How Atlanta’s Office of Film and Entertainment Helps Filmmakers

With the movie industry continuing to grow throughout Georgia, it’s no surprise that the state’s capital in particular has become a hotbed for filming.

In order to better serve the influx of filmmakers and studios wanting to film in Atlanta, and create a stable infrastructure for the local community, Mayor Kasim Reed created the Office of Film and Entertainment in 2013. Over the past three years, this office has streamlined the permitting process for studios, courted ancillary businesses from other industry hubs, and created a 24-hour hotline to inform city residents about how filming might temporarily affect their neighborhoods.

As of February 2016, the office has been headed up by director Christopher Hicks, whose previous experience includes roles as the senior vice president and head of urban music at Warner Chappell and, more recently, executive vice president of Def Jam Records. During his time in the music industry, Hicks helped nurture Atlanta-based talents like Usher and T.I., and helped guide the likes of Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, and Justin Bieber to greater success. Still acclimating himself to his new position, Hicks brings entertainment industry experience to serve the city he’s called home for the past two decades.

“I have a track record of creative business development,” he tells Backstage. “I feel the mayor is familiar with and understands the nature of some of the things I’ve done and what my thought process is. As it pertains to this office, it’s a great opportunity to implement some of the ideas we discussed, as well as shore up what he’s already got going on. What we are trying to create is synergy to help the creative community here connect the dots. There’s a way to do that and I feel like we’re making tremendous inroads to doing that quickly.”

Hicks says the biggest difference between his new job and managing pop stars is who he is serving and what motivates his decisions.

“I come from the private sector and I think this public sector office can benefit from some of my insight,” he says. “When you operate in the private sector the common denominator is greed. When you work in the public sector you’re working for the greater good of the community and the people, and you have to keep that at the forefront of your decision making. Because you are their voice, you’re not able to move as nimbly as you are accustomed to. That doesn’t make it a bad process, it just makes it a more informative process—giving them information and receiving feedback to try and set forth something that’s in the best interest of all the parties involved.”

By continuing the efforts already set forth by the office, Hicks says he looks to continue driving the mayor’s vision while also finding new ways to create film industry opportunities for the city’s residents.

“Here in Atlanta and throughout the state, there’s been this sweeping infrastructure built to accommodate the workload that has come here,” says Hicks. “As a developer and a 20-year resident of the city, I don’t think anything moves the needle of opportunity like success itself, where people can see themselves in that success. To watch [someone] plant a seed of something and watch it go around the world is something [to] emulate and be inspired by. I want to really push for some seed-planting moments for this community because then we can really galvanize the opportunities for people who produce, write screenplays, direct, and run their own production companies.”

When it comes to Atlanta-based actors and filmmakers looking to catch the attention of someone who can help them take their careers to the next level, Hicks suggests utilizing virtual tools available to anyone from any city.

“The Internet has introduced vast opportunities for everyone in the creative community,” he says. “If you can do it, there’s a way to showcase what you do and get it seen and recognized without asking permission. Everything that has happened in the City of Atlanta from an entertainment standpoint, I don’t think we necessarily got any permission. It was a lot of forward-thinking individuals, people who were very comfortable and confident about what they were doing, who really weren’t receptive to ‘no’ as an answer for what they wanted to focus on. That’s how the city became galvanized and that’s how that continuum is going to happen.”

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