Film Industry Protest of Ga. Could Yield Business in Md., State Official Says

Actress Alyssa Milano has compiled a list of abortion laws in all 50 states. Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Lifetime

Georgia’s new abortion restrictions could result in a flurry of film and television business coming to Maryland, a top state economic development official suggested Thursday.

Tom Riford, assistant secretary at the Maryland Department of Commerce, told a meeting of the State Economic Development Commission in Baltimore that the state is getting extra attention from the film industry since Georgia enacted strict abortion restrictions a few weeks ago. The Peach State has become a hub of TV and film production in recent decades, but Hollywood studios are threatening to pull their business given the current political climate there.

“We have a couple of wonderful prospects that want to film in Maryland,” Riford told the commission, a group of business leaders and state officials who meet quarterly to discuss the state’s business climate. “Hollywood is looking at other prospects.”

As several Southern states have clamped down on abortion access in recent weeks, pro-choice activists in Hollywood have turned their ire on Georgia, urging film production companies to pull their business from the state in protest.

Actress Alyssa Milano this week created a “shoot location tool” for Hollywood filmmakers that lists the status of abortion laws in all 50 states. The guide, according to Variety, has three categories: States where abortion rights are least threatened, under threat or most threatened. Maryland falls into the “least threatened” column.

National media outlets reported this week that Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader who was the Democratic nominee for governor last year, traveled to Hollywood recently urging executives not to boycott the state over its abortion policies.

“Leader Abrams went to Hollywood to meet with industry leaders, show respect for the calls for a boycott and recognize the historical power of economic boycotts, but also to encourage a more strategic path for the film industry to help Georgia women: by using the energy and resources of the industry to stay in Georgia and fight to create lasting political change,” an Abrams spokesman told CNN.

The nationwide push to pry film business away from Georgia comes as Maryland recently expanded a tax credit for film production that enables certain production companies to recoup some of the costs associated with their smaller film projects.

Earlier this week, the Commerce Department announced that the first film production has qualified for the new credit. It’s an independent film called “Hope’s Legacy,” which stars Dyan Cannon. The film, produced by DBM Communications, Inc. in Towson, is shooting this month throughout Baltimore County.

“The new Small Films Tax Credit program was created to nurture and support Maryland’s growing independent film industry, and we are excited that ‘Hope’s Legacy is the first to take advantage of it,” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said in a statement. “Independent films like ‘Hope’s Legacy’ create jobs and boost our economy by hiring local cast and crew, and showcase the state’s beauty and great quality of life.”

Since 2006, Maryland has assisted 30 film and TV productions that have employed thousands of residents, worked with thousands of local small businesses, and generated an economic impact of more than $1.1 billion in the state.

Riford, the former president of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau who is now assistant Commerce secretary for marketing & communications, tourism film & the arts, recalled when the Civil War drama, “Gods and Generals,” which starred Robert Duvall and Jeff Daniels, filmed in Western Maryland in 2001.

The film production cost about $85 million, he said, and it generated about $10 million in tax revenue in Washington County alone. Since then, tourism at the Antietam National Battlefield has grown exponentially – part of what the industry calls “The ‘Witness’ Effect,” a reference to the surge in tourism in Pennsylvania’s Amish country following the release of the popular film “Witness.”

“There’s nothing that can hemorrhage more money into a community like a film project,” Riford said.

In a brief interview, Riford said the success of long-running TV series “House of Cards” and “Veep,” both of which were substantially shot in Maryland, have bolstered the state’s ability to attract film and TV productions.

“People know they can have a quality production here,” he said.

Riford declined to discuss the politics swirling around Georgia’s new abortion restrictions and whether Maryland is trying to use the controversy to attract new business.

“I would never be a person to say someone’s political climate is our good fortune,” he cautioned. But he acknowledged that some companies are making “social, economic decisions.”

And how is the state trying to take advantage?

“We’re always marketing Maryland,” Riford said.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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