Georgia navigates its future with the entertainment industry | Best States

Just under a year ago, Andrea Ferguson became one of the many people who left Hollywood for Georgia.

Ferguson, a graphic designer working for various film production companies, bought a house in Atlanta with her husband, who also works in the entertainment industry.

Georgia is increasingly appearing in movies and TV shows, and has seen the filming of productions such as ‘Baby Driver’, ‘Selma’ and ‘Stranger Things’. Film and television production supports 92,000 jobs in the state, in addition to granting Georgia the national and international exposure it desires. In 2017, the state was the country’s top filming location for top-grossing American films and tied with the UK for No. 2 worldwide.

But crew members and others who work in entertainment are now faced with a question: How will Georgia’s new law banning most abortions affect the industry?

“It makes a lot of people very nervous because we’ve all invested in it,” Ferguson said.

The photos you should see – June 2019

Georgia too. Its entertainment industry inflated from 2008 thanks to a 20-30% tax credit for projects shooting in the state. In fiscal year 2017, movie tax credits cost Georgia $800 million, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The following year, the state saw $2.7 billion in direct spending from these productions.

At the same time, entertainment companies have spent years building manpower and infrastructure in Georgia.

But abortion has become a point of contention in public relations between Georgia and Hollywood. In May, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law banning abortion once heart activity is detected. It’s usually about six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women don’t know they’re pregnant. The law is expected to come into force in January 2020, although legal challenges could change that.

Doubts remain not only about whether Georgia is ready to lose Hollywood, but whether Hollywood is ready to lose Georgia.

“I don’t think the industry really wants to step down,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think anyone really wants that to happen.” Ferguson wrote an op-ed in Atlanta magazine explaining why boycotting Hollywood isn’t the best way to fight the abortion law.

The dispute began as the state debated abortion law, when entertainment companies threatened to move the production from Georgia if it passed. Once he did, headline after headline heralded the immediate reactions. Two productions pulled out of Savannah, a coastal town with a large amount of filming. Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia have said they could shut down productions in Georgia if the abortion law goes into effect. A list of production companies and actors have vowed to boycott the state.

A few companies remain, saying they will instead donate to nonprofits such as Fair Fight Action and the American Civil Liberties Union, which fight the abortion law. Netflix announced it would team up with the ACLU and other groups to challenge the law.

“The state of Georgia has invested a lot of money in tax credits to encourage the motion picture industry to operate here in this state, and during that time the industry has built quite a significant presence,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Our message is: ‘Help us fight.’ None of the Georgian organizations doing this work have called for a boycott, our position has always been “help us fight, stay and fight”.

The ACLU of Georgia will be the lead advocate as part of a coalition fighting the law.

“I understand that some people don’t like this new law. I agree with that. … We are elected to do what is right, and defending precious life is always the right thing to do,” Kemp said. . “We are the party of freedom and opportunity. We value and protect innocent life – even if it makes C-list celebrities scream.”

On May 22 — the day he was originally scheduled to travel to Los Angeles — Kemp instead traveled to Fayetteville, a town south of Atlanta, to visit Pinewood Studios and the state-backed Georgia Film Academy.

The governor’s office press secretary did not respond to requests for comment.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development, which operates the Georgia Film Office, declined an interview but provided a statement via email.

“Georgia continues to be the most advantageous place in the country to create compelling stories,” the statement said. “We have the best-designed tax incentive program that has stood the test of time and is here to stay.”

“This Heartbeat Bill has put pressure on the industry in a way I’ve never seen before,” Dan Rosenfelt, president of Third Rail Studios, told a local trade association on May 6. June. “This year will be tough for business… I’m sure there will be a percentage of (film productions) that we don’t even hear about and just don’t show up.”

While Kemp postponed his trip to Los Angeles, his Democratic challenger in the 2018 gubernatorial election made the trip. Stacey Abrams, who founded Fair Fight Action to advocate for electoral reform, traveled to Los Angeles in June to meet with Hollywood executives.

“There’s a lot of bewilderment and a lot of panic. They haven’t had a clear idea of ​​what the governor intends to do,” Abrams told Atlanta news station 11Alive after his premiere. series of meetings with leaders, adding that she is clear with them that she is not the head of state. Abrams helped push the tax credit through the legislature in 2008 as the state’s representative on the Ways and Means Committee, she said in the interview.

Abrams urged Hollywood not to boycott Georgia.

Cities across the state have generally been quieter about the fallout from the abortion law.

“Most cities in Georgia have taken this wait-and-see attitude of, ‘Well, we would definitely encourage this influential company – in terms of money and capital – to shoot in our city. We invite them to come here. We know people have different opinions, but we’d like to maintain good business,” says Craig Miller, executive producer of Atlanta-based Craig Miller Productions.

One exception is Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is in talks with actress Alyssa Milano about developing a mobile app for stewards and scouts in Georgia that “would ensure we can spend the money in places that won’t fund voter suppression, inequality, and stripping anyone’s rights,” according to Variety.

Meanwhile, Georgian workers and businesses continue to monitor the situation.

Miller says the immediate effect on the industry is minimal. He was chairman of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Advisory Commission, appointed by former Republican Governor Nathan Deal. (Kemp did not name a new commission, so it no longer exists.)

“The impact that people are most concerned about is the impact of what might happen down the road,” Miller said. “And so the work continues.”

Ferguson also sees it as a waiting game to see what the industry will do with Georgia. “If you look at the language that most individuals and studios in the industry (use), it all says ‘if the law is enacted,'” she says. And with upcoming legal challenges, the abortion law is not expected to come into effect on January 1, 2020.

“I feel like those reactions are all very instinctive reactions that you can have when you live in California,” Ferguson said, rather than Georgia, where filming is taking place. “Another discussion will take place, if this law is actually enforced.”

Helen D. Jessen