Building Up Atlanta's Film Scene: Did North Carolina's Salary Cap Help Bring Hunger Games to Atlanta?

Making the first movie in North Carolina brought more than $60 million to the state, along with roughly 5,000 workers, many of them locals who appeared as on-screen extras.

The original film’s location got chalked up to the state’s film incentive, which offers filmmakers a 25 percent refundable tax credit. But the state only qualifies movie salaries up to the first $1 million while Georgia is more generous. That likely influenced the Atlanta decision, Syrett said, especially since the young actors’ salaries have ballooned since the first film.

The excerpts that lead this post are from the piece 'Hunger Games' sequel moves NC off stage that ran at the Charlotte Observer. The article brings up several reasons the sequel moved from North Carolina to Georgia, the locations featured in the second and third books being no small part of that. What definitely stands out to my eye is the point raised about salaries.

Since the 2008 tax incentives for film went into effect, salaries are more often mentioned in articles whenever an elected official opines on the fairness of pay being lumped into calculating a production's cost savings when that pay starts to climb up into the millions, as well as the resulting impact on revenues.

There was and is a perceived double whammy on state coffers when one also considers that, until recently, many states didn't tax those salaries as instate income. Several legislators around the country have made changes to tax the portion of one's salary that would have been earned from work done instate, while leaving the rest of it alone. If you Google it, you can find a few articles on what effect this could have on Californa's own revenue stream as more and more productions have left the state.

It's not unexpected that once a franchise is successfully launched, salaries of the principals including the major players behind the camera see a bump. A bump that's usually at a minimum double the first film for the actors.

In terms of industry building, should Jennifer Lawrence's paycheck have such a major impact on where a production shoots? What I'm really asking, in relative terms, are the potential negatives of capping salary inclusion worth it?

What many don't understand about film production is that it's not only the  productions themselves that are extremely mobile, it's the local crew as well. Most are freelancers and many work across multiple areas of production. Even those who aren't exactly freelancers are often so used to going from state to state, even country to country for a job, they'll often pull up stakes completely. As an example, the actor Idris Elba is working so much he currently he's said he doesn't own a home or rent an apartment, he just packs up and moves to the next production.

Overtime, this brain drain can have lasting affects.

As with any industry, even the most mobile want to root as much of their business to at least one location. You can't do that if you're not sure if there'll be work in the next few years. If you're coming up and you want to get training or experience, it can become near impossible to get that if the very folks who could be your mentors and teach you what they know have left long ago.

The impact on future productions can become quickly evident as the base becomes smaller and smaller. Because of Atlanta's rise, there are multiple shows and films shooting. There are cities and even states that can't handle more than two or three major films or shows in production at once without feeling the strain.

And of course, the ancillary businesses like equipment rentals, extras casting, catering and craft services, and construction, either dry up, reduce staff or move with the productions. With food truck(s), a resourceful catering and craft services company can be as flexible as the productions as long as they can find suppliers to stock up; which unless they're going to a state that has no restaurants and by extension no bulk suppliers, isn't impossible.

And let's not forget that most cast and crew have to work on multiple projects to earn a living. Even some of the highest paid positions sound like a lot of money, till you realize that one job could still only cover half a year's bills and it might be a few months before anyone can start or find their next job. In fact, around the country, the stories of cast and crew members who had their next jobs disappear as state legislators signaled their iffiness on their incentives got out, is numerous. Same with productions that suddenly became to expensive to shoot, or moved to reduce costs, or the failure of other movies forced the studio to make harsh choices--choices that a car maker would also make about a local factory when that shiny new hybrid fails to meet sales; or that new tablet only sales a hundred thousand and not the 500 thousand required.

As I said, there are most definitely multiple reasons Lionsgate changed locales outside of paychecks alone. But, when a production can bring $60 million to a state and you can do that several times each year, it seems shortsighted to hyperfocus on one person's paycheck when the result can be a hit on thousands of paychecks.