Georgia’s TV and Film Industry Now Brings in $7 Billion a Year, Fueled by Smart Incentives

And tourists are flocking to the land of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead helped put Atlanta on the map as a TV destination in 2010. AMC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Hollywood is still the center of the film and TV universe—for now—but over the past few years, Atlanta’s thriving entertainment industry has been rapidly giving it a run for its money.

In the past year alone, big-ticket films like Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, The Fate of the Furious, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Hidden Figures, Marvel’s Black Panther and Pitch Perfect 3 filmed in and around Atlanta.

The list of TV productions based there is also impressive: The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, 24: Legacy, FX’s breakout hit Atlanta, The Vampire Diaries and MacGyver—plus all of Tyler Perry’s series for OWN and TLC call the Atlanta area home. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: the full list of film and TV productions currently filming in Georgia can be found here.

According to Georgia’s Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, 245 film and TV productions were shot in Georgia during fiscal year 2016 (between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016). Those productions spent $2.02 billion during that time and generated an economic impact of $7.2 billion. (Much of the state’s production is located in and around Atlanta.)

That’s double from just three years earlier, in fiscal year 2013, when 142 movies and TV projects were filmed in the state, spending $933.9 million with an economic impact of $3.3 billion. (A decade earlier, in fiscal year 2007, the total value of all 48 production budgets was just $93.1 million, which helped generate an economic impact of $241.5 million.) Georgia’s film and TV industry is now third in the nation, behind only California and New York.

Netflix's Stranger Things took place in Indiana but was filmed in Georgia.

Thanks to incentives, ‘every studio is booked’

While Atlanta residents might be excited about the influx of big movie stars in their town, its production boom “is about the 1,000 people that are behind that actor. It’s the hotel rooms that get booked out for months. It’s the caterers. Nobody can get studio space, because every studio is booked,” said Matt Thompson, executive producer of the animated series Archer (which moved from FX to FXX for Season 8), who has been Atlanta-based since 2001.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and television industry is responsible for more than 85,300 jobs and nearly $4.2 billion in total wages in Georgia, including indirect jobs and wages. More than 25,700 people are directly employed by the film and TV industry in Georgia, and there are more than 2,700 industry-related businesses in the state.

Georgia “has crew depth, the infrastructure of the film office and the support of the government. When I go to Georgia, it’s something I know we’re going to be able to get there, which doesn’t always happen every place else,” said Stefan Reinhardt, co-head of AMC Studios, which will film four productions in the Atlanta area this year, including The Walking Dead and Halt and Catch Fire.

Georgia’s film and TV industry is now third in the nation, behind only California and New York.

While industry execs and producers credit the area’s geographic flexibility (“Georgia has a lot of different looks and feels. You can see anywhere from parts of New Jersey to parts of L.A.,” said Reinhardt), a climate that supports year-round shooting and travel ease via Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, that’s not the main reason that Atlanta has become one of the world’s fastest growing TV and film destinations.

Instead, the surge in Atlanta production has primarily to do with—what else?—the bottom line. Georgia’s robust incentive program offers up to a 30 percent tax credit for all film and TV productions shot in the state: 20 percent, plus an additional 10 percent for productions that embed the Georgia logo in their program or participate in other promotional marketing for the state.

“It starts at the governor’s level at any state. You can look at North Carolina and say, their governor changed and with it went the tax program,” said Jim Sharp, evp of production, 20th Century Fox Television, which films three series and a medical pilot in Atlanta. (Former Gov. Sonny Perdue was in office when Georgia’s incentives were first passed in 2005, and Gov. Nathan Deal succeeded him in 2011).

After a rocky start to its production incentives in 2005—credits were offered on a tiered system that was “pretty convoluted and too hard for producers to budget for,” said Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office‚ the program was revised in 2008 with the current system, which was tightened up again in 2012.

After featuring Atlanta in Season 1, Walking Dead's production team set up shop in nearby Senoia.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.