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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why The Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition Matters

We're no longer taking submissions for the 2008 Screenplay Competition. That means that some folks are going to be anxiously waiting to hear if their screenplay is a finalist, while others will probably think that because they aren't writers or didn't enter the competition, there's no reason to care.

Here's why you should care:

Productions that spend $50,000 or more in Michigan are eligible to receive up to a 40 percent refundable tax credit, or 42 percent if they shoot in one of 103 "core" communities, which includes Flint.

The rebates also apply to video games, TV shows and documentaries.

"It's probably one of the best presentations in the country," said Mike Matthews, a Saginaw native who's filming a TV pilot called "The Flynns" in Flint and other Michigan cities.

Matthews said his family is financing the pilot episode. He's been writing and producing the show with his brother, Craig, of Richmond, Va.

Crews will start filming in Flint at the end of June, said Mike Matthews, who's staying in Flint Township. He said he intends to shoot 13 episodes in Michigan and apply for the state's incentives.

"We've already had investors lining up," he said. "It's an exciting product. It has a real moral story." -

The tax incentive war has been raging for several years as industry and government folks--remember those evil, troll like people--have realized that a proper package can modestly double or triple the size of the local film industry in some places and in others increase it by 200 fold. Imagine going from $2 million in local production to $400 million. (In Georgia, if we were to add another $400 million dollars in production to the state's GDP, that would be an almost 5% increase overall to a $12 billion plus GDP. In economic turns, that's not insubstantial.)

While legislators battle it out, what local industry and film folks should be doing is making sure the tools are in place to take advantage of these legislative packages. Incentives mean nothing if productions have to bring in so much crew or equipment that the cost negates the incentives. So we need local crew.

But, even more paramount than that. You need heat and some sizzle. You need productions that catch the eyes of folks who want to follow a film's journey from pre to post. You need product that makes people think of your state/city--Georgia/Atlanta in our case--as a place that turns out films and shows that demand attention. You need films that people hunger to see.

The easiest place to focus that energy, the one area that really can do that, is the screenplay.

The fundamental element of 99 percent of all narrative filmmaking is the screenplay. You can say the director is the beating heart of a film. We're going to adamantly say it's 110 pages of paper and ink. The power a well written script can have to attract talent and to inspire passion isn't the stuff of legends, it's the truth. And we dare you to name a great narrative film that doesn't have a great screenplay. 

People respond to stories. Tyler Perry is who is because people respond to his characters and situations. Woody Allen keeps working, because, even if critics have been disappointed with his latest works, people still respond to his stories and make them profitable. Juno's success wouldn't exist without Diablo Cody. Richard Linklater to Kevin Smith, screenplays are the engine that drives this industry.

Why open it up nationwide if we're so gung-ho on Georgia? Think about it in sports terms. We're always going to root for the Atlanta Falcons. Even when they're crappy, We're hoping for the best. But, when we're not on the field, we're looking to the next underdog and rooting for them. The entire sport of football would be boring as hell--*examplecough*yankeescough*buyingchampionshipscough*--if your team was the only one with a chance of making it to the Super Bowl. In relation to other sports like basketball and baseball, football is more exciting preciesly because of parity.

We also run a world respected festival and our audiences want to see films that hail from places as far way as Tanzania and as close as Birmingham. We've been digging into our past history, and the films we've shown by early filmmakers is astounding. Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brother's Bloom), Spike Lee, Victor Nunez, Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda), the list is still growing as we dig.  So encouraging interesting and great filmmaking across the country is in our self-interest. Encouraging filmmaking at its genesis is just smart investing if we want to be programming great films in 2011 or 2021 and beyond.

Don't get it twisted, we really do want to see Atlanta filmmaking continue kicking ass and growing. But, whoever the 6 finalists are for 2008, they're going to be the screenplays that resonate with our selection committee. Stories that, after we've read the last sentence, we hunger to see come to life on the big screen. Stories that will hopefully be filmed--wink, wink--here in Georgia using our incentives.

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