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Studio Owner: Georgia Being Passed Over By Hollywood Due To Abortion Bill

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The head of one of Georgia's largest production studios said the state's controversial heartbeat abortion bill has already had a negative impact on film and television productions in the state.

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Television and film studios, mainly based out of Los Angeles, have downgraded Georgia as a production location ever since the state legislature passed a law that bans abortions as soon as a fetus' heartbeat is detected, Blackhall Studios CEO Ryan Millsap told an audience Thursday morning at Bisnow's Aerotropolis event.

Opponents of the bill say the law — which is set to take effect this January and essentially bans abortions after the six-week mark — is an attempt to circumvent the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country.

Aside from the studios of Tyler Perry — the entertainment mogul who produces and films his own content at his Fort McPherson studio campus — the only reason production is still happening in Georgia is because the other major studio markets, like London, Toronto and Vancouver, are already full, Millsap said.

“London is full. If London had 1,000 more stages, we'd be dead,” Millsap said. “We're getting their runoff, and we're getting the productions because [the other markets] don't have space.”

Millsap was among a panel of real estate and government officials at the Aerotropolis event that focused on the pipeline of new development taking shape around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. They also discussed how a lack of retail and housing is hampering economic development.

Millsap's Blackhall Studios, off International Park Drive near the airport, encompasses nine filming studios and a 175K SF millwork and special effects facility. He said studio executives diverting production from Georgia is not about politics or any questions of morality associated with the larger debate about abortion or women's rights.

Instead, it is about whether they can secure the talent — everyone from actors and directors to costume and makeup designers — to agree to work in the state.

Since the law's passage, many Hollywood players have vowed to boycott Georgia in the future if the bill is enacted in 2020. Earlier this year, Disney CEO Bob Iger told reporters that it would be “very difficult” for the studio to continue filming in Georgia if the law becomes official. A number of Disney films have been shot in Georgia, including the blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.

“Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told CNBC earlier this year. Netflix's Stranger Things has filmed all three seasons in Georgia.

“Disney is not making any moral station one way or another,” Millsap said. “They're saying to themselves, 'I've got to make $8B worth of content a year. Where am I going to do that? Where is it stable?'"

Thanks in large part to the state's lucrative film and production tax credits, Georgia has been one of the largest filming markets in the world. From July 2017 to June 2018, 455 productions took place, having a direct spending impact of $2.7B on the state, officials said.

Blackhall Studios
Blackhall Studios CEO Ryan Millsap

Millsap is one of the few heads of various Georgia-based studios to speak about the effects of the abortion bill on the state's industry since the controversy erupted.

“This heartbeat bill has put some stress on the industry in ways that I’ve never seen before,” Third Rail Studios President Dan Rosenfel reportedly told Buckhead Business Association members during a breakfast last month. “This year will be tough for business. I’m sure there will be a percentage of [film productions] that we don’t even hear about that just don’t show up.”

When asked how the bill is affecting Blackhall Studios' business after his panel presentation, Millsap said studio executives in Los Angeles are letting it be known that they would much rather film movies and television shows elsewhere at the moment, even in cities like Pittsburgh.

“Don't even talk to me about Georgia because I can't even consider that right now,” Millsap said he's been told.

Blackhall is currently developing a facility in London, where Millsap said he is getting interest among film and television studios.

Millsap also said he sees signs that the Georgia law could be struck down by the courts, as what happened in Iowa when a state judge struck down that state's heartbeat bill in January. If it is struck down, Millsap said he hopes local leaders will not pursue ways to revive it so Hollywood could warm up to the state again.

When asked if Blackhall Studios — which has housed the production of films like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Venom — had felt any effects of the bill, Millsap said his facility is booked solidly this year, but with contracts signed before the bill was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp. Next year could prove differently.

“This has nothing to do with politics. This has nothing to do with morality,” he said. "This has to do with certainty."