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States target Georgia's film industry billions in wake of abortion ban

Netflix to fight Georgia's abortion bill
  • Filmmakers are threatening to pull projects from Georgia over the state's anti-abortion law.
  • Pro-abortion-rights states and localities are pouncing on the opportunity to capture more production business.
  • Film commissions in New York, New Mexico and elsewhere are touting their  tax credits and incentives.

As Hollywood reconsiders -- and outright abandons -- its plans to work in Georgia following passage of the state's controversial anti-abortion law, pro-abortion-rights states and localities with attractive incentives for film and television production are sending a message to studios: We'll gladly take your business.

"I have been communicating with Netflix, HBO, and we mention that these kinds of politics never happen in New York," said Laurent Rejto, who heads the Hudson Valley Film Commission in Woodstock, New York, the site of such recent productions as  "A Quiet Place" and scenes from "Avengers: Endgame."

Rejto said that over the past few weeks he's fielded more than the usual number of calls from major studios looking for new homes for projects that were initially Georgia-based. "First we were approached by HBO, and then, based on that solicitation, we approached Netflix and several other companies," he said.

The stakes are high for a state like Georgia which hosted 455 movie and TV projects in 2018. The productions supported more than 92,000 local jobs and accounted for $2.7 billion in direct film industry spending and an estimated $9.5 billion in total economic impact, according to state officials. Much of the action is due to  tax rebates that can save companies up to 30% on the cost of production in the state. 

But ever since Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on May 7 signed a bill that would make abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, Hollywood actors, directors, studios and media companies have voiced their objections and made clear their intentions to take their movies -- and money -- elsewhere, should the law be enforced.

Georgia hit with backlash from entertainment industry over new abortion law

Half a dozen media companies, including Netflix, HBO owner WarnerMedia, Walt Disney Co, NBCUniversal, and CBS and its Showtime unit, have said they'd reconsider working in Georgia over the abortion ban. 

"Should it ever come into effect, we'd rethink our entire investment in Georgia," Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said this week. The video streamer has four ongoing productions in Georgia, including "Christmas on the Square," "Holidate," and seasons of "Insatiable" and "Ozark." 

Disney CEO Bob Iger likewise said this week it would be "very difficult" to continue filming in Georgia should the ban take effect. "I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard," he told Reuters. 

CBS and Showtime issued a statement Thursday saying that "if the law takes effect in Georgia or elsewhere, these may not be viable locations for our future production." 

"Elsewhere" could soon include Louisiana: The state on Wednesday passed an abortion ban similar to Georgia's. Its thriving film business attracted $148 million in direct spending by productions last year. 

Film and television agencies in other states are eager to capitalize on the prospect of production business flowing out of Georgia, Louisiana or other states that limit abortion rights. 

Rejto at New York's Hudson Valley Film Commission said new marketing materials are in the works since the Georgia and Louisiana abortion laws passed. He notes that his commission and New York State can offer film companies combinations of incentives including tax credits of up to 30% on what are called "below-the-line" costs (script development, producer, director and actor salaries) and credits of up to 45% on post-production costs.

"We will definitely send something out because this area has always embraced art for art's sake without the interference of politics," Rejto said in an email. "Unfortunately, states like Louisiana and Georgia -- which both offer lucrative tax incentives to productions -- are currently threatening the rights of women, including women working on productions there. We are proud to say that the Hudson Valley has been and continues to be a staunch supporter of women's rights."

GOP-led states pushing restrictive anti-abortion bills

Plenty of pro-abortion-rights states beyond New York offer meaningful tax rebates and production incentives for filmmakers. They include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington. Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women In Film, recently encouraged filmmakers in Georgia to "explore these alternatives."

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March signed a new incentives law boosting the state's film, television and media industry. It more than doubled the annual cap on rebate payments -- to $110 million -- and also boosted incentives for production in rural communities. "We're sending a clear message to producers inside and outside New Mexico: We want your creativity, we want your business," Grisham said at the time. 

The state's film office touts New Mexico's well-trained crew base and good climate in an effort to capture some of the business that's expected to flow out of Georgia. "They have been getting two to three calls a day from production companies that have committed to sites in Georgia and Louisiana and are looking elsewhere," said Bruce Krasnow, a spokesperson for the state's economic development department. "They are asking about our locations, looking at our scout photo database to find places to film and are asking about our incentives to find out what type of studio space is available."

Producers of "The Power," an Amazon Studios series that was slated to film in Georgia, cancelled plans to shoot there over the state's abortion ban. "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," the producers said in a statement to CBS News. 

They have since scouted alternative shoot sites in New Mexico, but haven't made a commitment to film in the state, according to Krasnow, who made clear that his state is a viable alternative.

"We are ready. We are answering the phone and we are explaining what New Mexico has to offer," he said. 

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