Participating in the Growing Savannah Film Economy

Kachmar-Shawn-OPTBy Shawn Kachmar, special to Business in Savannah

It’s an exciting time for film production in Savannah. News about the thriving local entertainment industry and its positive economic impact seems to be everywhere. Just recently, Savannah was named among the top 10 small cities to live and work as a moviemaker, and 2015 is in the books as a record year for entertainment production in Chatham County. But the impact stands to be just as great for local businesses as it is for filmmakers, with a wide variety of sectors potentially benefitting from explosive growth in the region.

According to the Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), Georgia is now the third leading state for film production, following California and New York. Last year 270 productions (including 10 features) filmed in Chatham County, bringing over $58 million in economic stimulus to the area. For the state as a whole, 2015 saw an economic impact of more than $6 billion, and those numbers are forecasted to increase in 2016.

The Savannah area offers an attractive array of historic and natural locations that appeal to filmmakers, but the rapid growth in the entertainment industry locally is due in great part to handsome incentives. On top of the state’s 30 percent tax credit for qualifying productions, SEDA recently announced a three-year, $4.5 million incentive package that includes rebates for productions and assistance for experienced crew relocating to the area.

But how does all of this affect local businesses?

Due to the multifaceted nature of the industry, filmmaking generates a need for virtually every product and service. Productions rent office space, trucks, cranes, generators, and film-specific equipment. They require large blocks of hotel rooms and fleets of rental vehicles. There is often a great deal of building supply and lumber used to construct sets. Productions feed large numbers of people, employing not only caterers but also local restaurants, event rental houses, and food and beverage distributors. Rental houses provide audio, video, wardrobe, and prop rentals. As new endeavors build soundstages to fulfill production needs, construction workers, painters, designers, electricians and more become a part of the big picture.

Between the needs generated by the films themselves and the commerce stimulated by the visiting production crew and actors, business owners in Savannah stand to profit. However, this is a complex and demanding industry, and businesses interested in getting involved are wise to educate themselves and prepare for the unique legal issues that can arise. It’s essential to establish solid contracts, protect intellectual property, handle employment agreements, ensure regulatory compliance, and address the resolution of disputes should the relationship sour before taking on new business.

The nature of filmmaking often requires vendors to provide services outside of normal business hours and on short notice. What happens if the materials or food a production company orders has to be changed or canceled at the last minute because of a change in the weather or complications on the set? Vendors need to be prepared to be flexible and responsive but also need to ensure that they are protected in such situations.

Who owns the rights to the intellectual property supplied by vendors to a production company? Whose insurance applies should an incident occur on set? Who is ensuring that all permits and licenses have been obtained? Does the production have requirements it has to meet in exchange for tax incentives or as part of collective bargaining agreements? Addressing these issues up front ensures no surprises later.

Finally, with the transient nature of some production companies, settling any legal disputes after the fact can bring the increased costs and headache of attempting to resolve a dispute with an entity that was formed only for the specific production, or negotiating across state lines or even overseas. Vendors need to be prepared for these eventualities.

Consulting with legal professionals qualified to handle the myriad issues that can arise can prepare your business for being part of the growing and potentially highly profitable industry of film and television production.