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Case Study: Savannah Regional Film Industry

The Savannah Economic Development Authority (“SEDA”) facilitates business attraction, retention, and expansion in Savannah, operating various divisions including the Savannah Regional Film Commission (“SRFC”). The film commission serves as the central point of contact for film and television production in Savannah and the region, liaising between film companies and local municipalities. It also offers location assistance and coordinates with local businesses and crews. The film commission builds on Savannah’s rich film and television history, with prominent productions, such as Forrest Gump (1994), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), Lady & The Tramp (2019), The Underground Railroad (2021), and The Menu (2022).


The film commission established the Savannah Entertainment Production Incentive, a structured financial rebate to encourage film and television production in Chatham County, in 2015. The incentive is applicable for projects with a minimum budget of $4 million and a qualified local spend of at least $500,000. Key conditions include the requirement for the main production office to be located in Chatham County and at least 50% of shooting days to occur within 60 miles of Savannah's City Hall. The incentive can be used alongside the Georgia state tax incentive and caps at $100,000 per feature film and $250,000 per episodic production, and offers a 10% rebate on qualified expenses, which include a comprehensive range of both above-the-line and below-the-line costs. An additional bonus incentive of $25,000 is available if 50% of the crew have their primary residence within the state of Georgia and are located within 60 miles of Savannah City Hall.

Behind the scenes of The Underground Railroad in Savannah. Image credit: Andy Young


Aims and Objectives

SEDA and the SRFC aim to establish Savannah and the region as a premier hub for film and television productions. Their key objectives include attracting new projects, retaining and expanding existing film and television businesses, and fostering local talent.


Impact

In 2022 there was nearly $207 million in direct spend by entertainment productions in Savannah by 101 productions. The city was also voted second best in a list of small cities and towns for filmmakers to live and work by MovieMaker magazine.[1] In 2019, 129 professional projects, including eight feature films, 18 television projects, and 12 commercials, were filmed in Savannah generating $125.6 million in direct spend and $266.3 million in economic impact.[2]


In 2014, Savannah was home to only a small number of crew members engaged in the screen production industry. Following the implementation of the Savannah incentive by the SRFC, the city and wider Chatham County area has experienced considerable growth in this industry. In 2023, Savannah has more than 300 unionized crew members and there are over 600 total crew members listed on the SRFC crew database that have at least one production credit. The incentive has facilitated numerous career opportunities, driven by a consistent influx of film and television productions including Baywatch (2017), The Girl From Plainville (2022), Devotion (2022), and May December (2023). Additionally, the city hosts five universities offering film or media programs, which serve as a direct workforce pipeline to the local production industry. For example, the GFA offers a Film & Television Production Certificate which can be earned at Savannah State University, whose film department collaborates with the GFA to develop courses.[3]


The tourism industry in Savannah has exhibited robust growth, serving as a vital economic pillar for the city. In 2021, the city attracted a total of 15.2 million visitors, contributing to an 18% increase in visitor spending to $3.3 billion.[4] Within this thriving tourism landscape, screen tourism has been established as a unique offer connecting key Savannah locations with the celebrated films that shot there. For example, the Savannah Segway Movie Tour offers a 75-minute experience that utilizes Segways to transport tourists across the city to iconic film locations, such as those featured in Forrest Gump (1994) and Something To Talk About (1995). This not only adds a layer of engagement for visitors but also capitalizes on the city's long-standing history as a film location. Similarly, Savannah Movie Tours and More provides a comprehensive cinematic experience in a luxury, climate-controlled minibus, enhancing the city's appeal to a diverse range of tourists.


Significant advancements are taking place in Savannah's infrastructure for the film and television production industry. Savannah Film Studios, which is a part of the Savannah College of Art and Design (“SCAD”) and first opened in 2014, is currently undergoing a significant expansion which will provide students with an opportunity to train in a cutting-edge professional environment. In autumn 2021, SCAD introduced an advanced mixed-reality LED volume stage at this facility. This state-of-the-art facility employs camera tracking and real-time rendering technologies to generate a fully immersive virtual environment, which can be viewed live on set and captured directly on camera. Additional projects are also underway, including a backlot and three supplementary facilities, all part of a 10.9-acre development plan. The initial stage of the three-phase backlot project is scheduled for completion in late 2023.[5]


 

[1]Film Business is Good Business. SEDA, 2022. Accessible at: https://seda.org/industries/entertainment-production/ [2] Entertainment Production Industry Generates $125.6 Million in Direct Spend in Savannah Region in 2019. SEDA. Accessible at: https://seda.org/stories/entertainment-production-industry-generates-125-6-million-in-direct-spend-in-savannah-region-in-2019/ [3] Film at Savannah State University. Savannah State University. Accessible at: https://www.savannahstate.edu/class/departments/mass-communications/gfamain.shtml [4]Tourism. Savannah Area Chamber. Accessible at: https://www.savannahchamber.com/economic-development/tourism/ [5]SCAD Announces Expansion of Savannah Film Studios. The Savannah College of Art and Design, 16th April 2021. Accessible at: https://www.scad.edu/about/news-press-and-recognition/2021-04-20-scad-announces-expansion-savannah-film-studios

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