Hollywood filmmakers deciding it’s time for state’s ‘close-up’
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
April 01, 2014 04:00 AM | 6213 views | 0 0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LIGHTS! CAMERA! GEORGIA? Yes. The movie business is suddenly big business in the Peach State. Soon-to-be-released figures will show that in 2013, Georgia overtook Louisiana as the busiest state in the nation for TV and film-making after California and New York, according to Marietta’s Ric Reitz, president of the Georgia chapter of the Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Actors.

“Georgia is the most fertile ground in the country outside of California and New York,” Reitz told Around Town. “We have four mild but distinct seasons, we have a variety of topography, we have ease of access and we have a deep and experienced cast and crew mix in this state. And we have Hartsfield. Do not underestimate its impact!”

Marietta Square has served as a backdrop for scenes in recent films such as “Dumb and Dumber To” and “The Watch.”

Georgia film-making got its first big boost when Burt Reynolds set “Deliverance” in Rabun County back in 1972. Then-Gov. Jimmy Carter created the Georgia Film Commission and more than 700 films and TV shows have been made in the state since then. But filmmaking here fell off in the 1990s as other states and Canada got more competitive, according to Reitz, who has appeared in scores of movies and TV shows. He traces the state’s return to competitiveness to the Legislature’s passage of transferable tax credits in 2005.

“We were only doing $100 million of business a year in the state, most of which was Turner Broadcasting,” said Reitz, a former member of the Film Commission. “Now we’re just shy of $1 billion in direct investment a year in the Georgia economy. There was a time when we couldn’t sell all the tax credits. Now we’re generating hundreds of millions a year and we can’t get enough of them.”

When the “multiplier” effect on the economy is considered, the number is more than $3 billion, he added. That spending translated to more than 23,000 jobs created and an annual payroll of $1.3 billion, Gov. Nathan Deal said last month.

There was more than $350 million invested in the state last year in new movie-studio infrastructure, according to Reitz. A big part of that is the decision by the U.K.’s Pinewood Studios, maker of such iconic brands as the Harry Potter and James Bond movies, to come here.

“They could have built anywhere in the U.S., but they’re building in Fayette County,” Reitz said. “That impacts us in Cobb because it’s generating another studio opportunity off I-85 on Jimmy Carter Boulevard in an old factory that will be converted. So we will have five major studios in our geographic area by next year. And none of that is incentivized by Georgia taxpayer dollars.”

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REITZ, meanwhile, says the tragic Feb. 20 death of young camera assistant Sarah Jones during the filming of the “Midnight Rider” biopic about Gregg Allman near Jessup was preventable and predicts it will have widespread repercussions for the industry. Jones was killed by a train after the director staged a scene involving a hospital bed placed on a railroad bridge high above the Altamaha River — apparently without the knowledge or permission of CSX Railroad.

“There are going to be some lawsuits and some people are going to go to jail,” he said. “There was criminal negligence there. They just took it on themselves to get on some CSX railroad tracks without permission. That’s criminal trespass, on a ‘hot’ track, with no supervision. And when you read that the third train that came by ‘surprised’ them, well anyone who knows about GPS and logistics knows there’s a nerve center for CSX. They know where every train is in America at every second. You don’t get ‘surprised’ by a train. And you certainly don’t put a hospital bed — a hospital bed! — on a trestle over a river with no means of escape. But that’s what happened.”

The “good” news, if you can call it that, is those responsible for her death were L.A.-based, not Georgia-based, he said.

“I attended the funeral service for her,” Reitz said. “We’re going to see a change in safety standards, globally, as a result of this young lady’s death.”

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LOCKHEED MARTIN in Marietta enjoyed a double-barreled blast of big news last week. It was front page news in the MDJ Tuesday that South Korea had agreed to buy 40 of LM’s latest fighter jets, the F-35 Lightning II, in a deal worth $6.8 billion to Lockheed.

And that’s not all. The week also saw the Department of Defense award $875 million in contracts to Lockheed, primarily for purchases involving the F-35.

The biggest chunk of that — $698 million — was for the procurement of “long-lead” parts, materials and components needed to build 57 of the LRIP (as in “Low-Rate Initial Production”) models of the F-35. That will include fighters built for the Air Force, Navy and Marines as well as Israel, Norway, the U.K., Japan and Italy.

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AS FOR SOUTH KOREA’S PURCHASE, you can attribute that to rising tensions on the Pacific Rim sparked by North Korea’s effort to become nuclear-capable and, by the way, an expansionist China has been flexing its muscles. Moreover, thanks to President Barrack Obama’s muddled handling of the crises in Ukraine, Syria and Iran, plus a clear isolationist trend on the part of both parties here, there are increasing fears among our allies in the Pacific we might be pulling back from our post-World War II role as the ultimate guarantor of their freedom.

South Korea had planned to buy 60 copies of the Boeing-made, less-stealthy F-15 fighter jet last September, but unexpectedly reopened the bidding. Why? Analysts think it’s because it wants a jet with the most advanced radar-evading capabilities. And that would be the F-35.

“(It) will enable South Korea to hit nuclear installations inside North Korea,” wrote Forbes magazine last week. “At the same time, Japan’s order of 42 F-35s and China’s development of an indigenous fifth-generation fighter jet featuring stealth capabilities also likely pushed South Korea to acquire an advanced stealth-capable jet. Consequently, the country chose the F-35, which has advanced stealth features, but in doing so it had to trim its targeted order volume to 40 jets to factor in the F-35′s higher price point.”

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THE LOCKHEED PLANT here builds the center-wing components of the F-35 and applies stealth coatings, before trucking them to Texas for final assembly. The 330 people now working on the fighter at the Marietta plant are expected to grow to about 1,000 by the time the program hits full production late in this decade.

F-35s cost about $100 million each, but the price goes down as more are sold. That’s because the front-end development costs, which are largely funded by the U.S. government and the company, are spread over a larger number of planes. The Pentagon, which is expected to buy 2,400 of the F-35s, expects the price to fall to about $85 million each by the end of the decade, according to Forbes. The F-35 program made up 16 percent of LM’s overall sales last year and is expected to go up steadily in coming years.

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POLITICS: The Cobb Chamber’s Chairmen’s Club will host an 11th District Congressional panel discussion at the Cobb Energy Centre on April 23 featuring candidates Bob Barr, Ed Lindsey, Barry Loudermilk and Tricia Pridemore. MDJ columnist Dick Yarbrough will moderate the 5 to 7:30 p.m. event, which will be open to the media but not the public. ... U.S. Senate candidate Paul Broun of Athens will headline Saturday’s Cobb GOP Breakfast meeting at 8:15 at the party’s 799 Roswell St. HQ. Also on the bill will be 11th Congressional District candidates Barr and Pridemore. Each of the three will have 20 minutes talk to and take questions. For more info, call Joe Dendy at (770) 820-6545. …

The Cobb Regional Republican Women and the Cobb GOP will cosponsor a debate for Cobb Commission District 1 (Northwest Cobb) candidates. All five (Angela Barner, Bill Byrne, Glenn Melson, Scott Tucker and Bob Weatherford) have agreed to participate, according to CRRW President Patricia Rhodes. … Saturday’s edition of Around Town noted that Pridemore has been picked as an “On the Radar” candidate as part of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” Program. Turns out Ed Lindsey has been selected as an “On the Radar” candidate as well. The program recognizes candidates running in competitive congressional seats who have demonstrated an ability to meet crucial campaign benchmarks.

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