Georgia Outlines Film, TV Production ‘Best Practices’ Guidelines

Georgia was the first state to re-open movie theaters during the cornavirus pandemic. It is also leading Hollywood’s return to producing films and TV shows.

Governor Brian Kemp May 22 announced a filming “best practices” guide for the state’s $9.5 billion content production industry that employs more than 51,000 people in the Atlanta area and statewide.

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The guidelines are aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 when productions resume in Georgia this summer. The recommendations include increased sanitation efforts, avoiding sharing objects such as mobile phones, computers, pens, work tools, etc., in addition to avoiding mass transportation, opting for digital call sheets, production reports and contracts when possible. Goals also include avoiding handshakes, kisses, hugs and actions that encourage physical contact between people.

The guidelines were developed in cooperation with officials from studio and production companies who maintain a presence in the state.

As future film and production planning continues, the guidelines prioritize the safety of all cast and crew. Companies are required to use these recommendations in conjunction with industry-wide labor and management protocols as they are developed.

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“We are so grateful to the hardworking people who make up and contribute to Georgia’s incredibly successful film and TV industry, and we thank them for all the ways they have given back throughout the state’s response to COVID-19,” Kemp said in a statement. “The Georgia Film Office has maintained their close work with industry executives to develop these outlines for how productions can help protect cast and crew members.”

Georgia set a record for filming during fiscal year 2019. The 391 film and television productions filmed in the state spent $2.9 billion in the state, supported 3,040 motion picture and television industry businesses, and delivered $9.2 billion in total wages.

“Every element of what has made Georgia such a unique place for film — landscapes, production facilities, a skilled and growing workforce, with a pipeline of new labor thanks to the Georgia Film Academy and our College and Career Academies — are still in place, just as they were before this global pandemic,” Kemp said.

Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson said the backbone of the state’s film and television industry is comprised of small businesses that have helped create the environment that makes Georgia an attractive place for productions.

In addition to locations, climate and cultural attractions, the state has offered upwards of $150 million in annual tax incentives toward productions.

“We will continue to help these important businesses navigate new circumstances,” Wilson said. “As we return to production across the state, there is no doubt Georgia will maintain its position as a powerhouse for film and television production.”

Theater Trade Group Questions Early Re-Openings

With the state of Georgia allowing movie theaters to re-open on April 27 — provided they adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines — a trade group representing exhibitors says the practice would largely result in screening catalog titles.

The National Association of Theatre Owners in an April 22 statement said exhibitors should remain united in regards to re-opening screens in order to deliver confidence to consumer and stock new-release titles.

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“Until the majority of markets in the U.S. are open, and major markets in particular, new wide release movies are unlikely to be available,” NATO said. “As a result, some theaters in some areas that are authorized to open may be able economically to reopen with repertory product; however, many theaters will not be able to feasibly open.”

With most national chains laying off or furloughing employees and executives, scrambling together requisite staff to run theaters remains a challenge. Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Theatres, has publicly stated he hopes theaters could be operational by July.

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John Stankey, COO of AT&T, parent to WarnerMedia Entertainment, doubts theaters can “snap back” quickly with ongoing consumer uncertainty about the status of COVID-19 infections, inadequate supplies of face masks to businesses and virus screenings.

Indeed, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp admitted earlier this month that he hadn’t been aware the virus could be spread by asymptomatic people, or those not exhibiting signs of an infection.

Georgia, along with many other red states, has felt internal pressure from some residents and political activists arguing for a return to normalized small business operations and consumer access. Many of the businesses, which face permanent closure and bankruptcy, have been unsuccessful securing federal relief funds.

Georgia Re-Opening Movie Theaters April 27

Citing favorable data regarding the spread of the coronavirus, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp April 20 said movie theaters in the state could begin operations on Friday April 27. Businesses such as restaurants, gyms and hair salons can re-open on April 24. Bars, amusement parks, sports arenas and night clubs remain shuttered until further notice.

AMC Theatres operates 25 theaters in Georgia. Regal Entertainment operates 19 cinemas in the state. Both chains have furloughed executives and laid off workers, which could delay opening the doors in seven days. In addition, studios have pushed back major tentpole titles and theaters would have to operate limited seating in accordance with social distancing mandates — a regulation AMC CEO Adam Aron said he was comfortable with at the beginning of the pandemic.

