Don Mandrik has worked on dozens of film projects in Georgia.
August 22, 2011
ATLANTA -- When Hollywood film production companies began to increasingly look Georgia’s way a few years ago, Don Mandrik was waiting for them.
As a young associate, first at Arnall Golden Gregory and then at Miller & Martin, Mandrik had steadily built up his own entertainment law practice, carving out his own niche as someone not only familiar with all facets of film production and finance but also with the new Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, the state’s second and most progressive tax incentive program afforded to film producers, which was signed into law by then-Governor Sonny Perdue in May 2005 and updated in May 2008.
In 2005, Mandrik began working with production companies including Lion’s Gate, Paramount Pictures, MTV Films, and Country Music Television and began to familiarize himself with their various hierarchies.
“If you're a producer working on a certain level of picture and you want to get to someone higher up the food-chain, you're either going to go to him directly…assuming you can…or you've got to find someone who you can go through to get to this person,” explains Mandrik, who graduated from Georgia State University College of Law in 2000. “It got to the point where my direct access to certain people in the industry, because I had worked with or represented them on other projects, became just as valuable to other clients as my ability to actually do the work.
“So for me to go out and market a new production company to try to bring them in as a client, I can say, ‘Hey, not only can I do the work, but I can put you in touch directly with the general counsel at Viacom.’”
His big break came in 2004 when a script he and a client had been shopping drew the interest of an investor and eventually was made into a movie, “Push,” which explored the drug trade in Miami and starred Chaz Palminteri. Mandrik was co-producer on the film.
The more he worked with film producers, the more enticing it became for Mandrik to leave the practice of law altogether and become one of them. He found working on films more fun and spiritually rewarding than “sitting in an office drafting a 60-page contract.” As the caliber of projects he was working on steadily improved and the relationships he was developing become more important, Mandrik knew had had to make a decision to be in or out.
Now Mandrik invests his work and his time in projects. Simply put, if the project happens he gets paid, and if the project doesn’t take off he doesn’t get paid.
It was December 2008 when Mandrik finally left law firm practice and made the leap into film full time. At that time, a number of projects were under way in Georgia in the wake of the recently revamped tax credit plan, which Mandik had been heavily involved with throughout the legislative process.
One of the first projects Mandrik began working on as a producer was a film called “Get Low,” which was filmed in locations throughout Georgia and starred Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray.
So, how does Georgia’s tax credit help lure a film project like “Get Low”? Mandrik explains that for “Get Low,” a film which spent approximately $7 million in Georgia, the state income tax credit is 30 percent or $2.1 million. What does a California-based film production company do with that? They sell it. That’s where Mandrik and the partners he has in his company, Georgia Production Finance, LLC, come in.
“So they got this tax credit that they have and the way that they get value out of it is our company will go out and basically package those credits and sell the credits to companies or individuals in Georgia that collectively have a $2.1 million state income tax liability,” he explains. “So you had a great year, and the net effect is that you owe the State of Georgia $2.1 million in state taxes. I've got this tax credit that's worth $2.1 million. What I'll do is I'll sell you the credit for some discounted price, thereby incentivizing you to buy the credit.”
Mandrik has done similar work for dozens of film projects filmed in Georgia, ranging from small independent films to those produced by the major studios. Since “Get Low,” his company has gotten involved much earlier in the process on the creative side.
“The goal always was to get it to the point where we're getting involved earlier in the process, actually identifying the screenplays, actually being part of the process where we're attaching talent, to be a true producer,” Mandrik says. “And a producer is simply kind of the general contractor of the film project. They find the content or the screen play. They attach all the talent. They raise the money or they get people involved to help them raise money.”
Mandrik is now getting the chance to do just that. He’s co-producer on a film called “Savannah,” the true story of Ward Allen, a white aristocrat and naturalist played by Jim Caviezel, and Christmas Moultrie, a freed slave played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the early 1900's, which is currently in post-production. He’s also working on several other projects in pre-production, including “The Drummer,” a film about Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson with producer Randy Miller, and “Voice From The Stone,” in which Maggie Gyllenhaal is slated to play a nurse who comes to the aid of a boy haunted by malevolent forces.
Working on “Get Low,” Mandrik saw that the real “horsepower” behind the project was the producer, Dean Zanuck. Descended from Hollywood royalty, Zanuck is the grandson of Daryl F. Zanuck, founder of 20th Century Films (later 20th Century Fox), and son of Oscar-winning producer Richard D. Zanuck. Dean Zanuck took home an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature for his work on “”Get Low” (shared with David Gundlach and Aaron Schneider) and is now working with Mandrik on two other films, “Voices From The Stone” and “Liberty Lane.”
Mandrik equates the experience of working on the critically acclaimed “Get Low” with that of a baseball player who wins the World Series in his first season. And he wants to do everything he can to take what he learned on that movie and use it as a blueprint to duplicate the experience with his new projects.
That means finding the right script and pairing it with a blue-chip cast and crew that are truly passionate about the project. That also means striking the difficult balance in structuring independent financing so that it makes sense for investors.
Most of all, Mandrik wants to find that success right here in Georgia, a state with every setting except snow-capped mountains for films to be shot. The interest among producers like Zanuck and Miller is there to shoot many more projects in Georgia, he says. He’s working now to establish a Georgia-based film fund to provide money for producers that want to shoot films in the state.
“The goal in all of this for me has always been truly about building the film industry in Georgia,” he says. “The financing is here. The tax credits are here. The settings are here. Everything is here.”
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