By Mollee Harper, Senior Editor
Georgia Film News sat down with Harry Russell Holland, Chief Credit Officer for SouthCrest Bank, a unit of SouthCrest Financial Group, Inc. (SCSG:PK), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with 10 branches located throughout Georgia and Alabama. During our interview, Holland shares his depth of experience in commercial banking, how he learned the entertainment business firsthand, and the preparations and work SouthCrest Bank has undergone to support the growth and success of Georgia’s entertainment industry by providing banking and financing products and services. Holland provides details on SouthCrest Bank’s unique funding programs available to Georgia filmmakers to help with cash flow during productions. He also shares insights on ‘Divorce Party’ – and their support for this current movie production in Savannah.
Holland shared, “I have been a banker for many, many years. Seems like forever. I spent most of my life in commercial real estate and lending on commercial real estate. I became involved with the entertainment industry after writing a story about the 2008 financial crisis.”
“I wrote a fiction book called ‘Burst’ about an Atlanta bank dealing with bigotry and arrogance in the face of the housing meltdown going on around them. It was such a difficult time for so many. Some of my colleagues said I needed to write down what we were experiencing on a daily basis; it was incredible something you couldn’t just make up. It actually became therapeutic for me, writing the book.”
Holland continued,”I joined the SouthCrest Bank executive team and we moved to Atlanta in 2013. That’s when I saw everything going on here around the movie business. I hired a screenwriter, Charles Thomas, to turn my book into a screenplay that same year. As we were working on the project in 2014, a lot of movies came out on the housing crisis, so we tabled it. Although we haven’t made the movie yet, it was what brought me here and ignited my interest in supporting the entertainment industry.”
“I discovered, wow, this is interesting, a bank can do this. We can do this. SouthCrest Bank can be the first Georgia based community bank to provide funding and financial support for our growing entertainment industry. I worked with the bank’s directors and our regulators to make it happen. It’s been very interesting and exciting and we’re now ready to do more business. A lot of productions that come here already have funding from California. We need to get the word out that there is a bank in Georgia that will work with them. We have the money and we know they need it. We just need to make sure they know we’re here to help by offering them the very best terms available in the market.”
Holland is the originator and architect of the SouthCrest Bank’s special production funding program under the Georgia ETC program, which assists producers in maximizing cash flow for production prior to the issuance and sale of the tax credits, which happens on the backend. He is also leading the bank’s initiative to finance productions in Georgia leveraging the credits and minimum guarantees from distributors to and help filmmakers fund projects. SouthCrest Bank has created a loan program here in Georgia to mirror the types of programs and offerings available from banks in LA.
Holland described, “One of the architects of the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act emphasizes that the intent of the legislation was to help grow the film industry in Georgia and make it self-sufficient. Having a Georgia source for film funding was always part of that objective. The tax credits themselves are not a source of funds during production, however, SouthCrest is. Shay was really excited to learn that we now have a Georgia bank making loans for movies, one where she and her family have banked for six generations.”
He continued, “The tax credit really started this and helped Georgia have a huge impact on the movie business. My goal is to be a true entertainment bank, providing the same level of financial support here in Georgia that folks have in California.”
Holland added,”I’ve had to compete head on with LA Banks. That’s tough. It’s very competitive even on the funding side, but they’ve help educate me on the finance side of the business and I appreciate that. It’s been a valuable education process for me. I think part of SouthCrest’s success is coming from our unique approach, my approaching the business from the creative side rather than as a banker. That’s how I learned firsthand how the industry works. I also learned so much about the business itself and I realized what we need is an entertainment bank, a Georgia entertainment bank.”
SouthCrest Financial Group, Inc. is a bank holding company for SouthCrest Bank, N.A. with $550 million in assets. SouthCrest Bank is a retail bank operation which offers consumer and commercial loans, checking, savings, credit cards, debit cards, online banking and bill payment services. The Bank has 10 branches and three loan offices to serve residents throughout Georgia and Alabama. Brian D. Schmitt serves as President and CEO for SouthCrest Financial Group, Inc. and SouthCrest Bank.
