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Theres no big business like show business
Officials: Movie location shooting can be an inconvenience, but its an economic boost
state film 1
Craig Dominey of Georgias Camera Ready program discusses the impacts having a movie shot on location can mean to the filming site. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Having a movie shot on location may bring with it some inconveniences, but state and local officials agree that it’s worth the headaches.

The Effingham Chamber of Commerce held a “lunch and learn” session last Wednesday about movie making on location — using the Mars Theatre as the venue.

The film and TV industry had a $6 billion impact on Georgia for fiscal year 2015, according to the state Department of Economic Development. The 248 film and TV productions in Georgia equated to $1.7 billion in spending.

Georgia, with a set of tax incentives and credits for movie and television production, is No. 3 in the nation for film and TV shooting, behind only California and New York, said Craig Dominey, state program manager for the Camera Ready program.

“We’re getting hard looks from every studio and production company that has a project coming up,” he said. “They’re set in different time period, set in different parts of the world. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Georgia’s wide range of landscapes and backgrounds — from its beaches to its mountains and to its cities and pastoral settings — lend itself well to most every shooting locale, Dominey added.

“One thing Georgia has for it it’s a very diverse-looking state,” he said. “We’ve got just about everything here. It’s rate we can’t find a location here. We can’t do deserts. We can’t guarantee snow. But everything else, we can make a pretty good stab at.”

Savannah has become a popular shooting locale again — “Sponge Bob 2,” “Magic Mike XXL,” and “The Do Over” all have shot in Savannah recently. “Sponge Bob” shot on several blocks of Broughton Street and while the production tied up the street, the benefits outweighed the hassles, said Savannah Film Services director William Hammargren.

“Not everybody was convinced it was a great idea,” he said. “It can be inconvenient, because you have to close streets and take over property. ‘Sponge Bob’ was the biggest impact we had since ‘Forrest Gump,’ and there were a couple who were not happy with the prospect of filming. Once they see and get a feel for what it is and as long as their needs are being met, they tend to appreciate it. And that was our experience with ‘Sponge Bob.’”

With “Sponge Bob,” closing off Broughton Street meant getting the permission of private property owners.

“We essentially closed eight blocks of our largest commercial district, which was no small task,” Hammargren said. “It’s a huge effort in coordination.”

The state’s Camera Ready program allows producers to see what Georgia has to offer without setting foot in the state, Dominey said.

“Camera ready is really helpful to us,” he said. “We deal with people who want an answer yesterday. We’re still in competition with other states. So it’s important to get a rapid answer to people.”

Locales often can represent another place already on the map. Dominey said Atlanta has stood in for New York City, Washington, D.C., and Rio de Janeiro. The movie “Ant Man,” set in San Francisco, was shot in Atlanta.

Movie productions can range greatly in size, Hammargren and Dominey said, from two-man documentary shoots to big-budget films employing up to 300 people. For large-scale productions, such as “The Walking Dead,” filmed mostly around Senoia, the production company usually has pre-existing agreements with unions to provide labor, though there are still opportunities for local, non-affiliated workers.

Hammagren estimated that about half of the crew on a bigger production in Savannah is union-based and for smaller, independent projects, it’s about 80 percent non-union.

“It’s like bringing a circus to town,” he said.

When production companies pick a site for shooting, they will set up an office and start hiring crews. Location scouts will be sent out and filming will commence.

“It’s a very fast-paced business,” Dominey said.

Great impacts

The impact a TV or movie can have a community is staggering, the panelists noted. Jake Shapiro, chairman of the board of Moon River Studios, said Senoia was a ghost town with more than two dozen vacant buildings before “The Walking Dead” set up shop.

“Now they are doubling the size of Main Street,” he said. “It is the most beautiful town. It’s an amazing success story that has happened to this town. It is a tremendous multiplier effect on the community.”

“Zombies help property values,” quipped Dominey.

There also is a direct spending effect from movie and TV productions. “Ant Man” alone accounted for 22,000 hotel nights in Atlanta, Shapiro said. “Sponge Bob 2” meant 9,000 room nights in Savannah, according to Hammargren, and “Magic Mike XXL” led to 10,000 hotel nights.

“It really can be significant,” Hammargren said.

Georgia’s film tax credits program also has been a big boost, Shapiro said.

“The South and Georgia have done an amazing job,” he said. “There is a reason people are flocking out of California. It was very compelling for people to re-think where they are going to shoot.”

In addition, locations also may need the services and goods of local vendors, ranging from catering to lumber, Dominey added. The state maintains a crew and vendor services directory and the Georgia Film and TV Sourcebook is available through

“If we don’t know you have it, we can’t promote you,” he said.

Film tourism also is a burgeoning sector in the state. Visitors to Georgia want to see where movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Walking Dead” are filmed. The state’s site is dedicated to film tourism.

“Film tourism is big,” Dominey said. “We have film tourism trails you can go on. For all the reasons we’ve listed, it’s worth it. It’s an economic shot in the arm. It puts you on the radar for potential tourism.”

Movie and TV production also knows no county boundaries, according to Hammargren, as shooting often involves neighboring communities. Parts of “The Conspirator,” shot mostly in Savannah, where filmed in Effingham County. His office even goes as far south as Jekyll Island to help set up shooting locales.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” he said. “The potential benefits of having this industry in your community are huge. It’s a great industry and can do great things for your community.”