It’s been a busy few weeks for me…
First, I traveled to San Antonio for my fourth Urban Affairs Conference. My presentation was a comparative study of 22 states offering movie production incentives (MPIs) over the last 10 years, with a special focus on the metropolitan nature of film employment. [see the complete presentation here].
Film industry employment is metro employment
Besides showing that across states, an increase in film industry employment has a lot more to do with the level of existing employment — showing a path-dependent relationship — than with the level of tax incentives available, I was able to show that film jobs are heavily concentrated in metropolitan places. In a pooled sample from 2007-11, 94% of film industry workers lived in metro areas, with nearly half (43%) in the metros’ central cities. In addition, over half (53%) lived in the top 10 filmmaking cities, with nearly 40% of workers residing in the greater Los Angeles (*including Riverside-San Bernardino) and New York metros.
In Georgia, nearly 90% of film industry jobs were in the 4 central counties of the Atlanta metro (Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb & Gwinnett).
The rise of “Hollywood South”
Anyone who has lived, worked, or even visited Atlanta lately can easily recognize the signs: a line of white trailers, covered windows with adjacent scaffolding and lighting rigs, and the occasional celebrity/zombie sighting… all evidence of the recent growth in film & TV production in Atlanta and the surrounding area.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend the Second Annual Atlanta Studies Symposium, held at the newly acquired and renovated Georgia State University Centennial Hall, formerly housing the Atlanta Life Financial Group. This is noteworthy because GSU has led the revitalization of downtown Atlanta, taking over former office towers and commercial spaces nearly as fast as their tenants could skedaddle to the northern suburbs. But I digress…
Amidst a great assortment of presentations on Atlanta past and present, I was on a panel that included research on the option of local, organic food for low-income urban families; and a look at the new trend in “open streets” programs in cities around the U.S. and beyond. I had tough acts to follow, but I persevered. Mine was the last panel presentation of the day, before the closing keynote by Regime Politics author Clarence Stone, so I felt some pressure to keep my audience awake so they wouldn’t miss hearing from this icon of urban politics. I was really wishing I could still make some changes to my PowerPoint, but I was forced to improvise a bit at the last minute when, just moments before the panel began, I received a tweet informing me of an article just released by The Hollywood Report entitled “How Georgia Toppled Louisiana in Attracting TV Productions.” Needless to say, I wanted to include this in my talk, so I found myself opening by reading quotes off my iPhone… [See my tweet/blog piece on this article shortly]
After giving a litany of recent productions shot in or near Atlanta in the last several months, including the Hunger Games series (all 4 films so far and counting); Anchorman 2, which had my beloved Manuel’s Tavern converted to a New York watering hole after replacing all the Atlanta sports memorabilia (and one naked portrait) with that of NYC teams; and of course The Walking Dead, whose popularity is such that after 4 seasons, it has spawned a cottage industry of TWD locations tours.
According to Georgia’s Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, nearly $1 billion was spent directly in the state in fiscal year 2013, generating an estimated $3.3 billion in economic impact. That’s an increase of $55 million from FY2012, and nearly a quarter of a billion since FY 2011, when the industry spent $689 mil. That is nothing to sneeze at. But of course they didn’t mention the cost of the program, which could be up to 30% of that direct expenditure, or upwards of $300 million from state revenues, since the tax incentives are based on the production budget, not the taxes owed. Producers are allowed to sell their excess credits, often heavily discounted, to other companies and individuals who owe Georgia state income taxes, which has spurred a new industry for brokers of such tax credits.
So given this growth in productions, what does that mean for the Georgia-based film industry? So far, it’s hard to tell. Based on the latest numbers I have (2011), film industry employment is at approximately the same level as it was in 2000, prior to the passage of a series of increasingly generous tax credits. There has been some growth since the bottom of 2004, following the passage of the first film tax credits in Louisiana, but the biggest spikes come immediately after increases in the credits, and then drop and/or level off (see the chart below).
Occupational data looked a bit more promising, but while the four major film & television occupations showed growth overall, only the largest and least production-specific group — Audio & Video Equipment Technicians — showed actual growth. (see the following chart).
In short, the last 2 years may in fact tell a different story, but in the mean time, I think we should be asking some tough questions about how this program is working, and whether it is really benefiting Georgia taxpayers, or even Georgia filmmakers.