ATLANTA – Georgia’s film industry is setting records even as the coronavirus pandemic continues dampening activity in other economic sectors.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

Movies and TV productions filmed in Georgia generated $101 million in wages for members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees during the first quarter of this year, Lee Thomas, the state Department of Economic Development’s deputy commissioner for film, music and digital entertainment, told members of the agency’s board Wednesday.

That’s up significantly from the $74.8 million in wages posted during the first quarter of 2020 and a record first quarter for the industry in Georgia.

“ Film has come roaring back,” Thomas said. “I don’t know of another industry that has rebounded so quickly.”

When COVID-19 struck Georgia hard in March of last year, it shut down film production for two months  As a result, the film industry’s economic impact in the state declined during the last fiscal year for the first time since the General Assembly enacted a generous film tax credit in 2008, from $2.9 billion in fiscal 2019 to $2.2 billion in fiscal 2020.

But the industry began to bounce back last May when Gov. Brian Kemp released a set of voluntary best practices to protect film crews from the virus.

In July, the filming of commercials resumed, followed by independent films in August and major studio productions in September.

Thomas said Georgia only lost two film projects to COVID-19. The rest of the productions interrupted by the virus last year have returned, she said.

Thomas said projects are currently shooting across the state. The list of communities hosting film projects includes Savannah, Thomasville, Tifton, Sandersville, Toccoa and Lumpkin County, she said.

The film industry also has helped prop up the bottom lines of live entertainment venues during the pandemic, Thomas said. The Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta’s Fox Theater and the Strand in Marietta all hosted film productions while their event schedules were empty because of the virus, she said.

Thomas credited the film tax credit for the industry’s ability to weather COVID-19 in Georgia.

“We have a great [tax] incentive,” she said. “It’s straightforward. Producers can easily budget it with no surprises.”

But no amount of tax incentive would work as well as Georgia’s tax credit without the diverse locales the state boasts, from beaches to mountains to big cities and small towns.

“Pretty much any script you have we can probably find somewhere that matches it in the state,” Thomas said.

A related industry that also hasn’t missed a beat during the pandemic is Georgia’s video gaming industry, which also benefits from a tax credit adopted by the General Assembly.

Limited to just five gaming studios and fewer than 45 jobs in 2005, the industry had exploded to more than 160 studios and 4,000 jobs by 2019, said Andrew Greenberg, executive director of the Georgia Game Developers Association.

Greenberg said the numbers for 2020 aren’t out yet, but he’s expecting the industry put up a strong showing. That wouldn’t be surprising considering the role gaming played during the pandemic in connecting players isolated in their homes by shelter-in-place orders.

“All indications are 2020 blew the roof off the [earlier] numbers,” Greenberg said. “This is a huge industry.”

Greenberg said 21 Georgia colleges and universities offer game design programs, providing a strong training ground for students interested in staying in the state after graduation and working in the industry.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.