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Georgia entertainment director starred in chamber's 'Women in Business' event

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Tom Hanks. Sandra Bullock. Jessica Tandy.

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Atlanta native Lee Thomas, the director of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, speaks about Georgia's role in the film industry during the 2013 Women in Business signature event.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Atlanta native Lee Thomas, the director of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, speaks about Georgia's role in the film industry during the 2013 Women in Business signature event.

All are Academy Award winners and all did their award-winning work in Georgia. Hanks’ Forrest Gump was shot in Savannah, while Bullock’s The Blind Side and Tandy’s Driving Miss Daisy were filmed in Atlanta.

Lee Thomas, the director of Georgia’s Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, spoke to a crowd of about 250 guests Tuesday night at Legends Club about the state’s role in attracting some of the biggest Hollywood names and blockbuster films to Georgia. The event, an Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual Women in Business program, was a red carpet one, literally – attendees had their pictures taken next to costumed zombies as they walked into the Augusta venue.

One of the newest high-profile flicks to film in the Peach State is Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is out in theaters Friday. Many of its scenes were filmed in Atlanta. Thomas said the Georgia World Congress Center worked for weeks to reschedule trade shows to make the project feasible. Future installments of the series will be filmed in the state.

From zombies to divas to vampires, popular shows including The Walking Dead, Drop Dead Diva and The Vampire Diaries also are shot within state lines.

Georgia’s Entertainment Industry Investment Act also has been critical in drawing feature entertainment players to the state, Thomas said.

The incentive program, started in 2005 and restructured in 2008, provides a 20 to 30 percent tax credit for companies spending $500,000 or more on production or post-production in Georgia.

State efforts have paid off. The industry has grown in Georgia from $244 million in 2007 to $3.3 billion this year. The economic impact from a TV show or movie choosing the state as a filming site also ripples out into other businesses.

Thomas’ role is to act as a liaison between the state and key figures in the entertainment industry to ensure that Georgia is selected over competing states, such as Louisiana and North Carolina.

A future James Brown biopic, which might seem like a natural fit for the Augusta area, is likely to be shot in Mississippi, based on the director’s preference, Thomas said.

Richmond and Columbia counties, however, are among 144 Georgia “camera-ready communities” that communicate with Thomas’ department to bring in such projects.

“Hopefully, we’ll get something here soon,” she said. “I think the incentives really helps movies spread out. We don’t want them clustered in Atlanta.”

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