By Christina Nicole
The film industry in Georgia has shallow roots, and recent legislation has Hollywood running back for the hills. Film Impact Georgia and its filmmaker activists have taken up metaphorical arms via film grants and education to keep the burgeoning industry alive, even if Hollywood leaves.
Hustle and Flow:
Atlanta is a town of hustlers, and a few years ago Georgia Production Partners, along with legislators and lobbyists, worked to secure incentives and tax credits for film productions shooting in Georgia. Productions can save a whopping 30 percent on their taxes by simply filming in Georgia. The savings have enticed thousands of productions and creatives over the past decade or so to make Georgia their home.
In 2018, there were 455 productions in Georgia, employing 92,000 people across the state. The film industry made a $9.5 billion economic impact in Georgia, making it the number one filming location for the United states. “The weather greatly affects how many shows we have shooting here as does the political climate and even outside forces that we can’t predict,”remarked filmmaker Molly Coffee.
One thing the red state of Georgia could not, or did not, predict was that the influx of creatives or Hollywood-types would change the political climate of the state. Georgia is a microcosm of the US and, like the nation as a whole, it is under Republican leadership. In 2018, former Secretary of the State of Georgia, Brian Kemp somehow beat Stacey Abrams.
Stacey Abrams had many supporters from the film industry, and a lot of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey came to Georgia to campaign on her behalf. When Kemp won, the feelings of unrest began to unfurl in the film community, and mutters of boycotts could be heard, but nothing official happened. From the moment Abrams ended her gubernatorial bid to this day, she has urged the Hollywood elite to keep making films in Georgia. #StayandFight has been the rally cry.
Coco Puffs & Conversation: Getting the Word Out
Several containers labeled with various popular cereals, and milk in old timey glass jugs sit upon a wooden island with a glass top to create a cereal bar that looks straight out of a Joanna Gaines style book. People fill their bowls and then congregate around picnic style tables or in the rows of white folding chairs to eat and network before the program begins.
“We want this to be a quarterly event; an opportunity to bring members of the film community together to talk about issues affecting us and our livelihood,” remarked executive director of Film Impact Georgia, Melissa Simpson, when introducing the event Sunday, July 14, 2019, at OxWork Business Club in Atlanta.
The leaders of Film Impact Georgia brought local community leaders to talk to filmmakers about the current political climate, the potential boycott, and what film workers can do to help. “Democracy is not a part-time job. You can’t just vote for the president and governor,” said Holly of Fair Fight Action. She implored the audience to engage in their local government.
Part of the problem facing the film industry is an issue facing the nation as a whole: people just don’t know about or vote in local elections. People are more connected than ever, but wildly out of touch.
HB481: Stop Calling it the Heartbeat Bill
HB481 states “The State of Georgia, applying reasoned judgment to the full body of modern medical science, recognizes the benefits of providing full legal recognition to an unborn child above the minimum requirements of federal law…”
Many savvy people recognize that HB481 is laying the groundwork to overturn Roe v. Wade, and Georgia isn’t the only state passing anti-abortion legislation. People are outraged, and Alyssa Milano took it upon herself to call for a film industry boycott in Georgia. There have been many celebrities and productions speaking out against Georgia’s government, and others are committing portions of their profits to support Planned Parenthood, and other organizations that are working to oppose HB481.
At the Coco Puffs and Conversation event, Holly from Fair Fight Action, a voter’s rights organization, kept urging the crowd to stop calling HB481 the “heartbeat bill” because that is empowering the hyper-conservative narrative; it’s giving just cause to their agenda.
Looking at Molly, it is clear that she is an artist with a story worth hearing. She has bright red hair and is covered in tattoos, plus expertly rocks combat boots with everything. She is also smart and kind.
“I’m just this punk-rock girl who didn’t finish high school, and was homeless for a good nine years of her life. I have doubted myself many times along the way,” said filmmaker and co- founder of Film Impact Georgia, Molly Coffee.
Molly’s voice is a voice worth hearing; she is articulate and expressive. Molly channelled her passions for film and women’s rights into a semi-autobiographical short film, Cracks, about whiskey-pounding, punk rock chick who is assaulted. When she couldn’t find the words to talk about her experience, she put it into a film without dialogue, dedicated to the boy who didn’t believe her.
Molly joined forces with local film festival aficionado Melissa Simpson, who had also been the production coordinator on the short film, Cracks, to create Film Impact Georgia. Molly emailed a few friends to discuss the skeleton idea of what would become Film Impact Georgia. Melissa replied because she had some ideas she was workshoping to bring the indie film community together; it was kismet.
Molly explained, “We spent a lot of time being frustrated and angry over certain aspects of the industry’s film Georgia. I have a lot of opinions and I talk a lot. I had this epiphany that I needed to put my sweat equity where my mouth was, as opposed to waiting on other people to make a difference.”
Film Grant: Planting and Nurturing Seeds
“More than anything we want the people that are creating local content and are our voices and representation of the colorful stories that Georgia has to offer, to get to be a part of the process that is building the long lasting infrastructure here,” Melissa wrote on the organization’s website.
Film Impact Georgia raised $5000 for a film grant to go to a local independent filmmaker to help produce a develop a short film in Georgia, because as Molly mentioned, “It’s harder now to make an independent film here than it was 10 years ago.” There are lot of projects filming locally, that have the backing of big studios, which drives the cost of making films independently; not every production can pay Marvel Studios pricing, but that does not mean the stories independent filmmakers are telling don’t deserve to be told.
“I’m very, very proud to be a filmmaker in a city where two intelligent, creative and strong women create an organization that is meant to serve independent filmmakers.” said Kate Balsley, a local filmmaker and Film Impact Georgia Grant Finalist.
Kate is hopeful and excited about the prospect of getting the opportunity to tell her story of the dutiful Cold War military scientist preparing a small dog for a one-way mission into space. Before the scientist proves his loyalty to the Soviet Union, he must prove his humanity to his family and to himself. “Even making it this far was very affirmative! However, if I win the grant, it means that I have a lot of hard work ahead of me; but I’m up to the challenge! I have been developing this project for the past few years, and getting it made into a short film would be a dream come true.”
Working in film is tough yet rewarding; the filmmakers behind Film Impact Georgia are striving to keep Georgia’s film industry alive, by serving as a resource and ally for independent filmmakers. As Molly put it, “We need to invest in our local community, and it isn’t just financial; it’s giving them our time and our thought.”