Eat your heart out, Los Angeles. Georgia is experiencing a film industry gold rush. Thanks to great tax incentives and plenty of large-scale properties and landscapes, Gwinnett has become one of the most popular filming locations outside Hollywood, welcoming crews from the Hunger Games, Fast & Furious and Sully.
In 2016, Gwinnett’s tourism office, Explore Gwinnett, received over 175 film location and production requests. Executive Director Lisa Anders serves as the county film liaison. “Just this week, I’ve already had at least five requests,” she says.
But why Gwinnett? Why now?
It’s a confluence of two factors: money and space.
Georgia as a whole has been experiencing a steady rise in film industry popularity since Governor Sonny Perdue approved the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act in 2008. Similar to incentives in New Mexico and Louisiana, the tax credit offers up to 30 percent tax reimbursement on film-related expenditures. But Georgia’s credit is different in one major way: there’s no cap. While other states have a ceiling, there’s no limit to the amount you can accrue in Georgia. The generous terms have helped make our state the number three filming location in the country, behind only California and New York. The AJC reports that in 2016, the total film spending in the state topped $2 billion, with overall economic impact of over $5 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B.
Apart from big tax credits, there’s also a lot of space out here. Gwinnett has the perfect storm of open land, urban development and historical architecture that producers are looking for.
“Every week I get calls from location scouts asking for random things,” Anders says. “They say, ‘We need an ice skating rink, a one-lane dirt road and a 1970s era office building lobby.’ I say, ‘Yep, we’ve got that.’” Timothy Bourne, producer of The Blind Side, told the Georgia Department of Economic Development, “There’s sort of a small town homey feel to it here. However, with that is a huge amount of infrastructure. It’s a travel center, so it’s easy to get in and out of…and the attitude level is just wonderful.”
The impact on the local economy in Gwinnett has been immediate. Explore Gwinnett is still gathering official stats, but Anders says she’s already seen the film dollars at work keeping local lighting, hardware and truck rental companies in business. The hospitality industries are getting a boost, too. “When Fast & Furious came to town, they booked a total of 202,000 room nights across the state,” Anders says, “and that’s just one film crew.”
The economic benefits are not lost on Governor Deal, who in 2014 swifty launched a comprehensive workforce initiative. “Film crews are pouring into Gwinnett right now, but the lack of professional trained crew is the biggest challenge. We need a local workforce to support them,” Anders says. The Georgia Film Academy, a collaborative effort between the university and technical college systems of Georgia, is a 32-week two-course certification program hosted at nine campuses across the state including Gwinnett Tech, GCSU, Kennesaw State and University of West Georgia. On its webpage, the Georgia Film Academy says industry growth is projected to generate 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs in Georgia, most of which are on the set. “The average earnings in these jobs are $84,000 a year,” it says. But critics aren’t so convinced. As the AJC reported in August, the jobs created locally are often low paying and easily moved if the credits were to ever dry up. “Fellow southern states Louisiana and North Carolina capped the value of their programs in recent years and Hollywood responded by shifting work to Georgia.”
Plus, the film industry isn’t always looking for Gwinnett’s most glamourous properties. They need abandoned air strips where Vin Diesel can barrel roll a Ferrari—not exactly real estate that boosts resale value. “I’m always on the lookout for dilapidated buildings,” Anders laughs. “When we are out, and I see an empty school or closed bank, I’ll say, ‘Look! A possible location!’ My friends look at me like I’m crazy.” They don’t want old buildings in their communities, Anders says, and she understands that. But those locations are bringing millions to Gwinnett municipalities, right? “So, glass half full, people.”