Atlanta deemed top U.S. city for moviemakers

Moviemaker magazine has named Atlanta the best place to work and live for TV and film people among all major cities, beating New York and Los Angeles.

This is up from sixth a year ago. Atlanta was also deemed better than cities such as Austin, Texas, (No. 3) and Albuquerque, N.M. (No. 5).

Atlanta is still third in terms of total production among U.S. cities behind New York and L.A. But the story cited the metro area’s significantly lower cost of living in terms of housing and thriving restaurant scene. The author noted local indie film festivals and a city of Atlanta job training program to bolster the local crew talent pool. State higher education officials in December also unveiled

“To me, it says that this is a great market for value,” said Ric Reitz, an Atlanta actor who helped develop the tax credit program in 2008 that drew film production companies to the state. “Part of the goals we laid out early on was to increase the local infrastructure and get people with suitable experience to come here. Many have made this their home or at least another home.”

Reitz said Moviemaker magazine is read internationally, so this is great publicity: “We have to step out of adolescent phase of development. There are still some perceptions that we don’t have deep roots. But it takes time. We are well aware of it. We’re small and nimble, which is good.”

Movies and TV shows that have shot here or are shooting here include “The Walking Dead,” “Ant Man,” sequels to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “Captain America,” and a romantic sci-fi thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt called “Passengers.” (On the lighter side, you have the “Ride Along” movies and the upcoming “Neighbors 2,” among other comedies.)

Rob Letterman, who directed the 2015 film “Goosebumps” in metro Atlanta, said he felt right at home while shooting here.

“It’s crazy how Atlanta is like Hollywood, ” he said during an interview last fall to discuss the movie, an adaptation of author R.L. Stine’s creepy-clever series of young adult books. “We’d go out at night and because there’s so many things filming, you’d run into people that you know. You come out to Atlanta, and half the people you know are working here.”

The Moviemaker magazine article notes that so many film folks are around, “you can schedule your next big meeting at one of Atlanta’s 132 Waffle House locations instead of flying to some vaulted office thousands of miles away. Waffles, grits and a greenlight? Win-win-win.”

Ava DuVernay, who filmed most of the 2014 drama “Selma” in metro Atlanta, appreciated both the area’s “treasure trove of locations for this film” and “all the crews that we needed.” She hopes to return to do more movies in Atlanta.

Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, said while building the crew base was top priority in these early years, enough time has passed that she is seeing more creative types such as directors, writers and producers plant themselves here as well.

“It’s happening organically,” Thomas said during a panel discussion at SCAD’s fourth annual aTVFest earlier this month. SCAD’s Atlanta campus in recent years has been ramping up its film and television degree programs. “We are seeing producers and showrunners moving to Georgia, bringing their families. People are moving development companies here, which is great.”

In 2008, Georgia’s Legislature created tax credits that were among the most generous in North America. Film production companies could pocket up to 30 percent of production costs in tax credits. That now means hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars a year off the rolls. But in return, the state estimates more than $6 billion in annual new business has been generated.

And so far, both Gov. Nathan Deal and the state assembly are supportive, with no concerted efforts to scale back.

Deal, in a speech last month, said, “I am committed to protecting the film tax credits that make this type of blockbuster economic impact possible. Why would anyone want to make changes to our current system, which would only infringe on an industry that employs thousands of Georgians, brings new business to our state regularly and generates billions of dollars in our statewide economy? We have found an incentives structure that works. I see no need to alter or fix something that is not broken.”

But production companies are sensitive to the bottom line. If there is even an inkling the incentives are being cut back in any way, the likes of Sony and Viacom will start hunting for more amenable climes.

“Nothing is guaranteed for life, but this is a good scenario,” Reitz said. “We’re really pleased.”

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