Like the suave secret agent portrayed in its movies, studio operator Pinewood Shepperton plc is looking to become an even larger international force.
As of last week, Georgia was added to the list of global production outposts for Pinewood, best known as the place where 21 of 23 James Bond films including the recent “Skyfall” were produced.
When the first phase of the 288-acre Pinewood Atlanta complex debuts as early as next January, the state will join China, Malaysia and the Dominican Republic among the London-based group’s newest entry points into increasingly important entertainment regions.
Pinewood announced last week that it will enter the U.S. through a joint venture with River’s Rock LLC, an independently managed trust of the Cathy family of Chick-fil-A fortune, according to Pinewood.
Instead of investing cash, Pinewood will trade sales, marketing and management services for a 40 percent stake in the joint venture, which will develop and operate the facilities in Fayette County under the Pinewood name.
“Our contribution will be our expertise, and the Pinewood brand is obviously incredibly strong in the film industry,” Andrew Smith, a spokesman for the company, told Global Atlanta by phone from England.
Georgia’s name is also ascending in the ranks of the film and television world, thanks to its scenery, cityscapes and growing contingent of studios and sound stages. Shows like “The Walking Dead” and movies like the second in the “Hunger Games” series are signature projects.
But in a global industry that can recreate cities and scenery with the magic of computers, other factors sometimes supersede physical location in investment decisions.
“You look where you can get the incentives,” said Mr. Smith, who added that Georgia also had a growing base of talent, which the company aims to develop further through workforce training programs with local universities as part of the later phases of Pinewood Atlanta.
“You’ve got to get the combination right of fiscal incentives, skills and infrastructure. It’s a formula, and you need those three,” he said. Pinewood itself won’t qualify for the incentives, since it’s just operating the facilities, but it’s another sell for production companies that will use the studios.
Georgia offers a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend at least $500,000 on production costs in the state, with an additional 10 percent for any promotional material highlighting Georgia within the work, such as a logo in the credits. Firms that have no income tax liability in the state can sell their credits to companies that do.
Georgia doesn’t offer tax rebates – basically amounting to cash handouts – like more aggressive states such as Louisiana, which snatched the Oscar-nominated biopic on legendary musician Ray Charles away from his native state.
That loss, along with movement of business to Canada when the country started offering tax rebates for film and TV production, was a “wake-up call” to legislators who opposed Georgia’s incentives, which are “less ambitious” than some states but are “more sustainable” when combined with the state’s other assets, said Lee Thomas, director of Georgia’s Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office.
With the industry contributing more than $3.1 billion to the Georgia economy and supporting 25,000 jobs, now the focus is on how to beat out competitors like Louisiana and North Carolina for more work.
Rarely does the state see itself competing directly against foreign countries for film work, but it often plays a role in international filming plans, Ms. Thomas said.
“The Good Lie”, a film starring Reese Witherspoon currently filming in Georgia, will soon head to South Africa where filming will continue. “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” filmed in Atlanta and was also shot in Turkey, India and New York.
Even more rarely, entire foreign films are produced here. “Papa”, a Korean comedy about how a manager of a band of singing siblings becomes its faux father to enable them to stay in the U.S., was filmed entirely on location in Atlanta last year.
These are possible in part because the tax credit can help companies keep costs down, along with the fact that a “deep crew base” can keep companies from having to bring in their own staff, saving on travel costs. Georgia also has ample backdrops for a wide variety of films.
“You can pretty much shoot everything here unless it’s a desert or a glacier,” Ms. Thomas said. “It’s kind of the whole package.”
But Pinewood Atlanta, which is to have five sound stages in phase one, is a watershed moment because it broadens the pool of available studio space.
When studios moves into a location, it generally sees a “creative cluster” develop as related companies set up shop nearby, Mr. Smith said. More than 250 independent companies are based at Pinewood’s media park outside London.
Already, reports indicate that more than 70 companies have inquired with Fayette County about the prospect of relocating, one factor behind a Georgia Institute of Technology report that calculated the studio’s spillover could lead to 3,400 jobs for the area when all is said and done.
Matt Forshee, president and CEO of the Fayette County Development Authority, said the lion’s share of the economic impact won’t come from Pinewood itself, but from the vendors who set up there to rent lights, cameras, costumes and other items to production companies. Winning a film with a budget of $150 million could mean tens of millions of dollars spent locally.
“It’s almost like a new manufacturing facility coming to town every six months,” he said, noting that Pinewood is planning the studio as a “turn-key” facility to help film producers streamline costs.
Across the state, Georgia itself is becoming somewhat of a cluster. Medient Studios, which is based in Hollywood but has its origins and significant operations in southwest India, recently announced plans to build a $90 million studio and game-production base outside Savannah, creating 1,000 jobs all told.
Construction has already begun on the Pinewood complex.