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Lights, camera, money
Filming industry spends big money across Georgia, locally
vampire Diaries filming

Georgia’s film industry by the numbers
- 158: feature film and TV productions
- $1.4 billion: spent by productions shot in the state
- 77,900: jobs generated
- $3.8 billion: total wages generated
*Information provided by Gov. Deal’s Office of Communications

- $4 billion+: 2013 (calendar year) economic impact of entertainment industry
- 142: FY 2014 feature films and television projects gave record investment in the state

- $939.9 million+: FY 2014 direct spending/total value of all production budgets
- $933.9 million: FY 2013 total value of all production budgets
- $879.8 million: FY 2012 total value of all production budgets
- $689.3 million: FY 2011 total value of all production budgets
*Information provided by Emily Murray, communications specialist at Georgia Department of Economic Development

Newton County’s film industry by the numbers
2011 Newton County tourism
- 990: jobs
- $100.1 million: direct tourist spending
- $3.88 million: state tax revenues
- $2.95 million: local tax revenues
- $178: tax relief each county household received as a result of taxes generated by tourist activity
*Information provided to The News by Jenny McDonald; originally provided by Steve Morse, economist at the University of Tennessee

2012 Newton County tourism
- 1030: jobs
- $107.87 million: direct tourist spending
- $4.17 million: state tax revenue
- $3.22 million: local tax revenue
- $219.63: tax relief each county household received as a result of taxes generated by tourist activity
*Information provided by Jenny McDonald

Zombies, Katniss Everdeen and news anchors from the ‘70s have walked – or wandered in the zombies’ case – the streets of Georgia throughout the years, recruiting civilians as extras and tourists as money-spenders.

Together, these characters and the productions they are involved in have earned the state more than $5.1 billion in economic impact during FY 2014, Gov. Nathan Deal announced on Tuesday. Georgia played host to 158 feature film and TV productions that spent $1.4 billion.

“The film industry is a powerful economic generator and is creating jobs for Georgians as well as new opportunities to a highly skilled workforce,” said Chris Carr, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in a state press release. “Since 2008, more than 90 companies have located in Georgia to support the industry. These new businesses are generating jobs and ensuring the industry’s sustainability in Georgia well into the future.”

Local draw

While the state saw multiple big-budget box-office productions set their roots in Georgia in FY 14, including “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 & 2,” “Insurgent,” “Taken 3” and “Fast and Furious 7,” The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” has been a staple in Newton County leading into its current sixth season of filming.

Production companies are choosing Georgia because of its many landscapes, more affordability and better accessibility through its international airport in Atlanta. But what’s the result of this shift away from Hollywood?
It’s well-known throughout Covington and the county how big of a draw retracing the steps of these vampires has become.

“’Vampire Diaries’ is a phenomenon,” said Jessica Lowery, owner of Vampire Stalkers and Mystic Falls Tours. “These fans are serious business. They will do anything to be as close as possible to anything the cast does.”

Serious business does not just mean taking Lowery’s tour, which includes visiting filming locations of the show’s Mystic Falls, Virginia. When these fans travel to Covington, Lowery takes them to real locales seen in the show, such as Mystic Grill, and cast members’ favorite spots, such as Scoops.

“I know it’s a nuisance to go around the block when it’s filming in the Square, but people don’t realize how much comes out of the tours. It’s all about bringing it back to the community,” Lowery said.

Tours have done so well that Lowery led a “ReHeat 2014” tour in May, centered on the “In the Heat of the Night” TV series.

The Covington trolley, sporting the name Holly Trolley around town, that was used for transport during the tour was also recently used as a new hotel shuttle, bringing the tourism industry full-circle.

Trending up

And according to Jenny McDonald, director of tourism and marketing at the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, the effects can be seen in the numbers. She said all of the economic impact numbers are trending up, from monthly visitor counts to average hotel stays to direct tax relief for newton County residents.

Businesses like Mystic Grill would not have had the chance to exist without a well-backed filming and tourism industry generated from the more than 60 films and TV productions that have been wholly or partially filmed in Covington and Newton County.

These productions brought in $107.86 million to the county in direct tourist spending, $19.71 million in worker income from 1,030 jobs and a combined $7.39 million in local county and state tax revenues in 2012, according to sources provided by Steve Morse, director and economist at the Western Carolina University Hospitality and Tourism Program, to McDonald.

According to research done by the Chamber, each county household paid $219.63 less in taxes in 2012 as a result of taxes generated by tourist activity. In 2011, each home received $178 in tax relief.

“What I want from this is for people to learn where the revenue is coming from and see the economic impact” McDonald said.

The goal, she said, is for people to stay in the county overnight so they pay the hotel/motel tax, which is funneled directly back into the community through the Main Street program. Average hotel stays have increased from one or two nights to four nights per visitor.

And with filming bringing in more revenue to individual locations – the Newton County School System received $50,000 for hosting the set of “Taken 3” – she said she hopes people can look past what can be viewed as annoying tourist bombardments and toward the boost it gives their local economy.

Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, said the effects of film tourism on a community can be far greater than the direct benefits of hosting a project.

“A great example is the continued influence of having five episodes of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ shoot in Covington over 30 years ago. The return the community has seen just from tourism dollars far outweighs the money spent on production,” Thomas said.

“I’m hoping that more niche businesses come out of it,” McDonald said. “Those are the things that keep small towns alive.”