Did you know Robert Redford and Emma Thompson were in town recently?
In film, as in real estate, it’s location, location, location.
That was the message delivered recently by Craig Dominey, a location specialist with the state Department of Economic Development’s film office in Atlanta. He was part of a panel brought to UGA by Letterbox Legal, Deborah Gonzalez’s law firm, and presented by the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Other panel members were Lisa Ferrell, a producer who works with Georgia Public Broadcasting, and Jeff Montgomery, Athens-Clarke County’s public information officer.
When he started with the film office in 2000, Dominey was happy to see five productions a year. In 2016, there were more than 300, and the film industry in Georgia has become a $9.5 billion business, thanks to a 30 percent state tax credit. “When someone is shooting a $200 million film, getting 30 percent back in tax savings is significant,” Dominey said.
Thousands of people, one way or another, are involved in the film industry, with support businesses offering everything from HVAC work to dog grooming, car parking and catering.
On any given week, there are 60 or 70 productions going on around the state—indie films, Netflix originals like “Stranger Things” and “Ozark,” HBO hits, network TV shows and movies from major studios, like Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War and two upcoming Avengers sequels, all filmed at Pinewood Studios south of Atlanta. Dominey said he’s found Georgia locations that have depicted a desert, Rio de Janeiro and the Las Vegas strip.
Did you spot Emma Thompson and Robert Redford in Athens-Ben Epps Airport last summer, shooting a scene for A Walk in the Woods? Probably not, said Jeff Montgomery, who works with companies wanting to shoot movies in Athens. And that’s just fine—things go much smoother without oodles of fans milling about.
The television show “Sleepy Hollow” has also been shooting in Athens. Athens was the setting for 2013’s The Spectacular Now, directed by local native James Ponsoldt, and scenes in Trouble With the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood as a baseball scout, were shot at the Globe in 2012. Long ago, Athens was the setting for a television version of “Breaking Away.” Part of the 2000 comedy Road Trip was filmed on the UGA campus, too.
What’s challenging for film companies wanting to come to Athens, Montgomery said, is that shooting is difficult in the fall, when weekends see hotels, restaurants and roads crowded with UGA football fans. The Athens community gets scouted often, he said, but other factors besides location determine where a film is shot.
It’s difficult for any community outside of metro Atlanta or Savannah to consistently attract film productions, Dominey said. There are huge studio facilities across metro Atlanta and in Savannah, and crew members live nearby. Moving to a distant location may mean having to house and feed entire teams of people, making a place that’s out of studio range economically unfeasible.
Ferrell said producers share vendor lists, adding that the film community “is small, almost incestuous.” If someone has a good experience with a particular vendor, then his or her friends are likely to use the same company.
Montgomery said his office is preparing a guide to films in Athens, which will have one-stop opportunities for people. He also said the county is becoming known, location-wise, for more than simply the university.