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British film-TV production studios coming to Fayette

UPDATED — Pinewood Studios, responsible for the James Bond films — including the latest blockbuster, “Skyfall” — the Harry Potter series, the Hobbit and the musical “Les Misérables,” is in talks with local and Atlanta investors to locate a major film and television production facility on 288.5 acres in the center of Fayette County, The Citizen has learned.

Paperwork for rezoning the properties — code-named “Stargate” — was filed with the Fayette County Planning and Zoning Department Tuesday afternoon.

To be known as “Pinewood Atlanta,” Phase One of the development would be on the southwest corner of the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Sandy Creek Road in unincorporated Fayette County just west of Fayetteville.

The official news release from Fayette County Development Authority CEO Matt Forshee came Wednesday afternoon, following exclusive publication about the project in The Citizen:

“Investment group to develop major film production center in Fayette

“Group in discussions with UK’s Pinewood Studios to operate facility

“Fayetteville, Ga. – Rivers Rock, LLC, representing a group of Atlanta-area investors, announced today that it has filed development documents with the Fayette County Board of Commissioners to build what would be the largest film production complex in metro Atlanta on a 288-acre site in north-central Fayette County, Ga.

“The investment group also announced that it is in discussions with London-based Pinewood Studios Group to manage and operate the studio complex.

“Located 15 minutes south of Hartsfield-Jackson international Airport and 25 minutes south of downtown Atlanta, the proposed development site would initially include the construction of five purpose-built state-of-the-art sound stages.

“These soundstages would be designed to utilize the latest technology available in film production.

“Additionally, the developers will construct a series of administrative buildings and production offices as well as support buildings for set and effects development and space for film equipment vendors. Space will also be provided for backlot development for television and film location operations. The initial investment is expected to be $20 million.

“Construction is expected to begin this spring, pending permit approvals, and the initial phase is expected to be operational during the first quarter of 2014.

“The facility would be expanded in future phases as demand for sound stages and film production space increases, though no plans have been finalized yet on those expansions.

“Future development plans do include the establishment of a professional film production school in partnership with the studio to help grow Georgia’s film workforce.

“Discussions are currently ongoing with multiple higher education institutions to locate on the site,” the FCDA news release concludes.

Preliminary ideas include production offices, initial production stages, a mill works shop, a film school, a continuing education center, administration offices and a catering and culinary school, The Citizen has learned. While the studio has a reputation for world-class films, the Fayette location would focus on high quality television productions.

Preliminary plans ask for rezoning to accommodate 381 paved parking spaces.

The project will be unlike anything ever seen in Fayette County and promises to become an economic growth engine, according to those familiar with the plans.

Upwards of 500,000 square feet of sound stages, production facilities and ancillary offices are envisioned for the site, The Citizen has learned. The rezoning plans show at least eight such larger structures in addition to clusters of smaller buildings. Zoning being sought is GB (general business).

British-based Pinewood Studios Group is a leading provider of studio and related services to the worldwide film and entertainment industry. Headquartered 20 miles west of London, in Buckinghamshire, the company has more than 1 million sq. ft. of stage and studio space in five countries.

The world-famous “007 stage,” at 59,000 sq. ft., is the largest of the company’s more than 60 stages and studios spread around the world. The entire James Bond series, including the most recent “Skyfall,” was filmed on Pinewood stages.

Wikipedia lists 121 movies filmed on Pinewood stages in its 77-year history, 42 of them since 2000. Recent blockbusters include “Les Miserables,” “Prometheus,” “Snow White and the Huntsmen,” “The Hobbit,” the first and second Harry Potter films, and “Dark Knight.”

In addition to movies, Pinewood stages are home to television shows, commercials, and more. Pinewood Group has three locations in England, plus facilities in Toronto, Berlin, the Dominican Republic and Malaysia.

Pinewood itself does not develop film projects; instead it provides the production infrastructure to actually get the project onto film: sound stages, sets, lighting and the like.

The studio was founded in 1936 by J. Arthur Rank, a wealthy flour magnate and devout Methodist. Rank’s interest in the film industry was born of his vision for making films with a religious and moral message.

A major draw for film companies to locate in Georgia involves tax credits.

State tax credits adopted a handful of years ago have played a major role in improving Georgia’s profile as the Hollywood of the south.

Under current law, production companies who spend a minimum of $500,000 get a 20 percent transferable tax credit, which jumps by an additional 10 percent if the company uses an imbedded state promo logo in the film, TV series, music video or video game project, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Moreover, there is no cap on the credit, which means the more production companies spend here, the more they will save here too.

In the 2011 fiscal year, the entertainment industry spent more than $689.3 million in Georgia, according to GDED. Last year, some 333 productions filmed in Georgia including feature films, TV series, commercials and music videos.

The state tax credits offered by Georgia apply to all in and out-of-state labor working in Georgia, and standard fringe benefits qualify for the credit as well.

Fayette County has become qualified as a “camera ready” community through GDED to assist with location scouting and other efforts.

Fayette has hosted several movies in recent years including portions of “Sweet Home Alabama” which were filmed at Starr’s Mill and also “Joyful Noise” which was filmed at several local churches along with a big scene at the Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater in Peachtree City.

Fayette has also hosted the “Drop Dead Diva” television show on the Lifetime network, which filmed in a modified hangar at Falcon Field Airport and on various locations around the area.

Nearby Senoia has been the scene stealer on the southside when it comes to TV shows by hosting the production of the top-rated cable drama “The Walking Dead.” In fact, charming downtown Senoia itself plays a backdrop, down to the unkempt landscaping in the medians as an homage to a world in which humans are on the run from zombies.

In addition to providing tax breaks and location scouting, GDED also offers a help wanted hotline and website to help production companies recruit cast and crew.

The 30-acre campus of River’s Elementary School will also play a role in the overall development, although no final deal has been reached on the property owned by the Fayette County Board of Education. The elementary school is expected to receive a makeover and become a campus of Savannah College of Arts and Design, as detailed in a nearby story.

— Reporting by Joyce Beverly, John Munford and Ben Nelms.

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