My thumb hovered over the pause button on my remote while I waited for the signal.
“There! That’s him,” my sister shouted, pointing at the TV screen. I punched the button and stared at the screen trying to pinpoint which of the zombies we knew from high school. When I finally spotted him, we pressed play and continued watching The Walking Dead on AMC — which is filmed in Georgia, where we live.
AMC recently purchased for more than $8 million the 80,000-sq.-ft. (7,432-sq.-m.) Riverwood Studios where the show is produced — which suggests the show is planning to remain in the state.
The Walking Dead is just one of many popular shows filmed in the state, along with Donald Glover’s depiction of the rap scene in Atlanta on FX, Netflix’s Stranger Things, The Vampire Diaries on CW, and of course Bravo’s reality show/guilty pleasure The Real Housewives of Atlanta are all filmed in the state.
The state is no stranger to feature films either. According to FilmLA, more of the top 100 grossing films of 2016 were made in Georgia than any other location. The Motion Picture Association of America ranks Georgia third in the nation behind California and New York.
In Georgia alone, the film industry has exploded, largely due to the state’s welcoming and simple film tax incentives, large crew and talent base, infrastructure, quality of life, great weather and ease of accessibility.
“Georgia really stands out by far as the strongest state in the Southeast,” says Kris Bagwell, executive vice president of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta.
EUE/Screen Gems Studios is a 33-acre (13-hectare) studio complex with 300,000 sq. ft. (27,870 sq. m.) of production and office space. Blockbusters such as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 and 2 and two of the Divergent films were filmed there. EUE/Screen Gems Studios also has a 50-acre (20-hectare) campus in Wilmington, North Carolina, where productions such as Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Iron Man 3 and Under the Dome have been filmed.
Bagwell also helped found the Georgia Studio and Infrastructure Alliance, an industry advocacy group that works with economic development, political and educational leaders in the state to support the film and entertainment industry. Bagwell tells me it’s important to note that most studios in Georgia are essentially a third-party rental studio unlike some of the production-company owned studios in Los Angeles.
EUE/Screen Gems Studios was one of the first studios to locate in the state in 2009 after the state adopted its film incentive. Today there are 16 studios in the state. Just a short drive from Site Selection’s headquarters a former General Motors assembly plant site in Doraville is being transformed into Assembly, a mixed-use mini-town whose first star attraction is Third Rail Studios, a two-stage, 60,000-sq.-ft. (5,574-sq.-m.) studio space that opened in August 2016.
“We think Georgia is going to have 100 to 110 stages by the end of this year,” Bagwell says. “If you would have told me that two years ago, I would have laughed. One hundred-plus stages in Georgia? New York doesn’t even have 110 stages. We’re really becoming the third leg of a stool between New York and California. And by some people’s estimates we’ll have more production than New York next year. So, it’s quite a story.”
Georgia tallied $9.5 billion in economic impact in FY 2017, says the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Almost 3,000 motion picture and television businesses operate in Georgia, and 1,962 of them are production-related, according to the MPAA. Including indirect jobs, the industry employs more than 92,000 people with almost $4.6 billion in payroll.
Indeed, the film industry has become a huge economic driver for several states in the Southeast over the last decade (see map, p. 179). Many states offer attractive incentive and tax rebate programs for the film industry to lure productions to the state. But not everyone agrees this is the best idea.
“Since 2009, 10 states have ended their incentive programs,” says a 2016 State Film Production Incentives and Programs report from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida and North Carolina have done away with their film incentive packages, though North Carolina does offer a grant to film production companies.
“Regarding the production business, people talk about tax credits in different ways,” Bagwell says. “But my feeling is that if you’re going to have a tax credit, have it for a business that’s incredibly employment-heavy. Almost every job in society has an equivalent in the production business — there are carpenters, computer programmers, writers, caterers, security guards, electricians — there are these little worlds, little armies of people that are mirrors of society in general.”
He’s right about the variety and quantity of jobs productions bring. The next time you watch a movie, linger for the credits and note how many names you see. You might even see a few people you know.