‘A slap in the face’: Georgia film crews caught between abortion ban and boycott


Film production workers support #StayAndFightGeorgia in reaction to news that many productions will boycott shooting in the state if new ‘heartbeat’ abortion restrictions pass into law. (Submitted by Callie Moore)

If you want to get around Georgia, just ask Kalena Boller, who’s been working as a location manager in and around Atlanta for over 15 years. We met in Hapeville, an up and coming arts community just outside the city. 

The rustic industrial buildings and faded storefronts make it the perfect backdrop for films such as Baby Driver and What Men Want.

When she first started, Boller said she knew everyone in the industry.  

Not anymore.  

In 2017, Georgia was one of the most popular film locations in the world, with film and TV productions generating $9.5 billion US in economic impact, according to the state.  Major studios such as Disney, Netflix and HBO have flocked there for the 30 per cent tax credits.  

From Marvel movies such as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther, to series such as Stranger Thing and Ozark, activity in the Peach State has been booming.

‘Heartbeat Bill’ is signed

Then in May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the “heartbeat bill” into law. The legislation bans virtually all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant. The law is slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Kalena Boller works as a location manager in Atlanta, Ga. She says production companies considering boycotts should take the time to meet people directly affected by their actions. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Boller said the law was like a slap in the face. “Not just for women but in general, because anywhere you work, you want to make sure your rights are intact. As a citizen and a human.”

In opposition to the bill, Hollywood started applying pressure. Networks and studios drawn by tax breaks have threatened to pull their productions if the law goes ahead.  

Actors Ron Howard, Jason Bateman and Alyssa Milano all said they will not work in Georgia.  

Disney CEO Bob Iger didn’t mince words. “Many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we’ll have to heed their wishes in that regard,” he said. 

The moves leave Boller and an estimated 92,000 members of the film and TV community caught in the crossfire. 

“If your A-listers and your above the line crew members don’t want to bring their business to Georgia, us below the line crew members we’re kind of left in the lurch. A lot of us don’t have that easy mobility,” Boller said. 

Part of what makes Boller nervous is the experience of watching what’s happened in other states such as North Carolina. There, the combination of a drop in tax credits and reaction to the “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate, drove business away.

Boycott Backlash

But some in the industry are turning their frustrations into action.

Like many, Callie Moore moved from Louisiana to Georgia for the work. As a woman, she was already worried about the abortion ban, but when support for the boycott started gaining traction she organized the “Stay and Fight Georgia” campaign.

Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, centre, signs legislation effectively banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Harnessing the power of her friends in the film community, Moore created a crowdfunding drive to raise money for legal challenges against the bill. “As soon as we mentioned trying to do something positive and fight back against the abortion ban, there was a sense of relief and positivity,” she said.   

Not all of Hollywood is jumping on the boycott bandwagon. 

Movie mogul Peter Chernin decided to keep his Georgia productions such as Fear Street and P-Valley in the state. But he’s donated $1 million US toward the ACLU’s legal challenge of “heartbeat” laws being introduced across the U.S. and sent an email challenging his peers to join him in raising a total of $15 million.

Producers J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, who are filming their upcoming series Lovecraft Country in Georgia, vowed to donate 100 per cent of their episode fees to the local ACLU branch and Fair Fight Georgia — an organization founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams that is campaigning to overturn the law.

Callie Moore is an Atlanta-based camera assistant, and one of the organizers of #STAYANDFIGHTGA. The group is raising money for the American Civil Liberties Union ‘in resistance to the Fetal Heartbeat Law signed by Governor Brian Kemp and to show the state of Georgia we won’t flee or boycott in the face of adversity.’ (Eli Glasner/CBC)

Drive an hour south of Atlanta and you’ll find Senoia, a small town that’s become a booming tourist hub for fans of the zombie series The Walking Dead.

On main street you can buy Walking Dead souvenirs or grab a beer at the restaurant co-owned by Walking Dead star Norman Reedus and director Greg Nicotero.

Tour guide operator James Wojnowski said before the series started shooting in the area there were only five businesses on the main street. “Now there’s 51.”

However, the very day we arrived, AMC, the network behind the show, said they will “re-evaluate” activity in the state if the law moves forward.

It’s that kind of interference that raises the ire of Jan Hipp, owner of a Senoia jewlery store.

She doesn’t want The Walking Dead to leave, but asks, “Why does an industry like that think they can come tell us what our laws should be in Georgia?”

Wooing productions

In the meantime, production hubs elsewhere are ready to welcome those who leave Georgia because of the political climate. California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged those reconsidering Georgia to come “home,” while the  governors of Illinois and New Jersey joined forces on a letter to entertainment decision-makers.

The Ontario Film Commission wouldn’t comment on what brings productions to the province. 

But Toronto film commissioner Marguerite Pigott released a statement touting the city as a “progressive and welcoming place.”

Filmmakers J.J. Abrams (left) and Jordan Peele say they will not move their upcoming production out of Georgia but will instead donate their fees to organizations leading the fight against the abortion bill in the state. (Getty Images)

The bill and the damage done

Rodney Ho is an entertainment journalist who’s been covering Georgia’s growing film and television industry since the tax breaks first came into effect.

He doesn’t think the Hollywood boycott will sway Gov. Brian Kemp. Coca-Cola, Delta and many of the state’s other major companies have kept quiet, he said. 

“If there was a mass business exodus [Kemp] would be more concerned, but I think because a lot of his supporters see Hollywood as the antithesis of what they believe in, they don’t care.”

Based on what’s happened in other states, Ho said the bill may not survive the legal challenges. But he said, the damage has already been done.

“There’s no doubt a lot producers have already written Georgia off. Even if the bill doesn’t come into effect and the courts block it, I think a lot of producers say Georgia is off the table, we’re not going to consider it.”

Jan Hipp is the owner of the Queen’s Jewels, a store on the main street of Senoia, Ga. Hipp appreciates all the traffic and tourists The Walking Dead series brings to the area, but she doesn’t believe Hollywood studios should be interfering in state laws. (Eli Glasner/CBC News)


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