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Trouble in Georgia might mean movies for New Mexico

Milan SimonichMay 24, 2019

All at once, people across New Mexico have Georgia on their mind.

Money and good jobs are at stake, though the two states are 1,300 miles apart and look like a titan facing a minnow.

Georgia is the heavyweight. In the New South, it’s more than the headquarters of Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines. Georgia is one of the world’s hottest spots for making movies.

FilmL.A., the movie office for Los Angeles, last year ranked Georgia first among the states as the location for highest-performing feature films. Georgia hosted 15 of these movies. Next on the list were California with 10 and New York with six.

As always, New Mexico’s economy is dependent on oil and federal jobs at labs and military installations. But the state also has established a movie industry that stands out as a clean and growing employer.

Now Georgia is in the throes of political trouble that could drive away at least some film companies, directors and actors. Could New Mexico build up its movie industry because of the strife in Georgia?

Patrick Millsaps, CEO of Georgia-based Londonderry films, says the tempest will end without any damage to his state.

“It’s not going to make a blip. Some of our soundstages are booked for three or four years,” Millsaps said in a phone interview.

I’m not sure he’s right about this being a skirmish of no great moment. The controversy in Georgia won’t dissolve in a day or a month. It could drag on for years.

The wedge between Georgia’s politicians and the film industry is a bill banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. This typically occurs after six weeks of pregnancy.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the measure into law this month. It is to take effect in January.

Dozens of filmmakers and actors have responded by saying they are boycotting Georgia unless the law is repealed or struck down in court.

Actress Kristen Wiig announced that she has dropped Georgia as the location of a movie she helped write, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.

Director Ron Howard and others issued statements saying they would not do business in Georgia if the antiabortion measure takes effect.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Kemp recently told a convention of fellow Republicans that he would not fold under pressure from actors.

“We are the party of freedom and opportunity,” Kemp said. “We value and protect innocent life, even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk.”

All the discord follows a decade in which Georgia politicians paid deference to the movie business. They provided it with tax credits of up to 30 percent with no caps on the rebates.

Georgia residents benefited, too. The film program has created good jobs and heavy demand for services — everything from hotel rooms to dry cleaning to car rentals.

New Mexico residents know from painful experience that it doesn’t take much to drive away moviemakers.

In 2011, first-year Gov. Susana Martinez regularly criticized public subsidies for film and TV productions shot in the state.

Martinez for a couple of years deadened interest in New Mexico as a location for movies. Then she reversed herself, praising the film industry as an important part of New Mexico’s economy. Martinez also said the state’s “robust incentives” had helped bring movies and good jobs to the state.

To Millsaps, those calling for a boycott of Georgia’s film industry would inflict damage on workers who had nothing to do with the abortion bill. Many women, he said, have high-paying jobs with productions that a boycott could stop.

“If you’re talking about social justice, do you give up one group to help another?” Millsaps asked.

Georgia is not the first state to face economic sanctions because of a political decision.

Conventioneers promised boycotts and the National Football League removed a Super Bowl from Phoenix after voters in Arizona rejected a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Arizona subsequently relented. The NFL has since awarded the state three Super Bowls.

Millsaps, though, said Super Bowls and conventions are one-time events. Georgia’s film industry is different. With a packed production schedule and 100,000 people trained in the industry, Georgia’s movies and TV productions won’t be siphoned or slowed, he said.

If he’s wrong, New Mexico and a half-dozen other states will have a shot at more business.

And the Georgia Film Office might have to change its slogan.

“Let’s make movies, y’all,” doesn’t quite have the ring it once did.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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