Why you should care
Because Hollywood has some competition. In the South.
If you hang around the movie theater to watch the credits, the same image pops up over and over again, regardless of the studio, filmmaker or genre: a peach. A Georgia peach, to be precise, though a movie camera might be in the running for a new state symbol.
More of America’s top-grossing movies were filmed in Georgia last year than anywhere else.
In all, 17 of the top 100 American box-office films were produced primarily in the Peach State, topping the United Kingdom (16), Canada (13) and California (12), according to a study by FilmL.A. released in May. It was the first time Georgia has topped the list, but likely not the last, says Adrian McDonald, research analyst for FilmLA. How? To paraphrase an iconic movie catchphrase: Show them the money.
Georgia gives back up to 30 percent of production costs — 20 for shooting there, plus 10 for adding that peach logo — in tax credits to films, TV shows, commercials, music videos and video games produced in the state. For a film like the $250 million Captain America: Civil War, that’s a lot of dough. “The nice thing when you’re looking at Georgia as a producer is that the tax credit applies to all expenses,” McDonald says. “If you pay Jennifer Lawrence $10 million, they cover that.”
Lest you start shedding tears for the left coast, California remains the entertainment industry’s permanent home.
In fiscal 2016, Georgia handed out a record $606 million in film tax credits, which film companies can use to offset state tax payments and resell the excess to other state taxpayers. While that sum could build quite a few schools and roads (Georgia collected $20.8 billion in revenue overall), it also represents $2 billion in investment in the state, and 1.2 million “work days created” for Georgians, per state data. Growing from virtually nothing pretax credit, Hollywood Southeast has flourished in recent years, with facilities like the 700-acre Pinewood Atlanta Studios.
Lest you start shedding tears for the left coast, California remains the entertainment industry’s permanent home. Total production spending in California — which now has a less-generous tax credit program of its own — was an estimated $30 billion last year, more than the next five locations combined. The benefits of tax giveaways are not clear-cut. A Pew Charitable Trusts report chided Georgia for having no process to evaluate whether its tax credit is actually effective.
“The number of states is receding rather than growing, and the people that are getting into the game like Ohio have very limited programs and are starting to target more carefully,” McDonald says. “You’re seeing, sort of like World War I, some great powers emerging. California is always going to be huge, New York is always going to be huge and now Georgia.”
The tax credit is not the only reason Georgia has flourished as a film shoot destination. Atlanta’s airport, the world’s busiest, makes it accessible, and it’s easier for American talent than leaving the country. As more studios and other facilities are erected, the area builds momentum to keep the projects flowing. And that makes politicians happy. “These productions mean new economic opportunities and real investments in local communities,” Republican Gov. Nathan Deal said recently when announcing the film industry generated a $9.5 billion economic impact in the state last fiscal year. “We are committed to further establishing Georgia as a top film destination and introducing film companies to the camera-ready backdrops available across Georgia.”
Any criticism of the massive breaks has been largely steamrolled. With landslide votes this year, the state legislature cleared an expansion of the tax credit to postproduction work, trying to lure yet more spending from Hollywood’s clutches.