Chamber Members Hear Firsthand about Coweta's Role in Georgia's Movie Industry

Staff Report From Newnan CEO

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Georgia’s movie industry had a $9.5 billion economic impact on the state in Fiscal Year 2017, and some of the key players who helped bring movie production to Georgia shared their stories at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber’s October 31 NuLink Early Bird Forum at The Newnan Centre.

Chamber President and CEO Candace Boothby led a panel discussion with Mitch Seabaugh, former State Senator and former Senate Majority Whip; Scott Tigchelaar, President of Senoia Enterprises, Inc. and Nic & Norman’s, Inc.; and Greg Torre, Deputy Commissioner of Marketing & Communications, Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Today, the city of Senoia is known worldwide as the home of the hit AMC show “The Walking Dead.” This year, AMC purchased the Senoia studio where the show is filmed. The studio was built in 1989 as Riverwood Studios by Paul Lombardi, Tigchelaar’s uncle, and Joe Lombardi, Paul’s father, who was well-known for his special effects work in Hollywood. Tigchelaar said the Lombardis had looked at where the production was going, “and it was going to Georgia.” But in the 1990s, he said, the industry was dying here, and they couldn’t give away the studio space.

Torre noted that the Georgia film office opened in 1973, about the time the movie “Deliverance” was being filmed in North Georgia. Officials began to see the economic impact that this production had on the area where it was filmed, and they realized the value of attracting more movie production to the state. The late seventies saw movies like “Smokey and the Bandit” filmed here, and by the eighties and nineties, Georgia was well known as the production site for movies including “Glory,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

Meanwhile, Georgia began to see other states including North Carolina and Utah offer tax incentives for movie production, and Canada was on the rise for its movie production as well. Georgia lost out on filming the movie “Ray” to Louisiana because of a significant tax incentive passed by that state. Georgia officials began to wonder what they could do to remain competitive in the industry, and about that time, Torre said, he got a call from Coweta’s Mitch Seabaugh, “which I found amazing but exciting.”

Seabaugh, who jokingly called himself “a reformed CPA,” was then serving as a State Senator from Coweta County. He said he realized that the movie industry could be good for Georgians if it was handled in a financially responsible and sustainable manner. He began to investigate the possibility of offering tax incentives for movie production, and in addition to consulting with professionals like Tigchelaar and staff at the state film office, he even traveled to Hollywood to ask industry insiders themselves what it would take for them to bring more movie production to Georgia. He spoke briefly about the political process and years of work that it took to pass the tax incentives. In 2008, Georgia legislators passed a measure creating significant movie and TV production tax credits.

The way that works, Seabaugh said, is that the movie companies first have to spend a certain amount of dollars on production here. Since many of the companies aren’t actually located here in the state, they can then sell their tax credits to Georgians who then settle their tax liability at a discount.

Torre said it can be challenging to relay to others the full economic impact of having a movie production in a community, but the movie folks “spend a ton of money” at small businesses like lumberyards, hotels, car rental businesses and dry cleaners.

Tigchelaar said the movie industry also provides jobs right here in Georgia, so “it’s people in Georgia working in Georgia.”

Torre noted that in Fiscal Year 2017, some $9.5 billion was spent here on 320 film and TV projects.

“It’s about jobs and investment,” Torre said. “This has made a difference, and it works.”