The boom in the motion-picture industry in Coweta and other parts of Georgia is showing no signs of slowing, according to the state’s chief film recruiter.
Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner at the Georgia Department of Economic Development and division director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, predicts the industry will continue bringing new jobs, businesses and tourism to Coweta. She was the guest speaker Tuesday morning at the NuLink Early Bird Forum hosted by the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce.
Coweta is famous for AMC’s hit television series, “The Walking Dead,” and before that for the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” as well as various TV pilots and movies.
Although the local film industry is bigger than it ever was, Georgia has been in the movie business since 1973.
“It was all started by Jimmy Carter because of the movie ‘Deliverance,’” Thomas said. “It brought money into the state and they decided to try to get more money for the state.”
“Deliverance” is about four men canoeing down a river in the Georgia wilderness whose encounters with dangerous rapids and backwoods locals lead to violence.
“In the late 1990s, businesses started going to Canada because of tax incentives,” Thomas said.
The final straw for Georgia legislators was when, “Ray,” the movie about the life of Georgia native rhythm-and-blues musician Ray Charles, went to Louisiana because of tax incentives.
“We had to level the playing field with incentives or get out of the business entirely,” she said.
In order to regain a competitive stance with other states, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act into law. Companies receive a 30 percent tax credit for projects filmed in Georgia. Ten percent of the 30 percent is acquired only if the Georgia promotion logo is shown in the qualified project.
Thomas said Georgia does not have the highest tax incentives, and some states give cash back, but higher incentives do not necessarily do better.
“Michigan did a 42 percent tax incentive, but it didn’t work very well,” she said. “Companies have to be able to spend locally to help with the economy.”
Thomas said the state-of-the-art infrastructure and studios, the temperate climate, highly skilled workforce, diverse shooting locations and direct fights through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport make Georgia an ideal location for the film industry. Pinewood Studios in Fayetteville is the largest movie studio outside of Los Angeles.
For the year 2016, there have been 245 productions filmed in Georgia, with $2.2 billion spent and an economic impact of $7 billion.
“It is amazing what is happening here,” she added. “The film industry is responsible for more than 79,100 jobs, which have an average salary of $84,000 per year, which is 75 percent higher than the average salary nationwide.”
Thomas said Georgia is third in the country, behind California and New York, in infrastructure growth.
She said more stages, lights and cameras are coming to the state, and as long legislators stay friendly to incentives, there is more in store for the movie industry in Coweta and Georgia.
A native Atlantan, Thomas received a bachelor of the arts in radio-TV-film from The University of Georgia and returned to Atlanta to earn a master's degree in film studies from Georgia State University. In 1992, she entered the Tisch School of the Arts doctoral program in cinema studies at New York University, then began a job at the Brooklyn Arts Council. She returned to Atlanta in 1996 to work for the Georgia Film and Videotape Office as a project manager and then became a location specialist for the office in 1998.
After finding locations for film and television projects for 12 years, she became director of the film division in 2010. Films that Lee has worked with include “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “The Blind Side,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil,” “Footloose,” “Fast 5,” “The Conspirator,” and “Zombieland,” which was filmed largely in Coweta County.
Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner at the Georgia Department of Economic Development and division director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, explains tax incentives to attendees at the NuLink Early Bird Forum Tuesday morning.
Andy Miller (right) thanks Lee Thomas (left) for being the speaker at the Tuesday morning’s NuLink Early Bird Forum.
Attendees listen to Lee Thomas talk about the movie industry growth and how legislation played a part in bringing movie tax incentives to Georgia.