Meet AJFF: Lee Thomas of Georgia Film

06/7/2017

We're incredibly proud that AJFF attracts some of the most talented, passionate people. We rely heavily on this village to make AJFF what it is, and we're going to introduce you to some of the people who make up that village. From our staff, to our volunteers, or even to members of our audience, there's a huge group of people that make AJFF a world-class cultural event. This month, we're putting the spotlight on Lee Thomas, the Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, which has sponsored the festival for many years. With Lee and her office most recently in the news due to more Georgia-made movies being in the top 100 grossing films of 2016 than any other place, we wanted to introduce you more fully to Lee.  

A Little Bit About Lee

Lee Thomas is a Deputy Commissioner at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and division director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. A native Atlantan, Lee received a Bachelor of the Arts in Radio -TV -Film from UGA, a Master’s Degree in Film Studies from Georgia State University, then entered the Tisch School of the Arts Doctoral Program in Cinema Studies at New York University. She returned to Atlanta in 1996 to work for the Georgia Film and Videotape Office as a project manager, and then became a location specialist for the office in 1998.  After finding locations for film and television projects for 12 years, Lee became director of the film division in 2010.  

Can you tell us more about what the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office does and your job as Deputy Commissioner? 

The Film Division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development is responsible for promoting Georgia as an entertainment industry destination by increasing the awareness of Georgia’s film opportunities, resources and infrastructure. Our primary responsibilities include location scouting for and with prospects, overseeing and certifying the film tax credit applications, providing logistical support to producers throughout their shoot in Georgia, educating and marketing prospects on Georgia’s locations, infrastructure and workforce, community outreach through speeches and panels, identifying and assisting infrastructure to locate in Georgia, and promoting Georgia through local and national media outlets. Growing Georgia’s entertainment workforce through job creation and driving new dollars into the state’s economy are the division’s top priorities. 

For those unfamiliar with the industry, how have the tax incentives impacted film production in Georgia? And what have been the secondary impacts on the community, as it relates to business, tourism and other sectors? 

The film and television industry site selection process, prior to 2000, was driven primarily by infrastructure and location factors. By 2004, domestic tax incentives were in place in several states, and Georgia’s film business and support service companies declined rapidly. With the passage of the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act in 2008, we’ve seen the economic impact of the industry go from $244 million in 2007 to $7 billion by FY16. The influx of cash into the economy is immediate—there is no delay for roads or factories to be built—and it is also widespread. Georgia’s real estate market has been buoyed by all of the incoming shows that rent warehouses, offices, homes, and apartments, not only as shooting locations, but as housing for crew and production personnel. Certainly film equipment suppliers have been positively impacted, but the film business also supports hotels, restaurants, rental car facilities, dry cleaners, lumber suppliers, antique stores, furniture rental companies, contact lens suppliers, the list goes on and on. Most importantly, the film and television industry has provided tens of thousands of jobs to Georgians—not only in highly skilled, technical positions, but also as caterers, production assistants, painters, hair dressers, accountants, carpenters, drivers, and so on. 

With Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office having been a longtime supporter of AJFF, what do you think is the importance of film festivals to the industry and further what role do you see for AJFF in the community? 

Film festivals provide a sense of community to moviegoers, they raise the profiles of up and coming film makers, and they encourage people to come to Georgia, or even another part of Georgia, which supports the local economy. With the interest in film in Georgia, it is always a benefit to have access to the actual filmmaker, which is a big benefit of attending AJFF. 

What’s your favorite thing about AJFF, and the partnership between AJFF and the State’s film office? 

We couldn’t be prouder of AJFF and its growth and success throughout the years. I can’t imagine having a more well organized or thoughtfully curated festival.  

How can the larger AJFF audience support, get educated about or otherwise get involved in what’s happening with film production in Georgia?  

Of course, attend more festivals! There have been so many that have popped up over the last 10 years, and many provide educational panels as part of the festival experience. Also, the Georgia Film Academy is a great resource to fast track students of all ages into the film industry in Georgia. You can list your home as a shooting location on our website at www.Georgia.org, or you can list yourself or your business to be hired by incoming productions. Or you can buy film tax credits to lower your income tax liability—there are so many ways to be involved. 

Who would you cast to play you in a film?

Kevin Spacey. He’s really good.  


Thank you to Lee for her time this month. AJFF is so privileged to work both with her and her office both to date and in the years to come. Stay tuned to see who we profile next month.