In 2007, Scott Poythress and Claire Bronson decided it was time to kick their acting careers into high gear. The married couple left their Decatur home for Los Angeles, in pursuit of more auditions, better roles and bigger opportunities. Two years later they found exactly what they were looking for — by moving back to metro Atlanta.
“Our resumes have grown exponentially since we moved back,” Bronson says. “It’s insane. We’re getting access to recurring guest-star roles, even series regulars, which was unheard of before this incentive.”
She’s referring to the well-publicized tax credits that Georgia started offering in 2008 to attract more media production. Movie, television and digital entertainment companies can receive up to 30 percent in tax breaks by working and hiring within the state. And now, with at least five new local studios slated for construction, Atlanta’s place in the spotlight is only getting brighter.
Within just the past few weeks, plans were announced to bookend the city with two new major production facilities: a 400,000-square-foot complex in Gwinnett County with 12 sound stages, to be built by Jacoby Development, and a 288-acre development in Fayette County by Pinewood Shepperton, the British studio that’s home to the James Bond franchise. That space, to be called Pinewood Atlanta, will be the company’s first expansion into the United States.
The new facilities will only bolster an already vibrant Georgia film and television industry. Georgia-based productions generated $3.1 billion for the state economy in fiscal 2012, up 29 percent from the year before, according to the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. That puts the state well ahead of regional competitors such as Louisiana ($717 million for calendar 2012) and North Carolina ($278 million for calendar 2012), according to those film offices’ websites.
The influx of movies and TV series has brought a boom not only for Georgia’s economy but also for the careers of Atlanta-based actors, who previously thought their only viable option was to leave town.
“There was a glass ceiling that seemed to exist here,” Poythress says of the pre-incentive years. “The occasional film would roll through, but you’d book [only] a day.”
The couple thought their fortunes had changed when one of their movies, “The Signal” (2007), was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival and drew a $2.3 million studio bid. They rode the momentum out to L.A., but the tide turned just as quickly when the industry was hit by the double blow of union disputes and the economic recession. “Talent agencies were ditching people from their rosters,” says Bronson. “They weren’t taking anyone on.”
They began to notice work moving from California and into Georgia. “It was a no-brainer” to move back, Poythress declares.
And the move has paid off with full-time work. Both actors have appeared in two prominent Atlanta-based series, USA’s “Necessary Roughness” and Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva.” Poythress also has had roles in the BET series “The Game” and the feature movie “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” while Bronson can be seen in the current Sundance Channel series “Rectify” and the upcoming movie “A.C.O.D.” starring Amy Poehler. The couple has also co-founded Drama Inc., which offers classes and workshops for aspiring actors.
Casting director Bill Marinella has worked on movies in California, Louisiana, Iowa and Michigan but has been based in Atlanta since 2009. “What’s happened is a lot of actors are moving back from New York and Los Angeles after getting their training, and they’re booking roles here,” he says. “They’re making a lot of money, they’re getting agents, and they’re getting repeat auditions constantly.”
Tye Norris hopes to be one of those success stories. Standing in line at one of Marinella’s open casting calls for “Drop Dead Diva” in Peachtree City, the muscular 44-year-old says he moved to Atlanta last year from L.A., where he worked “quite a bit” as a background performer. He relocated here to be closer to family and was pleasantly surprised to learn that his acting career could continue outside California.
“I started interviewing with a couple of agencies and came to find out Atlanta is the new Hollywood,” he says. “I’m hoping I can plug back in and get to the next level.”
Sure enough, later in the afternoon Marinella pulled Norris aside. “I’m going to want him for Monday!” he called to an assistant, who started gathering more information from the actor.
With media production in Atlanta no longer a novelty, Marinella expects the city’s impact on the industry to grow for at least another 10 years, especially with the two massive production facilities now in the works.
“Atlanta will be the No. 1 stronghold between L.A. and New York,” Marinella predicts. “This is one of the best places to shoot movies. I really feel that Hollywood is going to suffer in the pocketbook from Atlanta specifically.” And that means fatter pocketbooks for local actors, who benefit from Atlanta’s lower cost of living, shorter commutes and steady stream of jobs.
For performers such as Poythress and Bronson, the rising level of talent in the city means it has grown past the status of “regional market.” “We’re not Atlanta actors, we’re actors based in Atlanta,” Poythress says.