TV producers find a lot to like in Georgia

TV producers find a lot to like in Georgia
Savings can be high enough to allow a new studio to be built
By Karen Idelson

Georgia television production has long been known for “In the Heat of the Night,” but a crop of popular newcomers — “Drop Dead Diva” and “Vampire Diaries” — have focused the smallscreen spotlight back on the Peach State.
The producers of “Drop Dead Diva,” which shoots in Peachtree City, about an hour south of Atlanta, initially came for the tax rebates. They soon found a lot more in the area that they could use to get the look they wanted — even places doubling for Los Angeles. And since labor costs and property costs were right, the show was able to build its own backlot. “There’s a lot of space here, there are a lot of looks available and the ability to do things quickly and easily,” says executive producer Josh Berman. “People really appreciate us in Georgia, too. When we brought Paula Abdul in to shot an episode at a local high school there was a lot of excitement about it, while in L.A. people are sometimes too used to seeing celebrities everywhere.”
“Diva” is not the only TV skein making use of the state’s varied scenery. “Vampire Diaries” uses soundstages in Decatur, and the city of Covington doubles for its “Mystic Falls” location. Additional shooting takes place in Monroe. The new ABC pilot “187 Detroit” is also shooting in Georgia.
Mark Henderson, owner of Get-a-Grip Atlanta, has seen production come back in quickly since 2008, when Georgia brought back solid incentives for film and television production. “We’ve always had the infrastructure,” says Henderson, whose company has helped put together crews and equipment for “American Idol,” “Nanny 911,” and a variety of CBS specials. “But I would say in recent years Atlanta has really grown up, and we’re starting to be known as a place where you can find mountains and a variety of exteriors and locations for different productions.”
Wilbur Fitzgerald, an actor and founding partner in Georgia Film Tax Consultants, began to see an influx of crew about two years ago when Georgia lawmakers began to consider bringing back tax credits. “Crews seem to find out things before anyone, so we began to see people who’d moved away or just new people come into the state for the work,” Fitzgerald says. “So right now our crews are very deep, and we have a lot of resources for incoming production.” Georgia grants a tax credit of 20% to qualified productions. Qualified companies can also save through a tax exemption that gives companies an immediate point-of-purchase exemption that will save up to 8% on many below-the-line materials and rentals. An additional 10% tax credit can be earned by including an embedded Georgia logo within the completed project.