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Posted: 11:35 a.m. Friday, May 16, 2014

"Million Dollar Arm" part of Georgia's multibillion-dollar film industry 

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Johnny Isakson and Chris Dodd
Jennifer Brett
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, left, and former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, at Thursday's "Million Dollar Arm" screening.

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Jon Hamm in "Million Dollar Arm" photo
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Jon Hamm in "Million Dollar Arm"
Million Dollar Arm photo
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Can you spot the Atlanta skyline?
Jon Hamm and Lake Bell star in "Million Dollar Arm" photo
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Jon Hamm and Lake Bell star in "Million Dollar Arm"
A party scene from "Catching Fire" was filmed at the Swan House photo
A party scene from "Catching Fire" was filmed at the Swan House
"Catching Fire" at the Swan House photo
This scene from "Catching Fire" takes place in the Swan House dining room.
Robert Redford photo
Robert Redford on the set of "A Walk in the Woods," which is filming near Kennesaw Mountain.
Nick Nolte photo
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Nick Nolte in between takes.
Walk in the Woods photo
Jennifer Brett, jbrett@ajc.com
Lots of activity near Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park this morning as the Robert Redford-Nick Nolte film "A Walk in the Woods" films near the park's main entrance.
Studio specs: A look at what films where photo
Bob Andres
EUE/Screen Gems Studios Executive Vice President Kris Bagwell walks through the studio’s newest soundstage, the 30,000 square foot Stage 6. An Atlanta film studio is poised to receive up to $1.1 million in taxpayer funds to set the stage for a major expansion, the latest example of the regular government goodies showered on the film industry in Georgia. Atlanta may not be Hollywood South quite yet. But the decision Thursday by Atlanta’s economic development agency to pump up to $500,000 to help build two new soundstages at the EUE/Screen Gems studio at Lakewood is another sign of the film industry’s growing role in metro Atlanta’s economy. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

By Jennifer Brett

With the red-carpet premiere about to begin and the headliners of the night coming our way, we asked what celebrity reporters always ask when event stars saunter down the rope line: Who are you wearing?

“I bought this tie for $4,” deadpanned the always fashionable U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. “I wear it on special occasions. The rest of it’s a pinstriped suit.”

He was a good sport about the silly query before Thursday’s screening of “Million Dollar Arm,” which filmed partly in the Atlanta area. But Isakson was serious when talking about the state’s growing film community and the economic impact of movies such as the Disney one that stars Jon Hamm as a sports agent.

“Georgia has the Atlantic coastline,” Isakson said. “We have the mountains of north Georgia. We have the plains of south Georgia. We have a major metropolitan city. We have every venue you could possibly want to have. We try to have tax laws that are attractive for the development and production of major motion pictures. Because of that, entertainment is a $4 billion industry and $989 million of that this year is major motion pictures being filmed in Georgia.”

Since the state legislature enacted a robust raft of tax incentives in 2008, a slew of television and film projects have come our way. The “Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire” was filmed largely in Georgia and the two-part finale, “Mockingjay” wrapped last month. The star-studded “Anchorman 2,” which came out in December, was filmed almost entirely in Atlanta.

Projects filming at the moment include “Taken 3” with Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker and “Goosebumps” with Jack Black. “A Walk in the Woods” with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte has been filming for weeks, including a key scene at a restaurant next to Kennesaw Mountain. We asked if perhaps Isakson had been able to visit since that location is not far from his Cobb County home.

“I have gotten to visit (various movie sets) in the past,” he said. “I haven’t been invited to visit Robert Redford though. I’m holding out for Angelina Jolie.”

Kidding aside once again, he touted Georgia’s key and growing role in the nation’s filming industry. As Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal pointed out at the recent Swan House Ball, soon after filming for “Mockingjay” wrapped at the Swan House, the state ranks third in the country for filming, a fact that some in Hollywood have noted with alarm.

California gubernatorial hopeful Tim Donnelly has actually plastered messages on billboards here in Georgia, urging filmmakers to come back “home” to Hollywood.

“We don’t consider it an arms race,” Isakson said, asking about states potentially sparring over filming. “We’ve got the venues, we’ve got the laws that are favorable for production. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the personnel and we’ve got the people. And we’ve got the desire. We want the film industry to do business in Georgia and we want to make Georgia a good place for the film industry to do their business.”

“Million Dollar Arm,” about a California sports agent who seeks pitching talent in India, traveled abroad but was largely filmed here.

“We chose Georgia because they have the fantastic tax credit and locations and great crew,” said producer Mark Ciardi. “It worked for the budget of the movie. We shot in India the first month and then came here for the rest of the shooting. We shot Atlanta for L.A. and it worked perfectly and we loved our experience.”

Former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, now chairman and CEO of Motion Picture Association of America, joined his former Senate colleague at Thursday’s screening (and looked equally smashing in his nearly identical suit). He said the state’s growing talent base and filming-industry infrastructure, such EUE/Screen Gems Studios Atlanta and Pinewood Atlanta Studios, will help Georgia retain its prominence in the industry amid domestic and international competition.

“This film alone generated $13 million,” he said of “Million Dollar Arm,” adding that “285 vendors alone did business on this part of the production. Those guys are here not just by accident. They’re here because this state, the political leadership, the governor, the members of the state legislature, the film commission of this state, all have done a fabulous job of being tremendously supportive. That’s why Georgia is winning.”

About Jennifer Brett

Jennifer Brett writes The Buzz blog for accessAtlanta.com

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