A combination of factors help support the Peach State’s film productions.
With its eighth season premiering Oct. 22, “The Walking Dead” has been one of America’s most popular television shows since its debut in 2010. But the series did more than bring flesh-eating fear into the homes of viewers; it carried fans from a rural hospital through zombie-infested towns and fields to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. And that was just the first season.
While the Georgia setting in “The Walking Dead” was obvious, other successful series were more subtle about the setting. “The Vampire Diaries,” which ended earlier this year after eight seasons, was shot in Covington, about 40 miles east of Atlanta. Jackson sits nearly 50 miles south of Atlanta and serves as the home to Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” the second season of which becomes available Oct. 27.
Georgia has also played host to many high-profile feature film productions, including Marvel Studio’s 2017 “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” which premieres Nov. 2.
Film and television productions alone spent $2.65 billion in Georgia in fiscal year 2017, according to records from the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The entertainment industry as a whole – which includes commercial and music video productions – spent $2.7 billion and had an economic impact of $9.5 billion on the state.
That’s a large leap from fiscal 2011, when TV and filmmakers spent just $671.6 million in the state, and the industry as a whole spent $689.3 million and generated an economic impact of $2.4 billion in Georgia.
But this growth didn’t happen in a vacuum.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Georgia hosted productions for blockbuster movies including “Deliverance,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and its sequel, as well as “Driving Miss Daisy,” and popular television series like “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Dukes of Hazzard” also called the state home. In 1973, then-Gov. Jimmy Carter created a state film commission to attract more productions to the state.
In the late 1990s, however, things changed.
“Canada started an aggressive tax incentive program that, coupled with exchange rates, began taking away some of our business,” says Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office.
The state’s current incentive program “provides a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend $500,000 or more on production and post-production in Georgia, either in a single production or on multiple projects,” according to the film commission’s website. An additional 10 percent is available to companies that include a promotional Georgia logo in the work.
But tax incentives are only one piece to the puzzle. While they help attract business, infrastructure provides stability. According to Adweek, 16 film and TV studios announced plans to locate or expand facilities in Georgia since 2010.
“Pinewood studio was probably the biggest win for us,” Thomas says. “That’s like the mothership for all the sound stages in the world. To all of a sudden have that in Fayetteville, Georgia, is mind-boggling.”
Pinewood Studios Group built its Atlanta campus, also its first in the U.S., in 2014 with six sound stages. After two expansions, the 700-acre site now houses 18 sound stages with nearly 1 million square feet of covered space. Outside of California, Pinewood Atlanta is the largest purpose-built studio complex in the country, meaning it was built specifically to fit the needs of the film industry.
He says the company’s expansion into Georgia was due to the right-place, right-time circumstances: a combination of private interest and investment, the tax incentives package, Georgia’s history as a business-friendly state and the infrastructure – including key vendors – already in place from previous productions.
“It’s not like walking into a state that doesn’t have a background in production and trying to erect something new, which has happened in other states, and it’s very painful,” Patterson says.
“It’s things that you don’t think about, for sure,” Thomas says of vendors, which include a Home Depot on site at Pinewood’s lot. “It’s everything from pest control to people getting their flu shots. I went to get contact lenses one day, and they said they were so busy because they had to be on set to outfit ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘The Vampire Diaries’ [with] contact lenses.”