In 2016 there were more major films shot in Georgia than in California, or in the whole countries of Canada or England. Since the 30% tax incentive plan, called HB 1100, took effect in 2008 the entertainment industry in Georgia has increased over 20 times, from $93 million in direct spending in 2007 to 2.02 billion in 2016. In addition, due to changes in technology and media intake habits, there is more entertainment content available than ever before.
Atlanta has done an excellent job of building up an industry based on the influx of business spurred by HB 1100, but at present, most of the real money and major talent still originates in Los Angeles and New York.
This week, I’m thrilled to continue my foray into the Atlanta entertainment scene with Third Rail Studios President, Dan Rosenfelt and Michael Hahn, President of Capstone South. We discuss the inner workings and business model of a studio, the entertainment talent pool in Georgia, and whether or not the front end of the entertainment business will ever come to Georgia. Confession: I couldn’t help but start gushing when they started talking about the projects in their studio. I’m a HUGE movie fan.
Be Aware of What Georgia Has to Offer (Even if You Don’t Live Here)
The exponential growth in the industry does not live by tax credits alone. Georgia has a lot to offer the entertainment industry. Here are some key offerings (based on this article) that Georgia offers the film and television industry:
- Flexibility and anonymity. Like Southern California, Georgia “boasts a diversity of microclimates in close proximity to one another, including mountains, forests, cities, and the beach.” Georgia has been portrayed as everything from Dallas to the Bay Area to the post-apocalyptic future.
- “Under HB 1100, better known as the Entertainment Industry Investment Act, Georgia employs one of the most aggressive tax incentive programs in the country, allowing studios to offset a significant proportion of their production costs.”
- “A decades-long history of filming means a reliable base of trained professionals to staff a crew.”
- “The presence of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest in the world with 26 direct flights a day to Los Angeles alone, makes the area accessible for workers in more established industry centers to fly in for temporary stints.”
- Ample studio space, allowing television series and films more flexibility in crafting their environments.
Says Rosenfelt, “We’re not competing only with different states in the U.S., but we’re competing with countries around the world, to bring film and TV productions. And Georgia, as of last year, had more big budget movies than anywhere in the world.”
Entertainment professionals like Rosenfelt go out of their way to understand the needs of incoming productions, and have worked to build an entire industry to cater effectively to those needs.
Be Aware of the Big (and getting Bigger) Picture
There is more entertainment content available than ever before. Rosenfelt says, “Netflix is making movies and TV shows at a rate that no studio in the world has ever done before. They have an audience, a worldwide audience, and they can track who is watching what; they can push out menus on people’s accounts, to show them exactly the types of shows that they like to watch.”
In addition to the new technologies allowing niche audiences to be built based on deeply targeted content, audiences are taking in entertainment content at higher rates (and in more intimate ways) than in the past. Forbes writes that Gen Z consumes media differently than millennials (born between 1980 and 1994). For Gen Z, content is embedded in their daily lives, so they are not even consciously making a decision to consume content.” Smartphones are used by Gen Z almost three hours daily to consume television, videos, music, games and social media. This generation takes in television and film content primarily through over-the-top (OTT) services such as Netflix and YouTube.
These changes in content marketing and consumption mean that there is increasing opportunity for content creation. Georgia has been taking full advantage by luring productions away from major entertainment centers, and competing effectively with other locales looking to do the same.
Look at How to Get the Front Room to Go Local
Although Georgia has done an excellent job of bringing back end production to the state, the creative development, front office business and high-level casting still takes place in major centers like New York and Los Angeles.
Studios like Third Rail offer space to these productions, but they don’t produce the content itself, or make any creative decisions when it comes to the content produced in their studio. Rosenfelt lived in Los Angles for 15 years, and makes regular trips west to visit contacts and potential clients.
With the ease of travel and communication, it’s not likely that the larger production companies like Netflix will move their above the line work out of the major hubs in the foreseeable future. But, that doesn’t mean deals won’t happen in Georgia. With the increased content intake, ease of creation, and highly developed ecosystem, Georgia is ripe for an independent film and television industry to take root.
Look into the Future
While the production talent and support services in Georgia are a major part of the influx of business, the tax incentives remain a main driving force. The credits currently receive a high amount of support from state government, but that could change if different interests win a place in the state house. If the tax incentives are pulled back, it’s likely that much of the external business will evaporate along with them, as happened in Louisiana.
Says Hahn, “There’s a lot of opportunity for smaller films, and we’re starting to see that in Georgia; people investing and making their own content here.” In order to see the Georgia film industry become a permanent institution, it’s imperative that more original work is cultivated in the state. And based on the drive we’ve already seen from locals to develop the entertainment ecosystem, it’s likely to happen.