“We’re bullish on the movie industry in Georgia,” declared Brian D. Schmitt, President and CEO of SouthCrest Financial Group Inc. and SouthCrest Bank. “Stepping up to help fund these productions is a great way SouthCrest Bank can get top producers and directors to look more closely at Georgia when they are considering shoot locales. It’s a win-win for the production house, the investors and the people of the State of Georgia.”
Schmitt explained that SouthCrest intends to increase its exposure to the film industry by originating additional loans against Entertainment Tax Credits. “In addition, we will provide treasury management services to the productions we finance, and also will solicit banking products and services to the businesses supporting the film industry in our markets,” Schmitt added.
Holland offered, “A lot of bankers approach the entertainment business from only the bank’s perspective; how can what’s going on in Georgia with the film industry benefit us? SouthCrest turned that approach upside down. We asked, ‘how can what SouthCrest is doing benefit the film industry in Georgia?’ That approach emanated from my own firsthand experience as a novice filmmaker. I really enjoyed the process and wanted to continue doing something within the industry and believed the bank could be that vehicle. I went out to LA and met a lot of people on the finance side of the business, some of the best. They gave me some good insight to how, exactly, a Georgia bank could add value. It began with the tax credits and grew from there.
“SouthCrest is not monetizing the tax credits, we are making a loan and including the tax credits as part of our collateral base with other film assets such as distribution agreements. It provides the production with greater availability of funds at a much lower cost than someone that is simply monetizing their tax credits for a fast profit. For example, some investors pre-purchase the credits and pay a discounted price, let’s say 80 cents and let the producers use that in production and then sell their credits for at market, let’s say 92 cents. The investor’s gain is that 12-cent difference. SouthCrest provides a loan against the market value of the credits and other film assets, in that example the value would be the credits, 92 cents plus the value of any other film assets. When the film is completed, our loan is repaid from the sale of the credit and payments made under the other film assets, the net proceeds above the loan amount go back to the production and can be used to cover marketing and other costs or paid to investors. We can calculate the value of the film, based on what you’re spending in Georgia and the distribution agreements in place. We also help facilitate the entire tax credit process for them. We help with the audit, and filing of the tax return, as well as find a buyer for the credit when the production ends. That takes a lot off the producer’s plate and provides peace of mind.”
“We are definitely going to be the easiest and most cost effective option, maximizing cash flow to the project.”
Holland added, “The other thing I do is try to get as many projects to Georgia as I can. When I am in LA or hear about projects, I ask ‘Why aren’t you doing this in Georgia? Did you know Georgia has this talent pool? Did you know Georgia has this infrastructure? You need to bring that work here. We have any environment you want. We have the ease of accessibility with Hartsfield/Jackson Atlanta International Airport. We have high quality studio space in Atlanta convenient to the airport. In Savannah, you have the charm and space plus the added advantage of the Chatham County rebate of 10%.”
“Bankers tend to overcomplicate things. When I first started, I noticed I was talking like a banker and that simply was not working. While I still am a banker, I think I’ve made a lot of progress connecting with people in the industry.”
Holland shared, “Right now we are working with the production team on the indie feature ‘Divorce Party’. This movie was filmed in Savannah and is coming out of post production this week. The film was written by Mark Famiglietti and Lane Garrison and directed by Hughes William Thompson, who grew up in Georgia, and features Claire Holt from the Vampire Diaries, Matilda Lutz, and Thomas Cocquerele from the Billionaire’s Boys Club, Table 19 and many others. We are excited to be part of this production.”
He concluded, “I love dealing with creative people and helping them succeed in our state. I will sit down with anyone and help them plan their project and make sure they are realizing all of the benefits available to them. I suggest they call me early. The sooner you get us involved the better we are able to help maximize your credits.”
H. Russell Holland has served in his role as Chief Credit Officer for SouthCrest Bank since 2013. Prior to joining SouthCrest Bank, Holland served as Chief Lending Officer and Chief Banking Officer for Seacoast Bank. He has an extensive background in banking and commercial credit and has worked for Fifth Third Bank, BB&T, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and KPMG US. Holland received his Bachelor’s of Science in Accountancy from Wake Forest University School of Business.
For more information on H. Russell Holland and SouthCrest Bank visit their website at: https://southcrestbank.com/.