Hollywood has a rival in the Deep South.
From television series such as The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries to movies like The Hunger Games, Ride Along 2 and Identify Thief, plenty of familiar scenes have been filmed in the city, which until recently was probably more widely known for its Southern hospitality and musical heritage.
Yet the movie industry’s recent interest in the city is no accident.
“You have to look at the tax advantage that’s been offered by the state of Georgia. That’s the number one thing,” says Whit Norris, an Atlanta-based sound mixer and vice-president of the city’s union group, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local (IATSE) 479. “It’s become the Hollywood of the South for many people.”
Georgia offers a lucrative tax credit of up to 30 percent for television, digital and movie productions via its Entertainment Industry Investment Act and other local grants. The sizeable credits are helping to boost the state’s economy, not to mention creating jobs.
During the 2015 fiscal year, the Georgia Film Office says production offices spent $1.7 billion in the state filming 248 feature films and television productions. That spending, in turn, generated an additional $6 billion in economic impact—local job hires, increased tourism, and other knock-on effects of filming—for the state.
To cite one example, Marvel’s 2015 blockbuster Ant-Man employed 3,579 Georgians, filled up 22,413 hotel rooms, and spent more than $106 million in the state during filming.
The economic impact of the movie business in the whole state of Georgia has been rising. In 2014, TV and movie production brought in $5.1 billion in economic activity, and in 2010, the number was just $1.4 billion.
“There are so many residual benefits,” says Carrie Burns, who founded Atlanta Movie Tours, one of the many businesses that have sprung up around Atlanta’s booming production industry, in 2012. “We attack the other side, which are the tourists coming in— we are that extra arm to the film industry.”
The company offers tours based on popular movies and television shows shot in Atlanta, including Gone with the Wind, The Walking Dead and Hunger Games. The company’s guides are all actors— and one of them has appeared in 95 productions.
Burns says she has noticed concierge businesses that cater to actors and staff, catering companies and personal shopping firms popping up around the city recently.
However, the city isn’t resting on its laurels; rather, Atlanta is actively working to cultivate the film industry’s interest in the city, and further the related economic benefits. Mayor Kasim Reed and IATSE 479 last year announced a paid job-training opportunity called the City of Atlanta Entertainment Program. The program will train men and women for “below-the-line” jobs such as costume design, cinematography, makeup and visual effects so moviemakers can hire more local crews.
Programs like these, not to mention a massive airport with plenty of direct flights from Los Angeles and New York and a low-cost production environment, should keep location scouts flocking to the city for years to come. “We have a pretty strong labor force. We’ve got more studios than any other state. We have everything from the mountains to the beach to the country, and our real estate is cheap,” says Burns. “It’ll just continue to grow.”