At a recent meeting of the Fayette County Republican Women’s Club, entrepreneur Len Gough, with the ProMaker Development Group, talked about the project that is being deemed the way to a true renaissance period for Fayette County with the potential of bringing billions of dollars into the county’s stuttering economy.
Pinewood Atlanta Studios is committed to creating a multi-million dollar film studio complex over the next seven years, which will eventually be able to house numerous feature film, television and commercial productions per year. Phase one of the project is currently under construction and will include five state-of-the-art sound stages as well as workshops and production offices. It is projected to open January of 2014.
The Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA), one of the leading organizations for economic development professionals in the U.S., presented Pinewood Atlanta Studios and the Fayette County Development Authority (FCDA) with the 2013 Deal of the Year Award in the Large Community category.
Fayette County is already the studio home to the Sony Pictures television show “Drop Dead Diva,” which films in five sound stages in Peachtree City and is broadcast on the Lifetime Television network. Additional television and motion picture productions wholly or partially filmed in Fayette County include “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” “The Walking Dead,” and the upcoming productions “Resurrection,” “The Surgeon General,” “Line of Sight,” and a remake of “Endless Love”.
“For four years I’ve been immersed in this program to develop infrastructure in film and television in the state of Georgia. It’s a huge industry and most of you are probably not aware that it is the second largest industry in the state behind aviation.”
Gough said it was a large industry employing many people and the state of Georgia has had a great deal of success because of the tax credits available.
“Four years ago we learned there was a great deal of success, mainly through the success of the Drop Dead Diva program in Peachtree City. That’s just a basic cable television show with about a $1 million a week budget. It got record ratings for this year and was renewed for another season.”
Gough and his partners Jim Pace and Rick Halbert, long time Fayette County residents, “realized that bringing a TV show here was a bit special. As we got to know the industry, we found that there needed to be some purpose-built facilities built in the state. There were opportunities galore if we had those facilities.”
Gough, Pace and Halbert set to meeting with different entities.
Through their research the three were put in contact with people in Conyers, where the Vampire Diaries are filmed.
“Rockdale hired us on to put together something in a public-private venture, similar to the Drop Dead Diva production. We moved on to the next project.”
Through those connections, they moved on to an Atlanta-based project with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
“He had a great idea that we were able to put in place here. He wanted to pull together a training center. It would be an opportunity to learn the trades of technicians in the movie industry.”
The problem was that the mayor didn’t have the public dollars available to build and fund a midtown studio.
“We were able to build some strong relationships with the governor, the Speaker of the House, Congressman Westmoreland, our local commissions and councils. They realized there was a great opportunity here.”
They also became more involved in projects coming into the state.
“Rick and I got involved with the movie Fast and Furious Five filmed in Conyers.”
That, he noted, was about a $125 million movie. That was creating an economic impact. When Fast and Furious filmed in Rockdale County, said Gough, they spent over $1 million in the local Lowe’s “just on stuff, air compressors, ladders and paint brushes. One million in one store.
“Back it up, when Drop Dead Diva is filming, the local Home Depot in Peachtree City is the largest Home Depot in the state. When they’re filming, the Starbucks in The Avenues is the largest in the state. That’s just a basic cable television show.”
In May 2012, the three came up with a plan to add two more stages of up to 40,00 square feet each to the three stages of Drop Dead Diva located near Falcon Field, and a 30,000 square-foot educational building and a 60,000 square foot central service provider.
“Sounded like a good idea. We begin to research. We’re calling Hollywood producers - we weren’t making any progress. Through the connections, we met someone who was well-versed in this.”
In August 2012, they sent a team to London to make contact with Pinewood UK.
“They typically bring in $100 million or more productions. They liked us. We had invested about $25,000 in bringing their exploratory team here. They really liked us.”
The problem was Pinewood UK’s own stipulation: Never go to an airport, never build on 20 acres that’s landlocked.
“This was at lunch on Saturday, after they had been here three days and we were getting ready to bring them back to the airport. That took the air out of the balloon.”
Fortunately, Fayette County Development Authority president and CEO Matt Forshee was working with the group and he suggested the Veterans Parkway location and the Rivers property as a location for a training facility.
“They loved it. We completely revamped our concept. On Sep. 20 we sent a group back to London. We created a napkin deal with them.”
They are currently within six weeks of receiving a certificate of occupancy for the studio’s facility.
“They are a publicly traded European company. Our investors are private and it’s a joint venture that required 15 law firms. We’ve gotten global coverage. Fayetteville. GA was on 350 newspapers worldwide and I love to say we were above the fold on page 1A of the Los Angeles Times. It said ‘Fayette landed James Bond’. It’s been an amazing journey for us.”
According to Gough, they hadn’t done a good job of discussing the economic impact.
“Yes the job numbers are fairly accurate, and it’s going to create somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 new jobs. Ultimately it will be as many as 10,000 after the overall build out over the forecasted seven years. Pinewood the operator will only have 12 to 15 employees- maintenance, landscape, operations.
“The impact comes from the costume company we negotiated with last week.”
Gough negotiates with all the vendors and handles incoming resumes.
“The costume company is going to send two or three costume designers. He told me he’s going to need 12 to 15 people to work for him. A payroll company is relocating here from New Orleans. He’s going to send one or two accountants; he’s going to hire two to four payroll clerks. That’s where the impact comes from. Ultimately there will be 300 types of companies. We’ve already had five families move here from Hollywood. They will buy houses, put kids in schools and create an impact. That’s a perfect example of how we’ll have an influx from out of state.
“We’ve been very intentionally Fayette-centered. We want to make sure our community benefits foremost. We’re not letting Hollywood and New York and London come run roughshod. That’s been very satisfying for me, knowing 600 vendors have approached us.”
He pointed out that when a lighting company or costume company moves here, they will be hiring 20 to 30 people for 12 months jobs.
“It’s more important that we acknowledge that those vendors are bringing the permanent employment.”
Gough also noted that the school portion is very important since there is a lack of skilled technicians in the state.
“When a major motion picture film like Hunger Games is filmed in Atlanta, they immediately had a shortage of over 200 carpenters, 100 painters and 40 hair people. That’s jut one movie and the labor pool is depleted. They send out to California for people, they film the movie and they send them back. That’s counterproductive to what we’re trying to create- home-based businesses and labor pool.
“We negotiated with the board of education to buy Rivers Elementary to become a film education center. Our goal is to create a school where you can learn to be a camera operator or an electrician on the set, we can do special effects, we have a group coming in to teach you how to do stunts, animal wranglers- they’re not degree bearing programs. They are certificate programs. It’s a diverse industry. We learned there are 100 disciplines involved. There is great opportunity.”
Gough said the goal is to have the facility to be fully functional as a film academy in order to deepen the labor pool.
Gough didn’t drop any hints as to what the studio’s first production will be, but all film makers will have the opportunity to use the facility.
“We’re setting it up so they all can come in and create a first class facility and provide family friendly movies. We will have that opportunity.”