29 March 2012

Lights, Camera, Action

For my Feature Writing Class, I wrote an article about the Film Industry in Georgia. It gave me a great excuse to read AJC Buzz for a few hours. Luckily my great friend, David, let me interview him about his experiences on film sets. Enjoy reading! 

Lights, Camera, Action for Georgia’s Film Industry
     The state that rose from the ashes so many years ago is finally ready to see its name in lights. According to a recent statement by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Georgia is now considered one of the top five states in America for film and television production. Between July 2010 and June 2011, the sector created a $2.4 billion impact in the economy. This fiscal year, revenues are expected to be even higher with the multitude of film and television shows using Georgia as the background for productions.
     Georgia Department of Economic Development commissioner Chris Cummiskey said, ”The economic impact created in FY11 accounts for 22 percent the entire film impact produced in the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment division’s 38-year history.” That 38-year history includes films like “Forrest Gump”, “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Deliverance”.            
     Complicated filming permits and high costs of production have caused studios to think twice before filming in the standard locales of New York and Los Angeles. Instead, many companies have found the state of Georgia to be more conducive to their needs and the state has been happy to oblige.
     Atlanta native and Set Production Assistant David Oster said, “They’ve turned big warehouses in Decatur and airport hangers in Peachtree City into sound stages and backlots for television shows. The cast and crew who may be used to studio lots in LA have had to adapt to that and make it close to what it’s like there.”
     The Georgia Department of Economic Development has seen a rise in film productions as a result of the 2008 Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act. Since the legislation passed, production companies spending over $500,000 within the state are entitled to a 20% tax credit with an additional 10% if the final production includes a Georgia emblem in the end credits. These tax credits apply to “feature films, television series, music videos and commercials, as well as interactive games and animation.”
     The ‘Camera Ready Community’ Program was created in 2010 to ensure counties in the state could meet the needs of a large-scale production. Currently, 136 of the 159 counties in Georgia are certified as Camera Ready Communities, each with different scenery to offer filmmakers, from cities and hilly forests to beaches and sleepy small towns.
     Georgia’s climate year-round makes the state an attractive location for filming. Oster said, “There is a great variety of locations that can work for anywhere that the film script calls for. For example, Atlanta can pass for New York or Chicago etc. About the only thing you can’t get are big mountains and deserts.”
     During the last few years, films like “The Blind Side”, “Water for Elephants”, “X-Men: First Class” and Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family” were filmed in Georgia.       
     Tyler Perry Studios in southwest Atlanta has made significant contributions to the state’s new nickname, The Hollywood of the South. He employees over 300 people with a studio considered to be one of the best in the country with multiple soundstages, a backlot and post-production facilities. Last week, Perry hosted a fundraiser at the studios for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, followed by a small event at his home with guests like Oprah Winfrey. Here, Tyler Perry Productions films TBS’s most popular show “Meet the Browns” along with all his feature films.
     Major most pictures come in town for several weeks or months, but television shows filming around Atlanta have a more lasting impact on the local economy. AMC’s hit series, “The Walking Dead” will film its third season in metro Atlanta this summer. The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” films in Covington, Georgia and has created a frenzy in the town for eager fans, some of whom travel hundreds of miles to see the sets and locations of the series. An article in the Covington News, located about forty miles southeast of Atlanta, estimates a $10 million dollar increase in tourist spending between 2009 and 2010, before and after the show about immortal vampires in a small town first debuted. Those numbers skyrocketed in 2011 as the show gained popularity.
     A statement by Covington’s tourism director Clara Deemer said, “More than 19,000 tourists came to Covington in 2011, representing 46 states and 28 countries - motivated by filming location tours of ‘The Vampire Diaries.’ A large number of these guests are staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and shopping locally in Covington.”
     In today’s struggling economy, Georgia’s film industry is a bright spot for the state. Union and non-union jobs are plentiful. Productions find it most attractive to film in places where the local population is knowledgeable and can be hired on site, instead of bringing crew in from Los Angeles. These roles bring attention to the state and money to the community with jobs and increased revenue in hotels and restaurants. 
     The Camera Ready Community Program hopes to assist the local communities use their resources to fill below the line crew jobs like electricians and security crews. The investment in infrastructure has been a blessing for young crew members like David Oster, who can live locally and work instead of moving to Los Angeles. He began working as an extra on “The Blind Side” two years and several films later; Oster has been promoted to Set Production Assistant. Oster works on different sets every day, moving from “Vampire Diaries” to Limetime’s “Drop Dead Diva”.
     Oster says, “As long as the incentives are here there will continue to be more productions here [in Georgia] and now, there is more infrastructure for it with the studios. There are now at least three places to rent cameras in town, multiple catering services, at least five extras casting agencies, and a whole lot of local actors and talent that are working.”
     At least four more Georgia-based productions will be released in the upcoming months including “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, an ensemble film starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez.
     More films and television pilots are making their way South in the next few months, including a new FOX drama starring Kevin Bacon. Only time will tell how long this trend will continue but at least for the next few years, Georgia’s time in the limelight has no sign of slowing down.

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