If you haven’t noticed, Georgia has become a hotbed for the film industry in recent years.
Movies studios and sound stages are popping up in all areas of the state, and there’s no sign of the industry slowing down any time soon.
Movies such as “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I,” “Dumber and Dumber To,” “42,” “Furious 6,” “Anchorman 2,” “X-Men: First Class” and many more have all filmed scenes somewhere within the Georgia borders.
Even TV shows are getting in on the action with shows like “The Walking Dead,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” and others making Georgia their base of operations for filming.
This is why Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, referred to the state as “ATL-wood” during a business and education summit about Georgia’s film industry held at the Newton College and Career Academy, 144 Rams Drive, Covington Friday morning.
Add in the fact that Georgia now ranks in the top three of U.S. states, behind only Louisiana and California respectively, for film production in the nation, and it’s easy to see why Thomas feels comfortable using that moniker.
She even showed an image of the letters A-T-L replacing the word Holly in the famous “Hollywood” sign that sits on Hollywood Hills and has been a symbol for the movie industry since it was erected in 1923.
“California has lost a good bit of its business to us,” said Thomas. “We have 28 shows (filming) right now, so it’s good times.”
Having the abundance of production equipment throughout the state has helped.
“When we didn’t have this infrastructure, we couldn’t accommodate movies like this,” said Thomas.
Georgia gave birth to its film office in 1973, one year after the cult-classic “Deliverance” was filmed in Rabun County.
The dollar amount generated in Rabun County, which was “a very poor part of the state” at the time, were so significant that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who was Georgia’s governor at the time, decided to setup an office specifically designed to lure in the movie business, says Thomas.
In the span of 25 years after the office started, the film industry accounted for about $2.5 billion of economic impact in Georgia.
To put that monetary value into perspective, in fiscal year 2014 alone, the film industry had a $5.1 billion impact throughout the state.
“Every year we’re growing. We anticipate we’re going to grow this year,” said Thomas. “There [are] a lot of reasons why Georgia is a production center now.”
One major reason it seems that movie studios are flocking to “ATL-wood” is for the 20 percent base transferable tax credit given to studios for filming in the state. An additional 10 percent credit is offered if the studio agrees to embed a Georgia promotional logo in the film’s credits.
The diverse shooting locations across the state and the ability of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to handle high volumes of traffic in-and-out of the state are also key attractions for production, says Thomas.
Room to grow
While the filming industry in Georgia is flourishing, the workforce needed for the positions on a movie set aren’t moving quite as fast.
“We’re at a big moment in Georgia history when this business is completely booming,” said Kris Bagwell, executive vice-president for Atlanta-based EUE/Screen Gems Studios, during the summit. “I think the biggest challenge, in what we’ve been trying to do as a studio alliance, is kind of helping to jumpstart this training.”
Enter Scott Votaw, an instructor for Southern Crescent Technical College, which is based in Upson, Ga, who was hired by the school to help develop a program geared towards teaching young people the specialized jobs needed on a film’s production crew.
The technical school unveiled a trail run of the Georgia Film Institute program for this year’s fall semester, after spending nearly a year working on the curriculum. There are currently 38 students enrolled in the program.
“It was the brainchild of our president, Dr. Randall Peters,” said Votaw. “He wanted to start something that trained film industry personnel.”
The program would give students a certificate, and eventually offer a two-year associate’s degree, in a specific trade required for a movie set, such as hair and make-up, set construction, graphic design, costume design and special-effects make-up.
“Certification is what we’re going to do, just like we would a plumber or electrician,” Votaw said. “We’re already doing this for other industries, so we just have to adjust it and do that for film.”
These types of jobs are known as “below-the-line” in the film industry for the placement of the job on a film production’s budget sheet. For contrast, “above-the-line” jobs would be actors, directors, producers and writers.
Karl Horstmann, founder of Covington-based Triple Horse Studios, supports this type of program which allows young people to get a foot in the door of a film set. He says he worked as a production assistant, the mail room of the filming industry, on sets when he was younger and encourages young people to start at the bottom.
“A lot of people come to us, and they submit their resumes, and they have a lot of education, and they ask us, ‘Do we have any jobs for directors or producers,’ and it’s funny we don’t,” said Horstmann. “What we tell everyone is you need to start at the bottom. I encourage young people to get as much of a foundation as they can and then get out there and make a difference.”
The future of the program is to expand it beyond the doors of Southern Crescent Technical College and apply the program into other technical schools across the state.
Votaw mentioned possibly moving the program to Savannah Technical College, which is based in Savannah, Ga, and working with some of the movie studios in that area.
“We are piloting the program,” said Votaw. “We’re building it. We’re finishing it. We’re going to get it looking great and get it accepted by the industry and then we’re going to roll it out.”
Votaw says that the program is still about a year away before being ready to be advertised.
“We want to flesh it out before we release it,” he told the audience of about 40 people.