The big debate this week for Augusta commissioners was over who should serve as Augusta’s official film office.
Over the past few months, an independent nonprofit corporation called The Augusta Film Office opened in the 600 Broad building in downtown Augusta.
The group, led by its president, Brad Owens, says its goal is to help connect producers and filmmakers with the local resources and assist those in the movie industry with finding locations to film in Augusta.
“Our goal is to make Augusta an easy choice for production companies and filmmakers when choosing a city for their productions in Georgia,” Owens told members of the Augusta Commission’s public services committee during its Oct. 27 meeting.
But Owens said he needs the local government’s support.
Not financial support just yet, but Owens is requesting a contract that would officially identify The Augusta Film Office as the city’s designated group to provide liaison services and promote the community to the film industry.
Such a designation would allow Augusta to “get a huge piece of the movie pie that Georgia has brought in with its tax incentives,” Owens said.
Just last year, the Georgia Film Office estimated that about $1.2 billion was spent in the Peach State relating to the film and television industry.
“It is one of the growing industries in Georgia,” Owens said, adding that Atlanta and Savannah both have very active film offices. “As a matter of fact, Georgia is now No. 3 behind New York state and California as far as movie industry and production goes.”
About three years ago, Owens said the Georgia Legislature saw fit to expand the tax credits relating to the movie industry in the Peach State.
“If you spend over half a million dollars in Georgia, you get a 30 percent tax credit,” Owens said, adding that the entertainment industry created 26,000 full-time jobs and 77,000 part-time jobs in Georgia last year. “The estimated economic impact is around $7 billion.”
As a result of hearing those numbers, Owens said a local business owner agreed to put up some money to create The Augusta Film Office and provide Owens with a “teeny, tiny salary.”
The group has also set up a website, augustafilmoffice.com, that helps showcase the city and possible locations to shoot films, commercials or television shows.
“It’s been up for one month and we’ve already had about 97,000 hits on it,” Owens said.
The Augusta Film Office was also pleased to announce that Richmond County has been selected as the primary location for shooting of a science-fiction horror drama that will be directed by Paul Salamoff.
Salamoff, who has worked for more than 25 years in the film and television industry, is known for various projects such as Wes Craven’s “The Breed” and “Hollow Man 2.”
Owens said another production company, Savannah Sunrise, is also planning on shooting a “road-trip comedy” in Augusta around December.
Considering these early accomplishments by the group, Owens said he hoped the commission would support his request to make The Augusta Film Office the official contact for the film and television industry looking for locations in Richmond County.
In his request to commissioners, Owens proposed a 12-month contract with the city.
After those 12 months, the Augusta Commission could review the accomplishments of The Augusta Film Office and decide if the city would consider providing the group some financial support, Owens said.
“It doesn’t cost y’all anything. We are not asking for any money,” Owens said, referring to the initial 12-month contract. “We are not asking for any financial support whatsoever.”
However, Barry White, president and CEO of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the committee that the CVB has actually been acting as the “de facto film office” for the city of Augusta for the past 30 years without any dedicated financial support from the local government.
White explained that his office was the one to get Augusta its “camera ready” designation from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Former Mayor Bob Young tried to establish the mayor’s film office as early as 1999, but it never moved beyond the concept phase, White explained.
But he said the CVB was encouraged by the fact that commissioners are interested in possibly establishing a full-time film office for Augusta.
However, White insisted that the city should really study the best method to create such an office.
“The majority of the film offices are city departments,” White said. “At the state level, it is part of the state department. That is in Georgia and throughout the country.”
White insisted that Augusta wouldn’t have to follow that method if it wanted to use an outside agency as a film office; however, he just wanted the commission to understand that a department within the government was the norm.
Following White’s comments, Owens said The Augusta Film Office was not interested in working for any organization inside the government.
“The board has decided that is not the path forward that we would like to do,” Owens said. “We will work with someone, but we don’t want to work for someone.”
The city’s public services committee unanimously voted to ask members of The Augusta Film Office, the CVB, the mayor and city administrator to meet and discuss the city’s options moving forward.