Metro Atlanta has become a major hub of film and TV productions, including the home of Marvel Studios’ multibillion-dollar superhero movies. In the Perimeter area, businesses are finding opportunities in newly trained workers, the trading of the state’s lucrative filmmaking tax credits – and, yes, making movies.
Training for movie jobs
Georgia needs to become a place where a movie can be produced from start to finish, not just filmed, and the Georgia Film Academy is working to fill that gap, Jeff Stepakoff, the executive director of the program, said at the Buckhead Business Association’s June 15 luncheon.
Stepakoff credits Georgia’s varying environments, access to an international airport and, of course, state tax credits for making the state desirable to the film industry, he said at the luncheon, held in JW Marriott in Buckhead. Tax credits established in Georgia in 2008 have a brought a flurry of TV and movie productions to the state.
“The effects of all of this production and all this economic activity here in our state have been nothing short of transformative,” Stepakoff said.
But to be sustainable and not a fad, Georgia has to become an environment where every step of film production can happen, he said. Right now, crews are filming many TV shows and movies in the state, but post-production work such as editing and animation are happening elsewhere.
“Basically, we’re producing other people’s movies,” Stepakoff said.
To solve the problem, Georgia needs to bring in TV and movie writers and producers with post-production skills and the academy is “aggressively planning” to implement training for writers and producers, Stepakoff said.
Even without post-production work, the tax credits have created a workforce of more than 100,000 people that have an average annual salary of $84,000, with some making more than $150,000 a year, Stepakoff said.
One concern about bringing the film industry to Georgia is making sure the state has the workforce to support it, he said. If there aren’t enough Georgia residents here to fill the jobs, the productions will bring in people from out of state, giving the money saved from tax credits to people who don’t live here, he said.
“We want to make sure there is enough crew to do the work and we won’t be sending tax dollars out of the state,” Stepakoff said.
The Georgia Film Academy was created to fill that void. The program began in January 2015 with Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement of a film industry training program to ensure the state had workers to support the industry. Since that announcement, more than 75 students have successfully gotten jobs in the Georgia film industry, Stepakoff said.
“We need to take advantage of what’s happening now to build a legacy for our state,” Stepakoff said.
Trading tax credits
Georgia provides tax credits for up to 30 percent of what a company spends in the state, and often a production company doesn’t owe enough in taxes to use them all so they are sold to businesses or individuals who can.
To sell film credits, Buckhead-based Monarch Private Capital works with production companies to find buyers for a tax credit they can’t use, Robin Delmer, the managing director of acquisitions, said. The buyers are able to buy the tax credits for less than they are worth.
To qualify for tax credits, the productions have to spend at least $500,000 in the state. Georgia offers a 20 percent tax credit to all productions that qualify, and an additional 10 percent is available if productions include the Georgia logo and a link to Georgia’s tourism site on the production’s website, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s website.
“Usually, production companies don’t have enough Georgia tax liability, so the tax credits would basically go to waste,” Delmer said.
The state encourages this, Delmer said, because the production companies have already spent money in the state.
The buyers are often corporations and the tax credits from one company often are split among several buyers, Delmer said. The credits can’t be resold to another buyer, however.
Delmer couldn’t release the names of specific movies or shows they have worked with, but Monarch mostly works with large productions, he said. According to the company’s website, Monarch did work with “The Watch,” a Ben Stiller comedy movie filmed in Georgia in 2012, to sell film tax credits.
Making the movies
Former state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, who represented parts of Sandy Springs and Buckhead, is the president of a company creating an animated movie about a real-life World War I military dog named Sgt. Stubby.
The film company, Fun Academy Motion Pictures, released the first trailer for the movie, “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” on June 15 and plans to release the full film in April 2018. Its voice actors include Helena Bonham Carter and Gérard Depardieu.
When production for the movie began, there were no animation studios in Georgia that could produce a quality animated movie, so animation is being done in Canada and France, Fun Academy spokesperson Jordan Beck said.
Wilkinson is working out of his office in Sandy Springs and his home on St. Simons Island, but he hopes to bring the entire production team to Georgia eventually, mentioning the tax credits as one reason.
“It’s just done wonders for the film business,” said Wilkinson, who helped pass the tax credits during his tenure as a state lawmaker.
There were plans to open a Buckhead office for the Sgt. Stubby film, but the company is still determining if it’s needed, Wilkinson said.
Beck said the company is opening the state’s first film distribution center in Columbus, Ga., which does everything involving getting movies to the public, including making promotional materials and getting the film shown in theaters. The center is currently working on the “Sgt. Stubby” movie release to 2,500 theaters, but will also work with other production companies to market their movies and get them into theaters.
To read more about Sgt. Stubby and the movie, visit stubbymovie.com.