10:50 AM PDT 5/9/2019 by Bryn Elise Sandberg
David Simon’s Blown Deadline Productions and Killer Films CEO Christine Vachon pledged to no longer shoot in the state as long as the law exists.
Georgia, no stranger to threats of boycotts due to controversial legislation, finds itself at risk of another filming debacle.
On Tuesday, the state’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a piece of legislation that’s been dubbed the “heartbeat bill” that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. It does, however, include exceptions, such as to save the live of the mother or for rape and incest — but only if a woman files a police report. As a result, some industry figures are calling on Hollywood to withdraw production for the state.
Alyssa Milano, June Diane Raphael and George Takei all spoke up in late March when the bill was approved in the Georgia General Assembly with a 92 to 78 vote. Now, Killer Films, the production banner behind such movies as Vox Lux, First Reformed and Carol, is taking action. CEO Christine Vachon tweeted on Thursday morning that the company will “no longer consider Georgia as a viable shooting location until this ridiculous law is overturned.”
The Wire and The Deuce creator David Simon, who runs Blown Deadline Productions, similarly tweeted about the law. “I can’t ask any female member of any film production with which I am involved to so marginalize themselves or compromise their inalienable authority over their own bodies. I must undertake production where the rights of all citizens remain intact,” he said, further explaining in another tweet: “Can only speak for my production company. Our comparative assessments of locations for upcoming development will pull Georgia off the list until we can be assured the health options and civil liberties of our female colleagues are unimpaired.”
As far as taking a stand goes, Vachon and Simon are in the minority. The MPAA, which represents the five major film studios, says it is watching the law closely and waiting on final court outcomes. “Film and television production in Georgia supports more than 92,000 jobs and brings significant economic benefits to communities and families,” says MPAA senior vp communications Chris Ortman. “It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process. We will continue to monitor developments.”
Indeed, though the law is set to go into effect in January, there will almost certainly be a court fight to block it before then. A similar six-week abortion law that North Dakota passed in 2016 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course, the difference this time is that the balance of the Supreme Court has changed with the recent appointment of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Georgia is perhaps hoping the odds will shift in its favor.
Georgia’s generous tax incentives give up to 30 percent back, explaining why 455 productions filmed there last year, resulting in an estimated $2.7 billion in direct spending in the state. Major projects to shoot there include AMC’s The Walking Dead and Netflix’s Ozark and Stranger Things. In addition, Marvel filmed two of its biggest 2018 blockbusters — Black Panther and the latest Avengers movie — at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta.
It’s also worth noting this isn’t the first time there have been calls for Hollywood filmmakers to pull projects from the state as a result of controversial legislation. A year ago, a similar movement grew in response to an anti-LGBTQ bill that would have made it legal for adoption agencies to not work with same-sex couples. At that time, lawmakers had also approved a bill that would strip Delta of a major tax break, which was largely seen as an unsubtle punishment for the airline’s decision to ax its discount for National Rifle Association members following the Parkland, Florida, shooting. Still, threats of a boycott did little to disrupt the state’s thriving film industry.