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The governor made no mention of entertainment production, which includes WarnerMedia’s CNN and major Hollywood TV and movie studio operations in the Atlanta area and statewide.

Georgia has more than 18,000 confirmed infections and 687 deaths related to COVID-19.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee said the state’s stay-at-home order would end on April 30.

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The move comes as local and state governments across the country feel pressure to reduce social distancing mandates and restore the economy, which has seen 22 million people apply for unemployment — including record numbers of jobless claims filed in Georgia.

“People are anxious and worried about their health, their families, and how they are going to continue to make it financially during these uncertain times,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said earlier this month.

Kemp, who just recently said he only became aware the coronavirus could be spread by asymptomatic people, said the measured action, which includes wearing masks and social distancing in businesses, would help get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress he said the state has made in the battle against COVID-19.

“Today’s announcement is a small step forward and should be treated as such,” he said.

Kemp’s announcement left former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb perplexed. Gottlieb, a Republican who headed the agency through 2019, said it appeared Kemp was caving to the protests of small business patrons.

“Gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, hair salons, tattoo parlors — it feels like they collected, you know, a list of the businesses that were most risky and decided to open those first,” Gottlieb told CNBC.

Instead, he advocated government first re-open factories, commercial settings and offices that support secondary businesses.

“Notwithstanding the fact that I understand there are a lot of small businesses behind these professions that are being badly hurt, but if you want to get the economy going, you want to bring back the businesses that contribute to GDP first, if you can,” Gottlieb said.

Italy Investigating Netflix on Alleged Tax Evasion

Italian officials have reportedly opened an investigation into Netflix regarding possible tax evasion operating its subscription streaming video service in the country.

Reuters, citing a source familiar with the situation, said prosecutors in Milan opened the inquiry despite the fact Netflix does not have a physical presence in the country.

Netflix Italy has about 1.4 million subscribers who access content through servers, desktop computers, TVs and mobile devices, which officials say amounts to a physical presence in the country.

Netflix bases European operations out of Amsterdam, Holland.

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Italy has pursued similar investigations of Apple, Facebook and Amazon, reportedly resulting in substantial fines and tax payments.

With the proliferation of e-commerce and streaming video, local and national governments have recognized a potential fiscal windfall targeting companies operating for-profit operations within their borders without physical presence.

Dubbed the “Netflix tax,” Chicago earlier this year became the first U.S. city to collect taxes ($2 million) from media/tech companies operating services within its city limits.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Spotify, among others, have filed litigation against the 9% tax Chicago officials imposed on streaming entertainment services four years ago.

States of Iowa, Maine, Wisconsin and Colorado, among others, have imposed taxes on Internet-based companies operating within their borders.

Lawmakers in Georgia had considered taxing Netflix and other streaming services to help pay for broadband infrastructure deployment in rural parts of the state.

Netflix and other streaming platforms were removed from verbiage associated with House Bill 887, after a local poll showed 65% of consumers were opposed to taxing Internet services.

Notably, Netflix in 2018 received a €57,000 ($70,385) tax rebate in the U.K. — despite generating a reported £700 million ($864 million) in revenue from 10 million subscribers in the region.

 

Spain Lawmakers Seeking 8% Tax on Foreign OTT Video Services

Lawmakers in Spain are looking to impose an 8% tax on over-the-top video services operating in the country, including Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Sky Now and DAZN.

The so-called RTVE (Radio Television Espanola) tax is aimed at funding Spain’s ad-free public broadcaster, which has been undermined in recent years by plummeting advertising sales among commercial broadcasters, who contribute about 1.5% of their revenue to RTVE’s budget.

The proposed tax is incorporated in the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which aims to level the playing among broadcasters such as Atresmedia and Mediaset, pay-TV operators/telecoms (Movistar, Telefónica España, Orange and Vodafone) and now OTT video.

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The updated law would impose a 5% tariff on in-state SVOD revenue earmarked toward domestic film production, and another 3% directed toward RTVE.

