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Over the course of his 45-year career, actor D.W. Moffett has been a leading man on Broadway, worked with iconic directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci and Steven Soderbergh and toplined a hit network TV show. Today, his professional life is centered around Savannah, a town on Georgia’s coast that is four hours from Atlanta and famous for historic homes on quiet streets lined with trees covered in Spanish moss. But that doesn’t mean he has been exiled to the show business wilderness.

As chair of the film and television department at Savannah College of Art and Design, Moffett is not just an educator and mentor, he’s also a high-ranking studio exec. SCAD owns Savannah Film Studios, which features three soundstages, a 5,500-square-foot LED volume stage and a backlot under construction, featuring 17 street facades, homes, a cafe, a pub, hardware/antique retail space, a boutique, barber shop, a bank and a lobby that can be used to portray a hotel or a hospital.

“We have a growing local crew base and an incredibly compliant and highly skilled student internship pool, which they love to take advantage of,” says Moffett, who travels back and forth between Georgia and the home he shares in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon with his wife, real estate agent Kristal Rogers. “When productions come, the Savannah Film Office goes, ‘Hey, what do you need? What kind of locations? And by the way, here’s D.W. Moffett’s private cell phone number.’ They call me up, and I say, ‘What do you need?’”

Film and TV projects have been flooding into Georgia since 2008, when it established a base 20% transferable tax credit that gets a 10% bump if the state’s peach logo is included in the credits of the finished product. But, historically, the bulk of the productions — including the TV series “Stranger Things” and films such as “Civil War,” Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming epic “Megalopolis” — have shot in the Atlanta metro area. Now, Savannah and other communities across Georgia are pulling out the stops to attract a larger share of the industry, which generated $4.1 billion in the state in fiscal year 2023.

An hour and half to the east of Atlanta in Athens — home to no less than 11 colleges and universities, and the spawning ground of bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52’s — there’s a new studio complex, dubbed Athena Studios. It completed its first phase of construction in November 2022, but it got off to a slow start because studios were already ramping back production in anticipation of strikes by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA that ended up stretching into the fall of 2023. It’s currently hosting its first major production, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s Blumhouse Prods./Universal feature “The Woman in the Yard,” starring Danielle Deadwyler.

“Athena Studios is the distillation of several years of research into what productions want,” says Athena Studios CEO Joel Harber “I think what we have right now could host anything from ‘Stranger Things’ to ‘Superman’ to a Bond feature or any type of series. We’ve got everything you need and nothing you don’t.”

Athena Studios boasts four soundstages ranging from 20,000 to 44,000 square-feet with clearances of 40 feet and silent air conditioning. It also has 70,000 square-feet of support space with a mill and flex areas, along with four acres of open backlot, base camp areas, lighting and grip services provided by MBS Equipment Co. and ample parking.

“We’ve got over 108 acres total and we’re touching about 30 of that,” says Harber. “We’ve got seven more soundstages that are already planned and approved that’ll be in a future phase, so we’re taking a measured approach, taking one bite at a time.”

Further east in Augusta, best known as the home to the annual Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, local industry boosters have to rely on their looks to lure productions. The second- oldest city in the state behind Savannah, it boasts a wealth of antebellum homes and a downtown historic district with buildings dating back to the 18th century, plus the picturesque Augusta Riverwalk, a two-level brick trail that runs for several blocks along the Savannah River. It also has the Augusta Canal, a seven-mile man-made waterway constructed in the mid-1800s featuring the Powderworks, a two-mile stretch of 28 buildings that constitute the only completed structures built by the Confederate States of America.

“We really began to notice that people were clamoring to get out of Atlanta around 2015 and 2016, so we began a purposeful effort about that time to try to recruit productions,” says Jennifer Bowen, film liaison for Film Augusta, a division of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Since then, Augusta has hosted high-profile productions such as Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” (2018) and Marvel’s “The Suicide Squad” (2021), but recent productions have tended to be more low-profile, such as the Tubi feature “Five Star Murder” (2023), which was shot primarily at the Partridge Inn, established in 1910.

In the past, it’s been difficult for productions to find something approximating soundstage space in Augusta. Producers have explored the common tactic of temporarily converting warehouse space, but “most of the productions only need it for about three months, so some of our local realtors are a little reluctant,” says Bowen. But that could be changing, thanks to Warren Ostergard of Vitamin A Films, which produced Augusta-shot films including 2022’s “Agent Game,” starring Dermot Mulroney and Mel Gibson, “The Royal” and 2023’s “The Hill,” starring Dennis Quaid.

