The British film studio that's home to the James Bond movie franchise announced plans Monday for its first U.S. film production facility, at a site near Atlanta.
The large-scale film complex will be called Pinewood Atlanta, and Pinewood will manage the facility under an agreement with a group of private investors. Plans call for the studio to be developed on 288 acres south of Atlanta in Fayette County and initially include at least five soundstages as well as production offices.
"Today's agreement is another step forward for the Pinewood brand internationally," said Ivan Dunleavy, CEO of Pinewood Shepperton PLC, which has studios in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Germany and Malaysia. Recent films shot at Pinewood Studios, based outside of London, include the coming Angelina Jolie film, "Maleficent," and "Jack Ryan," directed by Kenneth Branagh.
"This new studio will target US productions. Georgia has excellent fiscal and tax credit incentives as well as a great crew base," Dunleavy added.
It's the fifth major studio development or expansion announced in Georgia in recent months. Last week, Atlanta-based developer Jacoby Development said it would build an estimated $1 billion multi-use project north of Atlanta that will include 12 soundstages as well as production offices and an arts and media school aimed at training the next generation of film industry employees.
The Pinewood project is a coup for Georgia and opens the state to major, big-budget films that need large studio space. While Pinewood Studios has an office in Los Angeles, it chose the Southeast for its first U.S. production facility.
Although California has numerous soundstages, not many have been built in recent years as the state has grappled with the effects of runaway production and the lagging economy. A survey last year found California lost $3 billion in wages from 2004 to 2011 because of film and TV production moving to other states and countries, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Half the wages went to states, including Georgia, that offer tax incentives and rebates to the industry. Other states included New York, Louisiana and North Carolina.
"Pinewood Atlanta's location will contribute significantly to Georgia's growing reputation as a top draw for movie and television productions," Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said. "We welcome the business this world-renowned company will bring to the state and the jobs it will create for our crew base and supporting companies."
Last year, productions filmed in Georgia generated an estimated $3.1 billion in economic activity, a 29 percent increase from the year before. TV shows such as AMC's "The Walking Dead" film in Georgia, and recently "The Hunger Games" sequel wrapped up in locations around Atlanta.
While studio developers building soundstages are not eligible for the state's generous tax credit program, the production companies making films are. Georgia currently provides a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend $500,000 or more on production and post-production in the state, either in a single production or on multiple projects. Georgia also grants an additional 10 percent tax credit if the finished project includes a state promotional logo.
The Pinewood project is a joint venture with River's Rock LLC, which is an independently managed trust of the Cathy family, according to the studio. The Cathy family is known for establishing the Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant empire based in Atlanta. The chain last year generated both criticism and support when company president Dan Cathy made comments against same-sex marriage. The company later said it would stop funding anti-gay marriage groups.
Pinewood's director of strategy and communications, Andrew Smith, noted that the remarks were made in a personal capacity.
"Pinewood will be operating and running the facility, and we will operate them to the same and usual standards that we operate all of our studios around the world," Smith said.
Construction of the studio is already underway, with the first production set to begin at the new site in January, Smith said.
Pinewood will maintain a 40 percent interest in the venture and will provide sales and marketing services under the agreement. Plans call for additional construction phases that could add several more soundstages. The project also includes a vocational job skills training program to help build up the state's workforce. Georgia already has an estimated 5,000 union and non-union professionals associated with the film industry along with more than 1,000 production suppliers and support companies.
County officials say 75 companies have been in contact saying they want to locate to the site and provide industry-related services.
"We are tremendously excited to be creating a world-class studio in the state of Georgia and are looking forward to working with Pinewood in the many years to come," said Jim Pace, managing partner of the investment group, River's Rock LLC. "The Pinewood brand is so well recognized in the global film industry and together there is a great opportunity to build an excellent facility that will attract the very best producers."
The project in Georgia has the potential to be a major economic driver, allowing big-budget films to come to the Peach State.
"It takes the state to a whole new level," said Matt Forshee, president of the Fayette County Development Authority, who has been closely involved in the project. "When you look at the films that have filmed in Georgia, for the most part, they have been smaller budget films, in the range of $20-25 million. This allows us to open up to larger budget productions, which means more expenditures occurring within the state, which becomes a bigger return on the investment on the state level for the tax credits."
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