Training Georgians to go from watching movies to working on them


Training Georgians to go from watching movies to working on them

An emerging industry. Georgia is home to some of the biggest television and film productions in world, from TV’s “The Walking Dead” to “The Hunger Games” film franchise. Local and state governments in Georgia — who provide lucrative tax incentives to film companies — see the industry as a significant job creator now and in the future. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will continue to analyze whether job creation measures up to the lucrative tax breaks the state grants the film industry. To read some of the AJC’s coverage of the film industry, go to

Georgia’s rapidly growing film industry has more jobs than qualified workers — so much so that the industry is importing employees from other states.

To empower locals to compete, Clayton State University will start a program in February to prepare people for behind-the-scenes positions in movies and television.

The program is the latest in a broader push by Georgia universities and colleges with film-related programs to tailor their classroom theory to the real-world needs of Hollywood. Rich tax incentives are creating thousands of jobs in Georgia. The film and television industry spent more than $3 billion here last year on productions, according to state estimates. There’s an expectation that the industry will spend even more in the state this year, potentially creating even more jobs that will need to be filled. And the state hopes to have an even steadier string of film production in the pipeline once the largest film studio east of Hollywood is built in Fayette County next year.

The Clayton State program stands apart because it’s an urgent response to an increasingly urgent need. It’s a 24-week, apprenticeship-style program that will put students on production sets alongside industry veterans for hands-on technical experience. The goal: get metro Atlantans qualified to get jobs as grips, best boys, costumers, stage set builders, makeup artists and the like.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out how best to serve the market,” said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film Music & Digital Entertainment office. “It will be a couple of years before we see the fruits of what all this means.”

Clayton State’s program is modeled after New Mexico’s, which was among the first states to develop a homegrown media industry from scratch, according to Barton Bond, a 45-year industry veteran who helped develop the New Mexico program and will be one of the Clayton instructors.

While the conferring of a digital film technician certificate carries some weight, it’s the access to industry insiders that’s most significant, Bond said.

Scores of filmmakers have come to Georgia in the past half-decade, lured by hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits. In 2007, when Georgia first offered tax incentives to lure more filmmakers, the economic impact on Georgia was $200 million. It has since risen to nearly $4 billion annually.

The influx of film and other entertainment projects is expected to generate thousands of jobs in Georgia in coming years, most of them in metro Atlanta.

British film production giant Pinewood Studios will open the first phase in January with five sound stages and about 400,000 square feet of space at its 288-acre complex in Fayette County. The $107 million, 10-year deal is projected to create 3,400 high-paying jobs and lead to the spinoff of another 3,000 jobs in metro Atlanta.

With an 8-percent unemployment rate, metro Atlanta has an abundance of available workers who could be retrained, said Jeff Humphreys, director of economic forecasting at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. The recession sidelined construction workers, real estate agents, finance and information technology gurus, and others with skills that could transfer to a Hollywood film set.

“This is an industry that has grown rapidly over the last couple of years. So it may have already sopped up the supply of workers that has a perfect match (for film industry) skill sets,” Humphreys said.

In the last half-decade, more than 70 equipment, lighting, catering, casting and trucking companies have moved to or expanded in Georgia. In the last three years alone, 11 film and television studio facilities have announced plans to relocate or expand here. About 30 productions — feature films, television series and television movies — are currently filming in Georgia. Pinewood has a large project starting in January and will need about 2,500 workers. For every “James Bond” or “Harry Potter” blockbuster, there’s a need for hundreds of crew members.

Some veteran film industry educators applauded Clayton’s program.

“They’re definitely taking the lead,” said Fran Burst, a faculty member at the Art Institute of Atlanta, which has more than 300 students enrolled in its Digital Filmmaking & Video Production program.

“I think it’s great,” said Kay Beck, director of the digital arts entertainment lab at Georgia State University, which has about 2,000 students pursuing film-related degrees. “I’m really glad to hear about what they’re doing. The more activity, the better.”

Clayton State’s inaugural class will have about 80 students in day and night classes. The school is negotiating for space outside of its Morrow campus.

The program is a collaboration between the school and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 479. IATSE is the largest union representing workers in the entertainment field. Union officials approached Winkler about creating the program after noticing workers were being brought in from North Carolina, California, Louisiana and other states to work on projects.

Nianne Mullis recently attended an open house about the program. Mullis, a licensed massage therapist and commercial photographer, wants to break into the industry. She’d like to create stills of film and television shows. But she’s realistic and willing to work in any aspect of the field.

“It doesn’t matter what capacity, as long as I was involved in the creative process — making films, television programs, even commercials,” said the 58-year-old, who lives in the Gainesville area.

Film crew members were on hand at the event to speak about the business, something Mullis found especially encouraging.

“They were approachable and informative,” she said. “It seems as if you did your part — being on time, working hard, making a good effort, learning as best you can — that that doesn’t go unnoticed. That’s important. It means you’re appreciated. … I like how those dynamics are.”

View Comments 0

Weather and Traffic