Q&A: Savannah Regional Film Commission Director Beth Nelson on growing the local film industry

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The following is an excerpt from the latest “Difference Makers” podcast interview with Savannah Regional Film Commission Director Beth Nelson. “Difference Makers” is presented by the Savannah Economic Development Authority and features Q&As with Savannah community leaders in the areas of commerce, government, education, arts and culture and philanthropy. Full episodes, including this one with Nelson, are available at SavannahNow.com/Opinion under the “Difference Makers” heading or through mobile device podcast apps. Search “Difference Makers with @SavannahOpinion” to locate the podcast and subscribe to receive new and archive episodes.

Question: Georgia is now the leading state in the country for film production, status that has been boosted by the state’s film tax credit. How much of Savannah’s success is due to this incentive?

Nelson: “That is the critical key. The film industry is driven by incentives. We’re a member of the Association of Film Commissioners International; I go to conferences twice a year. This is where film commissions around the world meet, and it’s all about incentives. They want to save money. We’ve seen it happen in other places: when the incentives dry up, the production industries dry up. So it is critical.

“Georgia has a lot of other things to offer that attract filmmakers, such our our diverse location, our great crew and all of the support industries that are here, but at the end of the day, if the incentives go away, then the industry is going to go away. Georgia has the best incentive in the world — there’s no sunset, so producers aren’t worried about the incentive expiring; and as for reaching a cap, we have no cap. It’s a very solid incentive.”

Question: Savannah has plenty of film activity, but we lag behind other parts of the state, or at least Atlanta. What would help take Savannah to the next level in terms of film production?

Nelson: “We definitely need a professional soundstage here and I think the time has come. We are in communication with companies that have expressed interest in building a stage here and we are encouraging those conversations. Because we’ve had such steady work, because we have several TV series that have shot pilots here and may get picked up soon, we’re really on the verge of growing the industry. Investors are watching and waiting and I think they’re going to make their move soon. To get to the next level, we have to have a sound stage.”

Question: What about airlift between here and Los Angeles? Would a nonstop flight make a difference?

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