By Jennifer Brett and J. Scott Trubey
Georgia Film Day 2017 was a celebratory affair starring Gov. Nathan Deal, “Thor” and “Captain America.” Top state officials and actors dressed as characters from movies filmed here appeared at a merry gathering touting Georgia’s booming film business and the industry-friendly tax policies bolstering it.
“I am excited by the success of this industry,” House Speaker David Ralston said then. “As long as I sit in that office, there will be no bigger fan of that tax credit and this industry than I am.”
Georgia Film Day 2018, held Tuesday morning at the Capitol, was again well attended but among the mostly jubilant crowd were some nervous murmurs. Legislation approved by the Senate and headed for the House that would let taxpayer-funded adoption agencies turn away gay couples, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s pledge to kill a $50 million jet fuel sales tax exemption unless Delta Air Lines reverses its decision to end discounts for NRA members, have some folks associated with the multibillion dollar film industry anxious, others angry. The national spotlight on state lawmakers also comes as Georgia pitches Amazon for its second headquarters project and the promise of 50,000 jobs
“If this dumb bill becomes law, let’s be done filming television shows in Georgia,” writer and producer Ben Wexler said in a social media post referencing the adoption bill. “The Walking Dead” actor Daniel Newman plans to participate in a Thursday protest downtown, saying the bill “goes against equality and human rights.”
Insiders at the Gold Dome on Tuesday were less direct in their public comments.
“The industry in general is going to have some very strong opinions about that bill,” said actor Ric Reitz, president of SAG-AFTRA’s Atlanta local. “We haven’t gotten to the point where it’s going to be enacted or signed legislation. We’re going to take a back seat for right now and see how this plays out.”
As for Cagle’s stance on Delta and the NRA, “That’s a fight we tend to want to stay out of,” Reitz said. “We’re pro-business in every aspect of this stuff, obviously for our own destiny, but for the destiny of others, too. When you look toward the religious liberty aspect, there are a lot of divided opinions. That’s a hot topic, let’s face facts. We’re sort of watching and seeing how this is going to develop.”
Neither Deal, Cagle nor any super heroes attended on Tuesday, and Ralston was stuck in traffic, organizers said. The crowd that packed the Capitol enjoyed a video highlighting everyday Georgians who work in the industry, and cheered the robust economic report – 320 feature films, television movies and series, commercials and music videos were shot in Georgia in 2017 and projects during fiscal year 2017 generated an economic impact of more than $9.5 billion, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“No other film production center has seen more growth in infrastructure than Georgia has over the last eight years,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson. “Gov. Deal’s leadership and unwavering support has ensured Georgia’s place as a top destination for film and television activity.”
Trish Taylor, past president of the Georgia Production Partnership, steered clear of any political commentary, saying Tuesday’s event was meant to thank lawmakers for their support.
“Our sole focus,” she said, “is on the state tax incentive.”
In 2016, Deal vetoed a “religious liberty” bill that would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their religious beliefs or to fire employees not in accord with those beliefs. The action followed vociferous corporate opposition from numerous industries including Hollywood.
The Walt Disney Co. and AMC Networks warned they would pull productions from Georgia if Deal signed the bill, and Time Warner, which runs Atlanta-based Turner businesses, issued a statement saying it “clearly violates the values and principles of inclusion.”
Longtime casting agent Shay Griffin, who as part of the Georgia Film and Entertainment Advisory Board played a key role in getting tax-incentive legislation passed in 2008, sounded sanguine about the intersection of politics and productions.
“Stay tuned,” she said.
Reitz hinted that compromise was forming backstage.
“I have every confidence in the governor. I have every confidence in the House,” he said. “This is the nature of the business. This is the nature of politics.”