Media companies and movie stars have decried the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but Hollywood is still pouring money into film and TV productions in states seeking to restrict or even outlaw abortion.
Officials from Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and other states that generate billions of dollars a year from the film-and-television business, said they haven’t seen a slowdown in the sector since the ruling was overturned. The companies that own the biggest studios said they will cover abortion-related travel as part of employee health benefits, but haven’t said they’ll alter investment plans.
That reflects the cold economic reality facing celebrities and filmmakers, many of whom have hosted roundtable discussions, attended protests and written editorials urging action to protect abortion rights. Their economic fates are tied to those of states that have been successful in both luring major film-and-television projects with generous tax incentives, and restricting access to abortion.
“We have to wait and see, at some level, if this is a tipping point,” said Paul Swanson, an attorney who chairs the entertainment finance practice at Loeb & Loeb. “Once you start production somewhere, and you have your crew, and you have your locations, it’s a complete nightmare and it’s going to cost you a lot of money to pick up and leave.”
Hollywood’s response to the overturning of Roe is similar to what happened in 2019, when Georgia passed a law criminalizing abortions after fetal heart cells first form a detectable electric signal. Walt Disney Co. and Netflix Inc., and a number of popular actors, threatened to stop working there. For the most part, they didn’t.
Georgia gives qualifying film companies a 20% tax credit when they spend $500,000 or more in the state, which can shave millions of the cost of a movie. Further, it has spent decades encouraging the construction of studio space and building up a workforce that filmmakers need. As a result, it hosts the highest number of feature film projects outside of California and New York, according to research from FilmLA. The entertainment industry generates about $3.8 billion a year in wages in Georgia, data from the Motion Picture Association shows.
Disney, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, Netflix and Amazon.com Inc. are among the companies shooting movies and TV shows in the state. Productions being shot there include the Disney film “Dashing Through the Snow” and Netflix’s reality series “Hack My Home,” according to the Georgia film office. All four companies cover abortion-related travel for employees. None of the companies said they’ll alter filming plans.
The views on whether to stop doing business in places with abortion bans are mixed. Stacey Abrams, the Georgia gubernatorial candidate who is a prominent advocate of abortion access, has said pulling investment from the state mostly hurts entertainment workers who can’t control laws. Some stars have publicly said they won’t work in states where the laws don’t align with their values because it sends a message.
Productions can more easily move before the cameras start rolling, which suggests projects in early development are the ones most likely to be affected. “Eric Larue,” a film based on a play about a school shooting was due to start filming in Arkansas in early July. The state film office received an email from director Michael Shannon’s publicist on July 5 with a press release attached.
Citing a state law banning nearly all abortions in Arkansas, including cases of rape and incest, the release said, “The filmmakers have withdrawn production from the state and will now be shooting in and around Wilmington, North Carolina,” which is less restrictive.
Officials at the Arkansas film office said they hadn’t heard of any other films being pulled in response to the abortion rules. Guy Gaster, director of the North Carolina Film Office, said his department hasn’t seen a surge in moviemakers applying to work in the state and had only heard about the “Eric Larue” move from press reports.
“It’s been business as usual for us,” Gaster said by email.
Companies have faced unintended consequences weighing in on political issues. Earlier this year, when Disney criticized a Florida law restricting discussion of sexual orientation in primary schools, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis terminated a special municipal district the company had operated since the 1960s. Disney hasn’t commented publicly on the situation since.
Bloomberg News reached out to movie studios, talent agencies and press representatives for heavyweight producers and stars to see what they had to say about filming in more-restrictive states. None would discuss what they’re planning or what they think will happen. Some state entertainment offices said filmmakers seeking to submit applications have been bringing up abortion rules, but all said that with the exception of “Eric Larue,” there was no other clear impact.
Leading Hollywood producers and actresses have hosted at least four roundtable discussions, where they talked about how to react to the new abortion rules. Those conversations have mostly centered on donating to groups like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, and encouraging voting. Additionally, they’ve urged celebrities to draw attention to the issue and engage in attention-grabbing acts, like virtual walkouts.
There still may be a long-term impact on the entertainment sector of anti-abortion states, said Swanson, the entertainment lawyer. Other states, and other countries including the UK, Australia and Canada, have strong tax incentive programs that could lure new projects. But that will probably only happen if stars and workers apply pressure.
“These companies, they’ll say what they want to say and a month later we move on to some other thing in the news, the war in Ukraine, or something else, and people move on and that’s it,” he said. “They save the money and they don’t have to change anything.”
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