As lawmakers probe the film tax credit, they'll find it's worked exactly as intended.
By Brian Robinson, Nov. 28, 2023
Fans of Netflix’s Ozark know about the dramatic performances of stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in the thrilling series. They’ve probably never heard of Mike Neal, a small businessman in Savannah, but they’ve enjoyed his work too.
As a marine coordinator whose company supplies boats, underwater camera operators and water-safety guidance, Neal took a Savannah River paddleboat that wasn’t in use, converted it into a casino in a matter of days and then blew it up for a scene in Ozark’s third season.
Neal has worked on the water for more than 25 years, with a business that specialized in boat and kayak tours. But when the film business began to expand in Georgia early in the last decade, productions started renting boats and other equipment from him. He saw an opportunity and seized it.
“I went from [being] on the periphery of the film industry to where it’s now 90% of my business,” Neal says. In addition to Ozark, he’s worked on sets for Baywatch, Gemini Man and many others. He recently worked for a film due out next year called The Fabulous Four, starring Bette Midler, Sissy Spacek, Susan Sarandon and Megan Mullally.
His connection to the industry allowed him to join the Screen Actors Guild, which provided much more comprehensive health insurance than what he could afford as a small business owner. When his wife got liver cancer, the coverage allowed her to get a transplant at the Mayo Clinic. Today she’s doing well and cancer-free. Without that union membership, the treatments would have bankrupted them, Neal says.
Neal has seen the industry grow and plant roots here. No longer are most of the workers shipped in from other states.
“This isn’t Hollywood. This is Georgia,” says Neal. “The crews are from Georgia. These are Georgians who can get health insurance and buy homes here.”
Theresa Daniel of Forsyth is one of those Georgians getting to live out her dreams. Growing up, she loved theater, especially musicals, but trying to work in the industry would have required leaving Georgia and she wasn’t going to do that.
“I had the interest but didn’t have the opportunity,” she says.
In 2012, an independent film shot on location at a Monroe County school and teachers were cast as extras. That was gig No. 1. More than a decade later, she’s appeared in 130 productions, including 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic.
Daniel applies to productions via Facebook, earns some pocket cash, has fun with other regular extras who’ve become friends and enjoys a complimentary meal. “I like the catering,” she says. “I don’t like to cook.”
These opportunities available to Georgia businesses and workers flow from the state’s film tax credit, which allows certified productions to receive up to a 30% transferable tax credit on qualified Georgia goods and services. In other words, the jobs and the tax dollars stay here. Legislators are currently reviewing the effectiveness of all the tax credits offered by the state, but the film credit, with its far-reaching impact, will take center stage.
As lawmakers probe the film tax credit, they’ll find it’s worked exactly as intended. In the late 2000s, legislators sought to bring the film industry here. Long story short: That happened. In 2010, the state had 47,000 square feet of soundstage space. By 2027, it will have 7 million square feet. More soundstages allow for more and continued filming, which in turn provides more spending and jobs. In 2023, we have nearly 60,000 jobs in the industry and counting. The Georgia Department of Economic Development announced that in the 2022-23 fiscal year the film industry spent $4.1 billion in the state, and a recent economic impact study commissioned by the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition found that for every $1 that gets a tax credit, $6.30 circulates through our economy.
The same study found that 93% of the productions filmed in Georgia today wouldn’t have come here without the credit. It’s essential to keep this good thing going.
Ending the credit wouldn’t hurt Hollywood or major film companies. They’d just go elsewhere – as they did when North Carolina and Louisiana cut back their credit programs.
It’s the Georgia businesses that have invested in studio construction and equipment rented to productions, the workers behind the scenes like those employed by Mike Neal and those pursuing their passion like Theresa Daniel who will lose out.
Brian Robinson is a regular political commentator for Fox 5 and co-host of WABE’s Political Breakfast podcast.