By Barton Bond, director, Film and Digital Media Center, Clayton State University
There is plenty of evidence that the film and media industries in Georgia are experiencing rapid growth. The number of film and television productions in the state exceeded 40 in the peak summer months just past – contributing to an estimated $ 5.1 billion in economic impact in 2014. Gaming, music and film tourism added another nearly $6 billion to that total.
And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from county economic development offices and realtors around the state about the steady stream of media professionals and businesses moving to Georgia from other states. To date, most of those businesses and individuals have been coming from California, but with the recent severe decline of North Carolina’s film industry, Georgia should see some significant migration of professionals and film projects from that state as well.
While the Georgia’s attractive financial incentive program is at the root of much of the growth and development of the sector, the growing support infrastructure contributes is a contributing factor as well. Pinewood Studios is a well-known anchor, and has helped to encourage the movement into, or creation within, the state of many support services companies and individuals. And with at least one confirmed, and perhaps two other studio complexes considering establishment here, that spiral of activity spurring economic development is on a sharp tilt upward.
However, there is also a sense among some professionals in areas such as film production and business development, music, gaming, education and training as well as “back office” infrastructure, that now is not the time for the state to rest on its laurels. At a recent Film and Entertainment Society Summit organized by the 22,000 member Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), a group of panelists representing these sectors called for a unified approach to making the case, both internal and external to the state, that Georgia is poised to move up to a higher level.
Panelists included Barton Bond (education) from Clayton State University, Todd Harris (gaming) of Hi-Rez Studios, Tammy Hurt (music) of Placement Music, Susan Satterfield (film) of Picture Window Productions, Stephen Weizenecker (film legal) and Stephen Woodward (communications infrastructure) of Edge Solutions.
The TAG panelists all agreed that Georgia is now a major player in film and entertainment nationally, but is genuinely and uniquely positioned to not only become an even stronger force in traditional media, but to become a leader in new media and other technology-based communications.
That is to say, if the current growth rate of traditional film and television production is just maintained for the next five years, Georgia could surpass New York as the second-busiest state for production. If even one more major studio complex the size of Pinewood is opened, the state’s capacity, and logically its productivity, could increase at least 50 percent within just a couple of years. Add to those numbers the attendant growth of support services and infrastructure and there would be a natural inclination to foresee an even more dramatic level of economic activity.
However, as the panelists all agreed, traditional production is only one component of the entire industry. Given the sometimes wild growth rate of new platforms and avenues for consumption of media content – unforeseen even two years ago – there is now and certainly will be in the near future a vast untapped potential to develop and deliver content (called “product” in the film and media world).
The nature of these products can range widely from scripted shows to reality programs to games to education, training, marketing, and other domains not yet developed or considered. And making the landscape even more fertile, there will be an increasing number of blended products that combine more than one of these elements.
Woven through those genres will be modifications of traditional consumption, enabling interactive applications — choosing alternate endings to shows or games for example — allowing for customization or even creation by individual media consumers.
As several of the TAG panelists pointed out, the best part and potential for Georgia is that this brave new world of media is geographically agonistic. Meaning it can be created and even distributed from pretty much anywhere – technically. However, and this is big however for the state, the best places to develop, produce, launch and maintain these products and services will be regions which have four characteristics.
- First; a sufficient level and quantity of skilled workers – creatives, producers, developers, technicians, experts on the business side (marketing, logistics, distribution, financing, etc.), and even entrepreneurs.
- Second; an appropriate support infrastructure that includes communications bandwidth, studios, production companies, post-production and special effects houses.
- Third; support services including industry-specific materials and service suppliers, government and general business support, and on-going training, education and professional development.
- Fourth – and most importantly: a level of recognition and support integrated both horizontally and vertically throughout the state.
Of all these, the fourth element needs the greatest amount of attention and effort right now. The first three are on a slow but steady development and growth curve. If left unattended or unstimulated, they all may reach a point of critical mass that would be necessary for Georgia to achieve its true potential. On the other hand, given the incessant and persistent level of competition, both domestic and foreign, that will no doubt expand, that point may not be reached before some other city, state or country gets there first.
In film and media, momentum (the “Big Mo”) is everything. Georgia has momentum but only at the potential level. Now is the time for all stakeholders to recognize that the window of opportunity is just now cracked but needs to be opened wide so we can all crawl through.
All the TAG panelists agreed that as a state we need to move out of the mode of individual domain-specific discussions, conferences and workshops, to an over-all strategic action plan that will pull together individuals, companies, organizations, governmental, and educational and business entities into creating a focused vision. That vision also must generate concrete action plans as necessary. Those plans likely will specify a number of actors from all the aforementioned categories and necessarily would have short and long-range outcomes and the requirement for on-going review, assessment and revision.
It is not, as one former United States president would say, “rocket surgery.” But there are a lot of moving parts and many hands on the wheels that turn the parts. As a state, we all headed in pretty much the same direction – we just need to all be pulling together in that direction.