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Support film tax credit and expansion of sound production in Georgia

By David S. Dwyer

Published in Athens Banner-Herald on Oct. 11, 2023

Still image from "The Spectacular Now" filmed in Athens, GA. Photo credit: James Ponsoldt

Our state has attracted and helped to grow a very impressive film industry. Over $4 billion was spent on making films in Georgia last year. The Peach logo turns up more and more on streaming shows and the big screen, and private capital continues to be invested to keep this industry growing. Georgians benefit from this investment as revenues spent go to support individual jobs and small businesses across the state.

Athens has benefitted from this industry, and we can see more benefit for the future. Some amazing films have been made here like "The Trouble with the Curve", "The Spectacular Now" (produced, written, and directed by Athens Native James Ponsoldt), and "Not Since You", with local legend Ashley Epting behind the camera.

Georgia’s key means of support of this industry – a vital part of our overall economy – is the Film Tax Credit. If a film is made in Georgia, it is eligible to receive tax credits against the expenditures made in our state. For every dollar in credit, approximately $6 are spent on production in Georgia. Most of that money stays in the state paying for carpentry, catering, driving, building, doing traffic control, not to mention running the equipment that is necessary for the film to be made. This work is performed by real Georgians earning great pay for some really cool work. Those folks pay income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes. They are often working for themselves or for small businesses, and they are taking care of their families in meaningful ways because Georgia was savvy enough to support this industry. When location shoots happen, the impact reaches deeper into our communities.

I want to see more of this $4 billion spent in our community. I’m assisting a coalition that Gov. Brian Kemp assembled to look at expanding our audio workforce in Georgia. Their recent study concluded that Georgia could expand that $4 billion not just by attracting more of the kind of film work that is already happening, but by expanding the existing work into areas beyond the visual capture such as in post-production. This is where sound and audio engineering provide opportunities to expand the film business and strengthen Georgia’s position against the threats posed to the film industry here.

Of all the sound you hear in a movie, 98% is recorded after the visual content is captured via post-production. Almost all of that work is done somewhere other than Georgia. Athens has a great legacy of music and sound. We need to expand the film business vertically into this area of audio capture, and Athens is the perfect place for that work to be seeded. I see the business here expanding and am very encouraged by efforts to bring more work in film to Georgia beyond the visual image capture. This is evidence of maturity of an industry, which is evidence of stability and long-term benefit. It’s not just film that needs audio engineering and a skilled workforce. Video gaming, broadcast media, and of course music are all major contributors to our economy, and strengthening the level of audio associated with those sectors will also benefit them.

This effort to vertically integrate is one response to a severe threat we face from other states that want to take this business from Georgia. If we don’t continue to support a robust film industry – one that is diverse and putting more Georgians to work in areas beyond the visual capture – we become vulnerable to poaching.

The tax credit is also a great response to that threat. A lot of small businesses and jobs – and the associated tax revenues - will follow that industry to Texas, North Carolina, or any other state looking to poach our successful industry if we don’t stay competitive.

I have spent the last 15 years helping businesses get started and grow in Athens. We have seen a fraction of the film work that we could see, and I’m working so that will change. That can be through an expansion of the visual image capture, and through a great opportunity for the state to recruit and pursue this incredibly untapped resource of the audio capture.

Recently, a state legislative panel reviewing the efficacy of all the state’s tax credits held a field hearing here in Athens. It’s important that Athenians know that their elected officials are diligently looking at all issues surrounding the state’s promotion of film. Athens is a logical place for post-production, on top of the pursuits being made to grow the on-location and sound stage visual capture. Please join me in helping support all efforts to bring more film to Georgia and to Athens. This includes continued support of the tax credit and broadening the overall work on film that we do in our state.

David S. Dwyer, of Athens, is COO of Tweed Recording.

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