From Hollywood – To Georgia
28 May, 2015
From Hollywood – To Georgia
Why the Government Must Offer Tax Rebates to Attract Foreign Film Production

“For a country of five million people, Georgia has an incredibly rich history of filmmaking, so the idea of collaborating with Georgian filmmakers is very exciting for me. For me, this presents a great opportunity for artistic growth, and I think that by working together, we can accomplish great things.”

“I don’t just want to live here as a guest or as a tourist. I will be here
for a long time and I want to be able to contribute something to Georgia’s growth, especially in the field of cinema,” _ says American photographer and filmmaker Thomas Burns. Georgian Journal invited him to share his experience of working in Hollywood and a recent decision to move to Georgia:

– I lived in Georgia in the late 1990s and went back to the U.S. in 2000 to attend a master’s degree film program at Stanford University. One of my films won a Student Academy Award, and that gave me an opportunity to begin working in Hollywood once I finished my studies.
In Hollywood I trained under some of the best directors of photography in the world. I spent ten years on the sets of major feature films (Die Hard 4, Where the Wild Things Are), top-rated television serials (CSI, Dexter), and commercials (Porsche, McDonalds, Capital One). It was a very intense learning environment, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with filmmakers of that level.

“The main reason more foreign films and commercials don’t shoot here is that they have to pay 18 percent VAT, which is a huge expense for a movie budget. Most countries offer tax rebates to attract foreign film production, while Georgia charges them 18 percent more instead. The sooner the government realizes this, the sooner we can start having bigger-budget foreign films shot here.”

– Why did you decide to come and later move to Georgia?

– I always wanted to return to the Caucasus, and in 2010 I received a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship to produce a collection of photographs there. I spent a year in the region and had an exhibition at the Karvasla Gallery in Tbilisi.
From a professional standpoint, I wanted to work with filmmakers who have a perspective on filmmaking that differs from the models that are common in Hollywood. Georgians are a very creative people, particularly in the visual arts, and the potential of Georgian cinema is tremendous. For a country of five million people, it has an incredibly rich history of filmmaking, so the idea of collaborating with Georgian filmmakers is very exciting. For me, this presents a great opportunity for artistic growth, and I think that by working together, we can accomplish great things. I believe the Georgian film industry will soon enter a period of major growth, and I want to be part of that exciting process. Georgia would be a great place for American and European filmmakers to shoot their films, and foreign film production could give a serious boost to the Georgian economy. The main reason more foreign films and commercials don’t shoot here is that they have to pay 18 percent VAT, which is a huge expense for a movie budget. Most countries offer tax rebates to attract fo­reign film production, while Georgia charges them 18 percent more instead. The sooner the government realizes this, the sooner we can start having bigger-budget foreign films shot here.

– What are you doing and what are you going to do in Georgia in the future?

– As a director of photography (DoP) I collaborate with Georgian filmmakers to shoot their projects, primarily commercials and films. A DoP isn’t just a camera operator, but actually the main visual designer of a film. It’s very inspiring for me to work with Georgian directors to design the visual architecture of their projects. So far I’ve been primarily shooting commercials, which has been a great way to get to know Georgian film crews and see how they work.
I’m also in the process of opening Georgia’s first professional color grading facility in Tbilisi (www.spectrapost.com). When a film’s editing process is complete, all motion picture projects undergo a process called color grading to refine the image. It’s a very creative process that plays a very large role in setting the mood of the film. Right now, most Georgian commercials and films are sent to Europe for color grading, but Georgian filmmakers aren’t always able to fly to Europe to take part in this process. I have a lot of experience in this field and want to give Georgians the opportunity to color correct their films here, in Georgia. Georgian filmmakers will soon be able to color their films with Hollywood-trained colorists!
We also plan to invite experienced colleagues from Hollywood to work on our bigger projects, and we plan to host master-classes and workshops so that Georgian filmmakers can learn about the process of color grading.
When I’m not shooting or teaching, I also study the Georgian language. I don’t just want to live here as a guest or as a tourist. I will be here for a long time and I want to be able to contribute something to Georgia’s growth, especially in the field of cinema. I think it’s important to give back to the community that one lives in.

– What impresses you most about Georgia?

– One of the things I love most about Georgians is the role that family and community plays in their lives. Community is important to people in every country, of course, but here it is nurtured and celebrated in a way that I find very attractive.
As someone who lived in Georgia during the late 1990s, I’m also very impressed with how quickly Georgia has changed. I often speak with Georgians who don’t see how far you’ve come, and I often have to remind them, what it was like then during that difficult period. I suppose these things are often easier to see from the outside. The change was clear since the first moment I stepped off the plane in Tbilisi: Georgians smile so much more now, and that warms my heart.

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