According to Spanish media site El Español, the tax would apply to revenue generated by an OTT service’s Spanish subscribers. As a result, HBO would be charged a percentage of the revenue generated by its 475,000 Spanish subs, instead of the company’s reported revenue based on the location of its tax-incentivized fiscal headquarters.

The tax  could become law by the end of the year.

Separately, local and national governments worldwide continue to search for ways to tap into the lucrative OTT landscape — with varying degrees of success.

Georgia lawmakers in February backed away from imposing a 4% tax on subscription streaming video services. The tax is still on the table for music services, video games and e-books.

“People didn’t like what has become known as the Netflix tax, so we took that off,” Rep. Bill Werkheiser told the media. “The effort initially was to help fund broadband. It won’t do that without the Netflix or streaming services tax.”

Sony, Viacom, CBS, Showtime, NBC Universal, AMC Network Join Growing Studio Sentiment Not to Work in Georgia Should Anti-Abortion Law Go Into Effect

Then the dam broke.

Sony Pictures, Viacom, CBS, Showtime, NBC Universal and AMC Networks, which has produced “The Walking Dead” in Georgia for more than 10 years, May 30 joined a bandwagon of Hollywood studios, producers and actors who have said they would cease doing business should the state’s new anti-abortion law go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation on May 8 making it unlawful for a woman to have an abortion six weeks after pregnancy. Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

The issue is unique to Georgia, which has become a prolific location for movie and TV show production, reportedly  accounting for 40 current content production outside of California and New York.

“If this highly restrictive legislation goes into effect, we will re-evaluate our activity in Georgia,” AMC said in a statement.

The network, which was one of the first to produce content in the Peach state with “Walking Dead,” said similar laws passed in other states have been challenged and so would the measure in Georgia.

“This is likely to be a long and complicated fight and we are watching it all very closely,” AMC said.

A spokesperson from Comcast-owned NBC Universal said the media company doesn’t expect the law to go into effect, but is ready to act if required.

“If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future,” said the spokesperson.

A Sony Pictures rep echoed the sentiment saying the Culver City, Calif.-based studio would continue to monitor the situation and “would consider our future production options” if warranted.

WarnerMedia Entertainment to Boycott Georgia Should Anti-Abortion Ban Become Law

WarnerMedia Entertainment May 30 joined Disney and Netflix in pledging to withdraw movie and TV show productions from Georgia should the state’s new anti-abortion law go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Brian Kemp May 8 signed legislation outlawing women from terminating their pregnancy six weeks after becoming pregnant. Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

“We operate and produce work in many states and within many countries at any given time and while that doesn’t mean we agree with every position taken by a state or a country and their leaders, we do respect due process,” WarnerMedia said in a media statement. “We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds, we will reconsider Georgia as the home of any new productions. As is always the case, we will work closely with our production partners and talent to determine where and how to shoot any given project.”

In addition to CNN and Turner in Atlanta, WarnerMedia has significant content production in Georgia, which has been home to a hotbed of film and TV production for years due to generous tax incentives.

Disney to Join Growing Hollywood Bandwagon Ceasing Operations in Georgia Should Anti-Abortion Ban Take Effect

The Walt Disney Co. could join Netflix and other Hollywood actors and production companies who say they would stop working in Georgia should a recently signed anti-abortion law take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Speaking to Reuters, Disney CEO Bob Iger was asked if Disney would continue to make movies (Black Panther) and TV shows in the state should statewide legislation outlawing a woman to abort her pregnancy after six weeks become law. Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation on May 8.

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“I think many people who work for us will not want to work [in Georgia] and we have to heed their wishes in that regard,” Iger said. “Right now we’re watching it very carefully. I don’t see how it’s practical for us to continue to shoot there.”

Disney’s possible departure from Georgia could be a major blow to the state’s lucrative film business, which employs thousands and generates billions in annual revenue by offering studios generous tax incentives.

In addition to Panther, Marvel Studios Avengers: Endgame, Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy 2, among others, filmed in the Peach state.

Disney’s possible pullout of Georgia is reminiscent of a similar ploy when Georgia lawmakers attempted to ban same-sex marriage within the state.

