New Atlanta Film Office: streamline filmmaking, protect neighborhoods

ATLANTA -- Practically everybody in Georgia likes having more and more television shows and movies shot in the state. Last year alone, the filmmakers' economic impact on Georgia was more than $3 Billion. Now for the first time, the City of Atlanta is about to set up its own film office, to try to attract even more filmmakers to the city, and also to protect Atlantans from the disruptions the production companies cause.

A typical scene in Atlanta involves filmmakers -- like the ones who were near Lenox Square on Friday filming scenes for "Million Dollar Arm" starring Jon Hamm, Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton -- practically taking over the neighborhood where they are filming with all of their production trucks and equipment.

Several times a month, film crews are taking over residential or commercial neighborhoods, sometimes for days at a time, while the actors on the other side of all that equipment make their magic.

And residents like Nick Nicholson of Midtown find themselves going to the Atlanta City Council pleading for relief.

"We [go home] after work and suddenly we find the streets are closed," Nicholson told a Council Committee last month, "we find vehicles are there and they're right under our window, and you have a whole block full of diesel engines," crews making noise loading and unloading trucks, "and this goes on all night."

"People are inconvenienced when your next-door neighbor rents out their mansion for a movie set and they have all the trucks come and park in front of your house," said Amy Stout of Candler Park at that same Committee meeting.

Stout, whose older home is not a mansion and is next door to a newly-built "McMansion," said Friday that she and her neighbors do want the movies made in Atlanta, it's just that residents want some control over where and when the filming takes place, or, at the very least, some sort of notification that the crews are coming.

"They just want to make sure that there's adequate respect for their quality of life," Stout said, "and that their concerns will be addressed when there are negative impacts.... These film projects have a huge capacity to impact local neighborhoods, local businesses."

"People have been frustrated," said Atlanta City Council Member Michael Julian Bond. Bond said that the new ordinance the council approved last week setting up the Mayor's Atlanta Film Office details exactly what filmmakers can and cannot do in the city's neighborhoods, provides a central place for residents to complain about problems, and specifies the fees that filmmakers must pay for various permits. It also streamlines the permit process, for the first time, to make it easier for filmmakers set up in Atlanta for their shoots.

"It's a one-stop shop, both for the industry and for the general public," Bond said. "This will absolutely bring more films to Atlanta."

Until now, he said, "There's been no one agency or no one department that has accountability for overseeing these film shoots," and as a result, filmmakers had had "to go all over city government to try to figure out what type of permits they need for the type of shooting that they're undertaking. Again, the film office will operate as a one-stop-shop, if they need pyrotechnics, if they need to close a street or have access to a street or access to a park, all of the permitting will be handled by this [new] office."

Bond said the new film office will make Atlanta competitive with other cities across the country that are trying to attractfilm shoots. "We need the film and entertainment office because other cities have [similar offices], so they act as facilitators to aid the film industry. And this industry is very portable, and very fickle. So we need to make sure that we're providing the type of customer service to the industry as well as our citizens, so Atlanta remains an easy place to do business."

The Mayor hopes to open the new Atlanta Film Office this summer, and then is hoping to have even more movies made in the city, making more money for the city, withminimal impact on the neighborhoods.

Bond expects that the streamlined permitting process, and the central office to assist filmmakers, will help convince filmmakers -- who had already decided to shoot in Georgia to take advantage of the state's tax incentives -- to decide to shoot in Atlanta. "You know, recently the Anchorman Two II film was [shot] here, and they've told me that they spent $40 Million. A $40 Million dollar impact on the Atlanta community" for hotel rooms, food, equipment rentals, vehicle rentals, salaries for local crews, and other services and goods.

Stout hopes the film office will establish "a process for which film production companies are going to be required to notify neighbors of upcoming projects, just so they can have a heads up and know what's coming, if the street's going to be closed or a sidewalk's going to be closed, or a big bunch of trucks is going to come to an area, you can avoid that area if you know in advance.... I think people like to have the filming in the city, and it's exciting to have that industry come here, and people support it... [but] if there are adverse consequences, there needs to be a mechanism for people to have that addressed, and for there to be repercussions for companies who are bad visitors."


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