CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
ATLANTA (AP) -- A few years ago, Georgia was locked in a bidding war with North Carolina over the Disney movie, "The Last Song," starring Miley Cyrus.
Both states wanted the movie to film in their state, and North Carolina was close to sealing the deal with an attractive tax incentive package. But Georgia snapped up the production, largely because it had recently expanded its own tax credit for films.
The state hasn't looked back since. Not only are TV shows like "The Walking Dead" and films like "The Hunger Games" sequel filmed in Georgia, but tens of millions of dollars are being invested to build up critical infrastructure. No fewer than five major studio developments or expansions have been announced in recent months with the goal of luring big-budget blockbusters.
"It really is about the whole package," said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. "They can do everything here now."
Last fiscal year, productions filmed in Georgia generated an estimated $3.1 billion in economic activity, a 29 percent increase from the year before, according to state estimates. And Thomas said that will only increase with the studio projects in the works that will add large soundstages and back lots to lure big productions, such as "Iron Man 3," which Georgia wasn't able to accommodate. The state didn't have a studio that fit the requirements of the film's production company.
Of the studio projects in the works, one being planned in Fayette County, a short drive south of Atlanta, could be a game changer. British film studio Pinewood Shepperton PLC, home to the James Bond franchise, has reportedly been in talks with a group of investors to manage and operate the facility. It would be Pinewood's first production facility in the U.S. Recent films shot at Pinewood Studios, outside London, include the coming Angelina Jolie film, "Maleficent" and "Jack Ryan," directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh.
The project, once finalized, would underscore how much Georgia has become a film destination and be another sign that California continues to struggle with runaway production.
A survey last year found that California lost $3 billion in wages from 2004 to 2011 because of film and TV production moving to other states and countries, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Half the wages went to states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana that offer tax incentives and rebates to the industry.
Representatives of Pinewood declined comment on the plan, and the head of Fayette County's development agency would say only that discussions continue between the company and a group of Georgia-based investors on the state-of-the-art studio complex, which would sit on 288 acres and include at least five soundstages.
"It takes the state to a whole new level," said Matt Forshee, president of the Fayette County Development Authority, who has been closely involved in the project. "When you look at the films that have filmed in Georgia, for the most part, they have been smaller budget films, in the range of $20-25 million. This allows us to open up to larger budget productions, which means more expenditures occurring within the state, which becomes a bigger return on the investment on the state level for the tax credits."
Georgia has come a long way since the 1939 Civil War epic "Gone With The Wind," arguably the most famous movie about the state, was filmed in California. Three decades later, the 1971 Burt Reynolds movie "Deliverance" helped put Georgia on the map as a shooting location. The state created a film commission, and Reynolds returned to the state to shoot hits such as "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Longest Yard."
Now, Atlanta truly has the feel of Hollywood South. In recent years, the state has been a shooting location for films such as Clint Eastwood's "Trouble With the Curve," the new Jackie Robinson biopic "42" with Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington's Oscar-nominated turn as an alcoholic pilot in "Flight," the Katherine Heigl rom-com "Life as We Know It," the current Reese Witherspoon project "The Good Lie," and comedies such as 2011's "Hall Pass" and the coming "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" starring Will Ferrell.
While studio developers building soundstages are not eligible for Georgia's tax credit program, the production companies making films are. Georgia provides a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend $500,000 or more on production and post-production in the state, either in a single production or on multiple projects.
Georgia also grants an additional 10 percent tax credit if the finished project includes a state promotional logo. Further, if a company has little or no Georgia tax liability, it can transfer or sell its tax credits.