Disney came out against the proposed legislation, claiming it was an affront to personal civil liberty.

“Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law,” a spokesperson said at the time.

Then Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal quietly vetoed the legislation.

Netflix Reconsidering Georgia Film, TV Productions

Netflix reportedly is reconsidering its massive investment in movie and TV show productions in the state of Georgia after Gov. Brian Kemp signed an anti-abortion law there on May 8.

The action by the SVOD behemoth, which has more than 150 million subscribers globally and spends tens of millions on productions in Georgia, could be a catalyst for Hollywood studios to up heretofore tepid responses to the legislation.

Georgia’s anti-abortion law, which goes into effect in 2020, would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — a timeline by which the law’s critics say most woman wouldn’t know they’re pregnant. Currently the ban is after 20 weeks.

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“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” CCO Ted Sarandos said in a statement first reported by The Wrap. “It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court.”

Sarandos reiterated that until the law actually goes into effect, Netflix would continue to produce content in Georgia, while supporting partners and artists who choose not to.

“Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia,” he said.

Current Netflix productions in the Peach state include original series “Ozark,” “Insatiable,” and feature film Holidate, among others.

“Ozark” star Jason Bateman has already stated publicly that he would no longer work in Georgia should the law go into effect.

“If the ‘heartbeat bill’ makes it through the court system, I will not work in Georgia, or any other state, that is so disgracefully at odds with women’s rights,” Bateman said in a statement.

Georgia Gov. Kemp Attempts to Mollify Hollywood After Signing Anti-Abortion Law

After scuttling a planned May 22 visit to Hollywood studios in Los Angeles, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp the next day visited local production facilities to thank them for doing business in the Peach state.

Thanks to lucrative tax incentives, film and TV productions employ more than 5,000 people in Georgia, reportedly generating a $9.5 billion fiscal economic impact in 2017, including $2.7 billion in direct spending.

The state trailed only Canada as primary production home for the 100 top-grossing domestic films in 2017. It was home to more than 455 productions in 2018, according to the governor’s office.

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The PR tour was in response to growing backlash following Kemp’s May 7 signature of an anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” that prohibits a woman from terminating a pregnancy after six weeks — a time period before many women even know they’re pregnant.

Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill, which goes into effect in 2020, would also allow authorities to investigate women who miscarry.

While initial reaction in Hollywood was limited compared to a previous attempt by Georgia lawmakers to ban same-sex marriage, producers, directors and actors are beginning to speak up.

Actress/activist Alyssa Milano got the ball rolling on social media, delivering a letter to Kemp signed by 50 celebrities who vowed to boycott the state if the bill was signed into law.

Actor Jason Bateman said he would no longer work in the state, which is the production location (Lake Lanier) to his Netflix original series, “Ozark,” among others.

Producers of Amazon Prime Video original series “The Power” reportedly have stopped scouting the state for locations in response to the bill.

“We feel we have to stand up for a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, and so while this is not a decision we have taken lightly, we feel strongly that it is the right one at this point in time,” Jane Featherstone and Naomi De Pear, said in a statement.

Kristen Wiig and her creative team behind Bridesmaids confirmed to CNN that production of her new comedy, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, had pulled out of Georgia in response to the bill.

CNN reported that Christine Vachon, CEO of Killer Films; David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “The Deuce”; and Mark Duplass of Duplass Brothers Productions have all said they will not film in Georgia.

Separately, directors J.J. Abrams and Jordon Peele issued a statement in support of “women in Georgia,” adding that they would donate episodic fees of their new series, “Lovecraft Country,” to the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia, an organization seeking to reform state elections.

Kris Bagwell, who runs EUE Screen Gems in Atlanta, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he recently lost a Netflix movie that would have brought about 300 jobs.

“The passage of this law threatens to destroy a significant portion of 11 years of goodwill between Georgia and the national film and television production industry,” Bagwell said. “Isn’t the first rule of job creation ‘Don’t shoot the jobs you already created?’”

Kemp, in response, contends he’s keeping a campaign promise to stop abortions.

“We value and protect innocent life in Georgia — even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk,” the governor told a recent GOP convention in Savannah.