaks given to companies that produce here combined with Georgia’s right to work & low regulatory business environment have begun to pay off in a large way. Riverwood studios (now Raleigh Studios) is located in Senoia Georgia just a few miles to the southeast of Pinewood’s location and produces The Walking Dead series. Tyler Perry’s studios are just a few miles to the north in Southwest Atlanta.
Critics of the tax breaks argue that the incentives given to draw temporary filming do not provide a long term return on investment, claiming that the production companies pack up and leave town as each film wraps. They argue that the production follows the incentives, and the industry provides too much flexibility to create a sustainable employment base.
The investments by the three studios listed above plus other smaller projects indicate otherwise. Georgia’s development as an entertainment production center is one of its best economic success stories of the last decade. It’s not about the temporary jobs that are created as production temporarily visits the area. It’s about attracting the base of talent and the infrastructure required to support more permanent portions of the productions.
It’s also a lesson in tax policy. The tax wasn’t used as a short term gimmick. While some have argued it needs to be ended, it is a long term program that has allowed those in an industry with long term planning horizons for relatively short term projects to have stability in their projections. That stability has generated companies who have tried Georgia and liked it. We have developed a reputation, and it is a good one.
A reputation is much harder to earn than it is to lose. Georgia has earned this reputation by keeping a stable, low cost, and low tax business environment. Specific winners and losers in this scenario are still left to the open market. Georgia just provides an open competitive environment for those who would come here to take advantage of it.
Georgia built it. And the studios are coming here. Just like from that movie.