During the colonial period, a gentleman by the name of James Oglethorpe came to the United States with a small group of settlers and developed a colony near present-day Savannah, Georgia; thus beginning the history and heritage of this great state. He is often referred to as the founder of Georgia and his work in this state revolved around providing settlers from Britain a place to rebuild and re-establish themselves after being devastated financially by Britain’s harsh rules surrounding debt and taxes, especially before the Declaration of Independence was signed and officiated in 1776. He was a social reformer who grew Georgia from the shores of Savannah and became an emblem of growth and development in this state.
Aside from Oglethorpe’s legacy which can be seen across the state through architectural edifices, statues, and other things remaining in his namesake, there is another legacy that is being created as we speak that represents potential for growth and development in Georgia. It is a film legacy that has been laid by the Savannah Film Commission, which I believe, will play an integral role in film production in this state. Savannah has been a key player in the film industry here in Georgia for many years, dating as far back as 1962.
Key films that we have seen played out on Hollywood’s big screen that have been filmed on location in Savannah are as follows:
The SpongeBob Movie 2
Cap Fear (The Original – 1962)
Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies
Warner Bros. Television
The Legend of Bagger Vance
In order to tell us more about this film commission and its important role it will play in the future of film here in Georgia, I have teamed up with William Hammargren, Film Services Director at the Savannah Film Commission.
William, I really appreciate this opportunity to showcase you and the Savannah Film Commission in this blog. Many great things are unfolding in the world of film in this state and this is great news for us who are developing careers in this industry. First, tell us what the Savannah Film Commission is and its purpose.
The Savannah Film Commission is a 19 member board charged with advising and assisting the Savannah Film Office and Savannah City Council on media production related issues and activities. Most people are referring to the Film Office when the reference the Commission and they can be used somewhat interchangeably but it is good to note that they are technically two separate things. The Savannah Film Office is a department of the Savannah City Government and its mission is to weave the film and television industry into the fabric of Savannah’s social, economic and professional profile. This involves a number of activities, including marketing, and outreach, production recruitment, permitting, project management, and connecting producers with local resources and locations. Thus we serve both Savannah’s citizens and media production clients.
As film continues to grow around the state, do you anticipate that Savannah’s Film Commission will be the leading commission for any film making within the state?
The Savannah Film Commission and Film Office serve (and are funded by) the citizens of the City of Savannah and thus this is our primary area of focus; however, we work to promote and enable media production throughout southeast Georgia. We also work very closely with the Georgia State Film Office and Department of Economic Development whom I would consider to be the leaders in this area. We obviously have a keen interest in the statewide health of this industry and any policies or developments pertaining to it. Members of the Savannah Film Commission and a number of other local Savannahians have been critical in establishing the states successful programs to date and continue their involvement at many levels, locally, throughout the state, and beyond.
As you may know, the South is rising in importance in film production with Louisiana being the top location for film making, outranking California and our neighboring state of Florida. What do you think it will take for us to get to the number one spot that Louisiana now holds?
Our current rate of growth is aggressive. In selecting where to film, producers look for a number of things. Key among these is a strong, stable and accessible incentive program, and the availability of skilled local crew, diverse locations, and infrastructure such as stages and equipment. We have all of these things and are continuing to develop them. Taking the top spot will require and ongoing commitment to all of those things and the support of a broad range of Georgia citizens and stakeholders.
There are criticisms about how film tax incentives are only disrupting economies by simply taking from them and not helping in the development of the local economies of places outside of California and New York. Do you think that Georgia will be a victim of this trend of new “robber barons” who simply profit from this industry without developing it; or is this an important economic development within the state that is here to stay?
This is an extremely complicated issue but if you look at how much this industry has grown in Georgia since the incentive was enacted I think it is clear development is happening at that it has a positive economic impact. There have been multiple independent studies of the state’s entertainment tax incentive program and at worst they found the program to be revenue neutral, however the large majority of them found it to be revenue positive. This means that for every dollar of tax money spent funding the states entertainment tax credit, the state is making that dollar back plus some, in tax revenue.
So I would ask: what do we lose by continuing this successful program? All industries receive sizable tax incentives from states in order to attract their business. There are any number of recent stories of states offering generous incentives to attract major manufactures and the jobs they bring to their area. The film incentive in Georgia is no different. Many naysayers make the argument that manufactures provide long-term employment opportunities and that movie production companies come and go quickly. It’s true, an individual production only spends a limited amount of time in the state but that doesn’t mean the film incentive isn’t creating long-term employment. Productions are coming in record numbers and bringing more and more jobs with them. They are also supporting thousands of businesses which cater to not just the movies themselves but their employees as well. One of the biggest names in movie studios, Pinewood, is building its first studio in the US here in Georgia. Many major production studios already have facilities here.
The development is happening. The incentive is important and we are benefiting from it. Georgia has shown a strong commitment to the incentive and that is a big part of its success. In fact Georgia is even looking at ways to expand it now. Going back to the previous question, the reason Louisiana currently has the number one spot is because they were among the first to implement an incentive program and they have stuck with it through the years. Other states, such as South Carolina, which have reduced or eliminated their film incentives, have seen the industry there suffer because of it. If Georgia continues its commitment to the tax credit the film business will continue to grow here and become more and more instrumental to our economy. I believe that we are on track to do that and that the entertainment industry will be one of Georgia’s largest and most important sectors in the years to come.
Image courtesy of VisitSavannah.com