Georgia’s passage of one of the country’s strictest abortion laws has triggered a nationwide competition to lure TV and film production from the state in the event of a boycott.
Production in Georgia was responsible for an estimated $9.5 billion in economic impact last year, according to the state, so there’s plenty at stake.
“We’re seeing studios and talent considering the social impact of being more particular in picking the place where they shoot,” said Adrienne Willis, executive and artistic director of Lumberyard Center for Film and the Performing Arts in Catskill, New York, about two hours’ drive north of New York City.
Willis said she’s trying to attract productions to her facility by drawing a contrast between the new “fetal heartbeat law,” set to take effect Jan. 1, and the fact that Lumberyard is run by a woman. She said the number of inquiries she’s received has tripled since May, when Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the legislation into law.
Georgia’s tax incentives and spending credits made it such a darling of Hollywood that the state surpassed California as the favorite setting for TV and film production in the U.S.
But the abortion law puts it in opposition to the more liberal entertainment industry, which finds itself increasingly at odds with state legislatures that have conflicting political agendas. Indiana and North Carolina, which tried to regulate the use of public restrooms, and now Georgia, with abortion, are among the states that have drawn boycott threats.
Several studios, including Walt Disney Co., lambasted Georgia for the legislation, but few have announced they’re moving out. Some individual productions have, though, including Kristen Wiig’s film for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” which switched to Mexico and New Mexico.
“Georgia continues to be the most advantageous place in the country to create compelling stories,” Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic Development, said in a statement. “We have crews that are trained and experienced, landscapes with incredible diversity and studios that have housed the most successful productions in the history of film.”
The Netflix Inc. hit, “Stranger Things,” as well as successful movies “Black Panther” and “First Man,” were filmed at least in part in Georgia.
“If you are a content creator and want to work in a state that allows you to maximize your budget and return on investment,” Thomas said, “Georgia has been and continues to be the No. 1 place to be.”
About 40 U.S. states offer financial incentives to attract production.
Last year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy approved a five-year program that includes a 30% to 35% tax credit for TV and film and 20% to 25% for digital media. In April, Murphy met with studio executives in Southern California “to make the case for choosing New Jersey over anti-choice states,” he said in a tweet.
In an interview, Murphy said Netflix will shoot zombie scenes in a shuttered Atlantic City casino in New Jersey and Steven Spielberg is filming parts of the “West Side Story” remake in Paterson. It’s unclear whether the projects would have used Georgia instead, Murphy said.
“It speaks to values,” he said in the interview. “We believe that’s increasingly important to decisions that families make as to where they’re going to live, that businesses make as to where they’re going to put their flag and where film and television and talent want to feel comfortable working.”
Murphy said he’s talking to three studios about potentially building a new sound stage in New Jersey.
Joe Bessacini, of Cast & Crew Entertainment Services in California, who advises production companies on film incentives, said the biggest beneficiary will be New Mexico.
The state recently doubled its financial-incentive cap, and Netflix and NBC Universal have promised to spend at least $1 billion and $500 million, respectively, in New Mexico over the next decade.
Disney, Apple Inc. and AT&T Inc. are among the companies bringing new streaming services online later this year. That’s increased demands for facilities, with many locations already at capacity. One study by FilmLA showed that production locations in the Los Angeles area were almost full.
“There’s so much content that’s being chased by all the different companies,” said Todd Christensen, director of the New Mexico Film Office. “It’s creating an environment where there’s a lot of work.”
Georgia became the center of U.S. filmmaking thanks to a tax credit of as much as 30% on qualified spending without limit. Last year, a record 455 film and television productions were responsible for more than 92,100 jobs and nearly $4.6 billion in wages in the state, including indirect jobs and wages, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Some civic boosters, however, aren’t joining the competition for disgruntled productions.
“I’m not going to put an ad in a magazine,” said Deborah Goedeke, the city film commissioner in Albany, New York, where Marvel’s “The Punisher” was shot. “I don’t want to be an ambulance chaser.”
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