In September 2023, Ostergard announced plans to bring a purpose-built studio to Augusta. He’s purchased 125 acres of farmland south of the city, eight minutes away from Augusta Regional Airport, which has direct flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Dallas. Plans for the studio call for six soundstages totaling 125,000 square-feet, along with a mill and flex space. The complex will be fronted by a mixed-use development featuring a hotel, apartments, retail space and restaurants. Currently in the pre-development phase, the studio is expected to break ground in a year, with construction lasting 14 months.

“Augusta is just a really nice place to work,” says Ostergard. “You’re not fighting the traffic, and it’s kind of a mix between old and new, so it lends itself to period movies, as well as contemporary movies. The one thing it’s lacking is the proper infrastructure to attract larger productions. We believe once it’s built, that people will become more aware of what Augusta has to offer.”

The state of Georgia has been proactive in promoting shooting outside of Atlanta through Camera Ready Communities, an online database of 600-plus locations throughout the state, with contacts for local liaisons to connect productions with crew members and support services everywhere from Rock Spring in the northwest, just south of Chattanooga, Tenn., to St. Mary’s in the southeast, across the river from Florida.

Sometimes, communities outside of Atlanta manage to land a portion of a production, even if the bulk of it is shot elsewhere. For instance, productions ranging from Marvel’s “Black Widow” to the HBO series “Lovecraft Country” and “Watchmen” have come to the central Georgia city of Macon, 84 miles southeast of Atlanta, to shoot scenes.

“People really like the downtown, because you don’t have a brand new McDonald’s next to a historic theater,” explains Aaron Buzza, senior VP and COO of Visit Macon. “It’s large enough and historically preserved enough that you can get longer shots.”

One of Macon’s more popular draws is Terminal Station, designed by Alfred T. Fellheimer (who also designed Grand Central Terminal in New York), which has been used to portray a variety of period railway stations and airport terminals. Built in 1916 and restored in the early 2000s, it recently hosted Amazon’s “The Underground Railroad” and “The Color Purple” (2023). The city also has Luther Williams Field, a minor league baseball stadium built in 1929 that has been used as a location for such films as “42” and “Trouble With the Curve.”

In early 2024, director Malcolm Washington’s Netflix feature adaptation of the August Wilson play “The Piano Lesson,” starring his brother John David Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, came to Macon to film several scenes set in Pittsburgh in 1936, including a factory worker sequence shot at former cotton mill, now used as a long-term storage facility.

An hour and 45 minutes southwest of Atlanta, Columbus has sweetened the pot with its own local incentive, compensating producers for the extra money they have to spend on per diems, housing and transportation to bring their crew to the city. It also has Flat Rock Studios, with 140,000 square-feet of soundstage and workshop space, which has hosted the features “Survive the Night,” starring Bruce Willis, and “Electric Jesus,” starring Brian Baumgartner.

Savannah also has its own incentive, a 10% cash rebate of up to $100,000 per feature and $250,000 for a calendar year of production on a TV series of five episodes or more. Projects are awarded a $25,000 bonus if 50% or more of the crew are located within 60 miles of Savannah City Hall.

Projects looking to bolster their local crew numbers to qualify for the bonus can do what director Todd Haynes did for his Oscar-nominated Netflix feature “May December,” and call on SCAD.

“We ended up having over 75 alumni, faculty and students that were on that picture, from actors getting their SAG cards to people working in the costume department,” says Andra Reeve-Rabb, the dean of SCAD’s School of Film and Acting. One of those alums included Moffett, who had a plum role as the ex-husband of Julianne Moore’s character.

SCAD is continuing to build out its studio space for both its students and potential visiting productions.

In fall 2024, it’s scheduled to complete the second phase of construction, which will include the balance of its New York section, featuring Brooklyn brownstones, an urban alley, a bodega, a coffeehouse, upscale retail shops and a subway entrance, along with a 17,000-square foot of support space, housing a costume shop, a mill and classrooms. Phase three will follow in fall 2025, adding a town square, city hall, a single-family home and other facades, as well as a 23,700 square-foot support building.

The city also has another soundstage complex, Savannah Film Factory, which recently hosted the Eastwood film “Juror No. 2,” along with a wealth of screen-ready locations in and around town, from beaches to cobblestone-paved River Street, which has more than 75 restaurants, shops and galleries, and its downtown historic district, lined with Colonial and Georgian homes.

“When you’re inside of the city, it feels like a backlot,” says Savannah Regional Film Commission executive director Walker Dalton. “It’s kind of a production-ready town all by itself.”

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