Who's Building Atlanta's Hollywood Studios?
By now Hollywood's impact on Atlanta is undeniable. Pinewood Studios. EUE/Screen Gems. Tyler Perry Studios. (You have to be careful where you drive to avoid Walking Dead spoilers.) These are just a sampling a big Hollywood names that have pumped millions into Atlanta to build their own movie studios. And then there's the Raulet Brothers.
Three years ago, Raulet Properties' team of Paul Raulet (here with a big catch, we'll call it Georgia Jaws), John Raulet and Tyler Edgarton bought an 85k SF flex warehouse in Grant Park with Hollywood stars in his eyes. RPP turned the facility into Mailing Avenue Stageworks, and already has seen one season of Necessary Roughness, and the movies Last Vegas and Insurgent filmed in his facility. John saw the opportunity for Hollywood-grade facilities in Atlanta as he saw the budding effects of the state's incentives. “I spent five years leasing office and warehouse space to film and television productions before we focused in on our own facility,” he says. "Cultivating relationships with producers and LA studios over that period gave us the knowledge and confidence" to take a risk on the project.
The Raulets may have been one of the first in commercial real estate to jump into the studio biz. But he's certainly not the last. In the past two years, Jacoby Development secured the OFS facility in Norcross and is transforming it into a mixed-use film production studio headed by LA-based MBS3 (here). Approved by Gwinnett County last month, it will include offices, a hotel and a film school. And most recently, Rooker Co took the darkened former Shannon Mall, tore it down and tapped 404 Studio to lead the redevelopment for a 345k SF film studio.
Even Carter has floated the idea of transforming the Civic Center into a potential TV/film studio. And with good reason. Based on the industry trend, Carter has "a lot of confidence that this industry will continue to grow in the State of Georgia,” says Carter's Bob Peterson. While the Civic Center redevelopment isn't even an RFP yet, Bob tells us Carter is toying with ideas of incorporating a studio into a larger mixed-use project, especially given the location's size and convenience to Downtown Atlanta.
There are a dozen film studios registered with GDOD so far, including Meddin Studios, North Atlanta Studios and Turner Studios. And while the movie industry is booming here--far outstripping the activity Atlanta saw with Hollywood in the 1980s--finding the right location for a studio is tricky. Building one is even more expensive, Paul says. Most of the new studio announcements are ground-up construction projects with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. Their success depends on capturing the largest budget shows coming to the state. "By focusing on conversions, we are able to provide a good value to the other 75% of productions that can't afford a brand-new studio," Paul says. But every old building can't be a studio. "It's slim pickings. We're having a tough time finding another facility,” Paul says."
So far this year, more than 150 films and TV shows were shot in Georgia. During that time, studios spent $1.4B, including the much anticipated The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Park 2, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. That translates into an excess of $5B in economic impact--with 23,500 people directly employed by the entertainment industry here. We can thank the state's lucrative incentive programs for much of this--as seen in the precipitous rise. In 2007--when the first round of state incentives passed--$132.5M in films were produced here. By 2013, that rose to nearly $934M.
Those don't just count big films. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Last year, 13 indie films were made here--those with $500k or more budgets, but under the big studio project numbers, says GDED's Deputy Commissioner Lee Thompson. Georgia is in a good place says Lee, adding that the state's incentives--including a 20% of production value base tax credit--have no sunset provisions. And Lee says the investment by studios and local real estate pros on infrastructure and studios also means that while other states may get competitive on incentives, the film industry has made a big money bet on our industry's future here. “Our ultimate goal here is to have an indigenous industry.”
Atlanta's stardom also affected two regular Joes from North Georgia -- Kevin Fitzgerald and Jon Graham--who are pursuing a Hollywood dream of their own outside the big studio system. We met up with the duo a year ago when they simply had a script and hopes to make a zombie movie. We caught up with them again just before Thanksgiving, and that vision of theirs for a movie called UnAlive has seen them raise in excess of $40k toward a projected $1.5M budget, a novel coming out in January and a series of teaser trailers hitting the web sometime next year. And the duo has done all this outside the major studio system that is blossoming in Atlanta--but certainly inspired by it.
“Atlanta and zombies go together like sweet tea and lemon pie,” Jon says. “People don't look at you so funny if you tell them you're making a zombie movie.” But it's beyond that. For low-budget filmmakers like Jon and Kevin, Atlanta's film industry is no longer a big question mark when approaching investors. “I would imaging 10 years ago if you said Atlanta, people would say oh okay, Fried Green Tomatoes,” Jon says. Kevin echoes: “It's kind of hip to say that we're filming [in Atlanta]. It's become a real hot bed of activity right now.” And that's not to say using studios is out of the question: As part of their location scouting, Jon says the duo have explored using both Jacoby's OFS project and Pinewood.