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Studio could be a tourist draw, too

POSTED: September 5, 2013 9:59 p.m.

Jay Self still gets asked where the bench from “Forrest Gump” is.


The director of the Savannah Film Commission and others said last week the Medient Studios project, now under construction, could be a draw one day for visitors to Effingham County.


“There is a long life for this business in our area,” he said. “This is going to benefit everyone. It’s going to benefit our entire region. There are things it brings in we could never pay off.”


Production companies have chosen Georgia repeatedly for their projects, and studio tours are a big business. To hear officials tell it, if Medient builds it, they will come.


“They’re looking to see a zombie in Senoia, and they’re looking for vampires in Covington,” said Beda Johnson of the state’s Department of Economic Development tourism branch.


The AMC hit show “The Walking Dead” is shot in Senoia, south of Atlanta, and “The Vampire Diaries” is shot in Covington. The state now has a Web site, cometourgeorgia.org, that shows self-guided tours for horror and terror film locales.


“We’re so excited that we’re going to add Effingham,” Johnson said. “I am absolutely thrilled. The synergy between film and tourism is so close.”


Georgia’s film tax credit tax program has lured many productions to it and was a reason Medient was interested in locating in the state.


“Our elected officials had a lot of foresight in putting Georgia out there to attract the film industry,” said Effingham IDA CEO John Henry. “That’s what really makes this all possible, their vision to enable Georgia to capitalize on this industry.”


Tourism is a $51 billion a year industry in Georgia, and Medient CEO Manu Kumaran said the third and final phase of the studioplex will include much of the hotels, shopping and other amenities, such as the botanical gardens, that could draw even more people.


But the first thing is the construction of the studios and production facilities, which are anticipated to employ more than 1,000 people. B.L. Harbert, a Birmingham, Ala.-based firm, will perform much of the construction.


Medient’s projections call for 320 employees in production, 215 in post-production, another 169 in animation and 194 in video game production. Along with approximately 330 people in management and general administration, the company expects to have more than 1,200 people employed in the movie and video game areas, with nearly 1,000 of them potentially being area residents who are hired. Average wages are going to be about $40,000 annually.


“We will make this happen,” Kumaran said.

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