Film industry on a roll in Georgia
Productions spending billions each year
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson poses with fans while in Gainesville in June to film scenes from the upcoming movie "Rampage."

Georgia’s film industry is gaining momentum as it hosts hits from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and the state is reaping serious benefits.

Georgia’s film industry spending has grown almost 40 times over in the past 10 years.

Direct spending within the state from production companies working on television and movies sat at $67.7 million in 2007, Gov. Nathan Deal’s office announced on Monday, and the industry’s 2017 spending checked in at $2.7 billion.

“It’s such a labor-intensive industry, so lion’s share is spent on people — crew people, off-duty police and fire, security personnel, extras,” said Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office. “It’s catering, location fees and it’s rental of warehouses and rental cars while they’re here — hotel rooms.

The average large-scale production usually interacts with “literally hundreds and hundreds” of vendors before they leave Georgia, she said.

Georgia offers a generous tax credit to production companies working in the state: 20 percent of their income and another 10 percent if they put the Georgia logo at the top of their credits.

As a result, 320 productions were based in Georgia in fiscal year 2017, according to the state.

Hall County has hosted at least 29 productions since 2007, according to the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. Last year, “Baby Driver” and “Thank You for Service” had scenes shot in the city of Gainesville. “Baby Driver” came out in June, and “Thank You for Your Service” is scheduled for an October release.

The bureau has provided location and production assistance to shows and movies like “The Vampire Diaries,” “Hard Knocks,” “Need for Speed,” “Blended” and “The Accountant.”

Way back in 1992, the bureau assisted with the production of “My Cousin Vinny” in Gainesville. And it’s had a hand in a few productions that have yet to be released, according to its president, Stacey Dickson.

One recent and notable example is “Rampage,” which features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and had a few scenes filmed at Brenau University. It is scheduled for an April release.

In 2014, Adam Sandler’s “Blended” was almost entirely based in Hall County. Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison, rented offices and spent 56 days shooting in the county, Dickson said.

Statewide, other big-name productions have spent serious cash on local people. The staff of “The Walking Dead” was 97 percent from Georgia, Thomas noted.

“They don’t want to bring in people; they want to hire locally because that’s going to save them money,” Thomas said.

That’s one of the reasons Georgia’s film industry is picking up steam — there are now 91,000 people working in the film industry, Thomas said. Her department estimates the total economic benefit of the film industry sits at $9.5 billion each year.

Coupled with easy access to the world’s busiest airport and Georgia’s geography — there aren’t many states that have huge cities, small country towns, grasslands, forest, coastline and mountains within their borders — the state is likely to remain a prime location for production companies.

The impact has been recently felt – and seen – in Forsyth and surrounding counties.

In late June, the former Regions Bank in downtown Gainesville made its way onto movie screens across the country in a scene from “Baby Driver,” a film about a young getaway driver played by Ansel Elgort.

While the movie filmed in Hall County, James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said Forsyth has “a positive track record for the number of films and TV shows filmed and produced here.”

He said the county should, ideally, play host to more filming locales.

“We are certainly not hosting anywhere near the kind of work that should be going on,” he said. “But the [Chamber’s] Board of Directors recently convened a tourism advisory committee, which just had its second meeting.

“The committee is much like what we’ve done with economic development – we’re reviewing and revising a tourism development plan, and while it’s a little early to say what kind of strategies we’ll have in place, film is clearly going to be a huge component of that.”

McCoy said part of the plan is to build on the successes the county has previously had in the hopes of generating more projects.

“We’ve got a great place to film from, but we’re not taking advantage of what we should be,” he said. “Bringing in [filming] is important because the tangible results are [the industry] is using and buying local resources from local vendors, which is a very important aspect of our economic growth.

“But having [the industry] here also helps us a great deal in enhancing our brand and our story in the business community.”