Atlanta and France have connected on biotechnology, manufacturing, science and airport development over the years, but one area remains where each can get better acquainted: the overlapping creative spheres of gaming and film.
Paris, of course, is well-known as a film hub, and French cinema is widely acclaimed globally. France is a powerhouse cultural exporter strong in fashion, food and music. What’s less known is its steady state support for the gaming sector, from competitive tax incentives to a national video game academy that help fuel more than 300 game studios in the country.
Atlanta has been dubbed (to the chagrin of some) the Hollywood of the South, drawing massive studio investment as a tax credit has fueled Georgia’s emergence as one of the top destinations around the world for feature films and televisions shows.
But gaming has also taken off here in the past decade, so much so that the Atlanta has become a hub for E-sports and has seen the growth of gaming companies attracting millions of users around the world.
It’s also attracted international firms like France’s Ubisoft and many others. As a sector, the Georgia Game Developers Association puts the economic impact of the state’s 160 studios at $830 million.
So far, neither side has fully explored how their respective strengths might complement each other for mutual economic benefit. That was the task of a France-Atlanta series event Tuesday led by the French-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast on cross-border investment opportunities in the film and gaming sectors.
Watch the full webinar below:
When Valerie Mouroux arrived in New York to promote French film and media for the country’s embassy, she was amazed at how well-versed American theaters were in the intricacies of her country’s offerings. But France’s position as a pioneer in virtual reality, as an example, remains largely unknown.
That means France still has some work to do to get the word out. Beyond incentives of up to 30 percent for productions and 40 percent for VFX companies, France offers deep expertise in the film sector, including set workers well-versed in English, despite stereotypes about French people sticking too closely to their mother tongue.
And then there are the intangibles.
“When you come in shoot a film in Paris, you want a location but you also want a cultural background, because you know that apart for the city itself you have gastronomy, history, fashion and so on, and you can have that in your film,” she said.
All this has helped France win over some films from other parts of Europe in recent years.
Atlanta has a similarly well-rounded offering, though for different reasons, said Grant Wainscott, director of ecosystem expansion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
The city grew as a connected media hub thanks in part to its international airport and Turner Broadcasting and CNN. The tax incentives supercharged its growth in the end of the 2000s, leading to a lot of fixed investment in production, whereas Georgia’s role in the film space had largely been confined to destination work in the past, he said.
Now, the sector is here for the talent as much as the taxes, he said.
“Georgia has done a really good job of trying grow that bench of talent and build out that 360 approach so it’s not just a competitive advantage around tax red and cost of doing a production,” he said.
Tyler Perry Studios has grown with the state, its 330-acre campus at the former Fort McPherson now being large enough to fit a few of the major Los Angeles companies with room to spare. But it took awhile to get there, said Steve Mensch, president and director of studio operations.
“It was a crawl-walk-run approach,” he said.
Mr. Mensch credited the Georgia Film Academy and other workforce initiatives with growing the state’s talent base, to the point where he estimates 50 feature productions could be filmed here at once. Mr. Perry has done 12, along with a multitude of television shows. With that much content creation, it made sense for Tyler Perry Studios to build its own shop and welcome other creators in.
With the arrival of COVID-19, the content pipeline is even stronger, as new streaming services emerge seemingly by the day and the Internet shaking up traditional business models. For creators, this is good news, especially given that the cost of productions have come down as technology has advanced, Mr. Mensch said.
“I think everyone realizes there is a dearth of content, so looking to the post-COVID environment, the amount that is in the pipeline ready to be shot is substantial,” he said. “The studio is booked solid through 2021 and into ’22.”
For France’s gaming giant Ubisoft, Georgia’s burgeoning film sector was a draw, given the growing overlap between gaming and movies — both need storytellers, graphic and effects designers, music composers, programmers and other skill sets.
Ubisoft also values diversity and cosmopolitanism, said Deborah Papiernik, senior vice president for new business and strategic alliances, given that each of its locations feeds into a massive global network of 20,000 employees where work is assigned to the most advantageous location. A project may be led in Montreal, with pieces built out in Atlanta, Ukraine and China.
The developer of “Assassin’s Creed” and many other titles now sees most games as global from the outset, especially given development budgets in the 10s of millions of dollars.
Almost no one makes a physical disk or cartridge for a console anymore, and no single market can make a major game profitable, she said.
“Almost all of our games are games-as-a-service. There is a release date, but the we continue to keep very strong development teams,” Ms. Papiernik said, pointing out how gaming is often on the leading edge of new technologies.
“Games are really a mix of technology, entertainment and art, and by nature these three things are really moving all the time,” Ms. Papiernik said. “You have no choice, and technology is often the driver — every piece of software, every piece of hardware is a reason for us to try new things and invent new ways to play. There are not many industries that embraced technological change with so much passion.”
Being on the leading edge means that games are being embraced in other sectors from marketing to museums. A recent example: Ubisoft’s 3D model of Notre Dame Cathedral developed for a 2014 release of “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” is now being used for virtual reality tours of the fire-stricken landmark.
This proliferation of gaming use cases opens up opportunities for small companies like Kalank, run by founder Baptiste Deneufbourg, a graduate of ENJMIN, the national school of video games and digital interactive media in Angoulême, near Bordeaux.
“For a small company like us, that means we can be a champion in a very specific category,” Mr. Baptiste said.
Kalank was inspired after SnapChat and Facebook opened their platforms to augmented reality developers. It focuses on games that experienced via mobile, helping brands find innovative ways to connect with consumers through their devices.
Finding a niche is key for entrepreneurs, who advised anyone listening to work on being the “king of your hill,” focusing on areas the big companies might not have time to target, Mr. Deneufbourg said.
“I would say go for a niche and make it better than anyone else.”
Also on the call was Othman Sassi of Plaine Images, an incubator in an old textile factory in the northern French city of Lille that is open to international collaborations.
For #FranceAtlanta2020, @ATLIntlAffairs, @FACCAtlanta & @businessfrance organized a lively 3-part panel conversation about the growth opportunities and advantages of investing and doing business in the Film and Gaming industries in Georgia and France 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/uM0DZ3o0lp
— ATL International Affairs (@ATLIntlAffairs) October 13, 2020
A strong foundation exists for growing bilateral investment in these sectors, other experts noted. French companies have read more than 10,000 jobs in the state, said state protocol chief Nico Wijnberg, who pointed out that Georgia has recruited French firms for decades from its European office, based in Munich, Germany.
City of Atlanta International Affairs Director Vanessa Ibarra noted that universities like Georgia Tech and Savannah College of Art and Design also have campuses in France. The city also has exchanges with Toulouse and Paris on entrepreneurship and airport development, respectively.
Patrick Imbert of Business France, the nation’s inbound investment agency, said the overall relationship is balanced, with about 4,800 French companies in the United States and 4,500 American companies operating in France.
He also said France had taken the top slot for foreign direct investment in Europe last year, boasting a productive workforce and extremely well educated workforce, especially in the STEM fields. He pointed to Georgia companies AGCO Corp. and Exide Technologies as those who have seen recent successes in their French operations.
French Consul General Vincent Hommeril opened the event by outlining how investment and trade underpin the alliance.
“Our economic relationship is a key building block of the French-American partnership. On the economic front our ties are more than just strong — they are profitable and balanced.”
French companies employ more than 730,000 people in all 50 states, and the stock of bilateral investment stands at more than $400 billion.
“Now more than ever, international cooperation will be the key to overcoming the gobal economic crisis invoked by COVID-19. We will only get through this crisis together,” Mr. Hommeril said.