Insights from Lee Thomas Deputy Commissioner of Film, Music & Entertainment and the GA Department of Economic Development

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by Mollee D. Harper, Senior Editor

As 2016 comes to an end, Georgia Film News sat down with Lee Thomas, Deputy Commissioner of Film, Music & Digital Entertainment with the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Thomas shares highlights from her 20 years of work for the State of Georgia focused on building the infrastructure and long-term support for Georgia’s success in the entertainment industry. Learn about Georgia’s tax incentives, Camera Ready Program, and why so many producers, location scouts, directors, editors and other industry professionals choose Georgia.

The Georgia Film Office was formed in 1973 to attract the entertainment business for the State. Since it’s founding, Georgia has been the location of choice for more than 1,000 film and television productions. In FY16 alone, 244 Georgia-lensed feature films and television productions generated an economic impact of $7 billion to the State—more than the first 35 years of the office’s history combined.

Thomas explained, “I started at the Georgia film office in 1996 right before the Olympics. It was pretty risky at the time to go into freelance film work, the work was very sporadic. At that time, Canada started offering incentives to attract what had traditionally been a US industry across the border, and that really hurt our business. The Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, which was passed in 2008, has been critical to our achievements in the industry.”

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Georgia offers a state tax credit up to 30% for qualified productions. This tax credit incentive spans film, television and commercials and interactive entertainment. Qualifying productions receive a 20% tax credit, plus an additional 10% credit for embedding a Georgia promotional logo in the film title or credits.

Thomas added, “It is very important that we continually educate legislators about the benefits of the industry. We’ve had great support, but every year there are new legislators and it is important that they understand the impact of what the incentive has done for Georgia’s economy.

Georgia is a Camera Ready State, with highly desirable financial incentives, location diversity, production resources and professional support for all sizes and types of entertainment productions. Georgia’s Camera Ready program provides producers and location scouts with a trained liaison at the county level to assist in location scouting, permitting and other production needs.

Thomas offered, “The Georgia Production Partnership started the Fast Forward Program initially, and we developed it into the Camera Ready Program. We knew we needed an extension of our office in each of Georgia’s 159 counties to support the industry’s growth in our state. We now have entertainment liaisons for all 159 Georgia counties–the Camera Ready program is a great asset for us. We have strong relationships with many producers who reach out to us when they are planning a new project. When we receive a new script, we break it down shot by shot and make sure we can find the locations, crew and support they will need throughout the state. Each of the Camera Ready liaisons knows their municipalities inside and out so they can advise on road-closings, connect the producers with the local law enforcement and government officials, find locations, and ensure the film production has all of the necessary support it requires to be successful in Georgia.”   

Georgia is home to numerous studios with an extensive array of sound stages and post facilities, along with state-of-the-art equipment and highly-skilled crew to ensure film productions in the State are successful.

Thomas explained, “We have a lot of infrastructure in place today. The Georgia Film Academy (GFA) is making sure we have skilled crew to support our growth. GFA is actively training our local crew with the goal of developing content creators to build a sustainable industry in Georgia.”

Thomas continued, “We maintain a database of crew and support vendors for the State called “Reel Crew.” The people who work in technical jobs behind the scenes in production crews, or provide transportation, catering, hotels and other support services, can upload their resumes and credentials and can be listed, free of charge. When producers come to Georgia, they just download the app and can quickly find all of the crew and vendors they will need.”

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Georgia’s production crews are among the deepest, most-experienced and affordable in the country, boasting more than 30,000 working professionals, including more than 1,000 suppliers and vendors to the entertainment industry. Georgia’s offers full industry support in all areas from diversity in locations to studios, sound stages, cameras, lighting & grips, props & wardrobe, casting and talent, catering, film labs, editing, animation and special effects, music scoring and sound design.

Lee Thomas serves as Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Thomas has worked with many film productions in the State including: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Blind Side, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, Footloose, Fast 5, The Conspirator and Zombieland.

For more information on Lee Thomas and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, visit: http://www.georgia.org/.

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