Georgia Film Academy launches pilot certificate program in January

State higher education officials Monday unveiled a statewide program aimed at preparing more Georgians for a career in the state’s multibillion dollar entertainment industry.

The Georgia Film Academy’s pilot certification program will start January 11. State leaders see the film academy as a one-stop site for education, training and job placement for industry novices as well as veterans. The two-course program will give students classroom instruction, hands-on experience with industry-standard equipment and experience working on set with professional production crews. Those who complete the two-course program earn four credits and a production certificate aimed at fast-tracking their entry into film and television work.

Academy officials anticipate having about 100 students initially but that number is expected to grow as the program expands statewide. Classes will be offered through Clayton State University, Columbus State University and Gwinnett Technical College.

In addition to the certificate program, the academy is teaming with Pinewood Studios in Fayette County, where the academy will have a 10-room training facility. The site, which is across the street from the British filmmaker’s complex, will also be the future home of a 15,000-square foot sound stage that will be used by students enrolled in the academy. The Pinewood site is expected to be the first of many “strategic industry partnerships” with the academy.

The academy has been a priority of Gov. Nathan Deal who has repeatedly touted the industry’s $6 billion impact on the state’s economy. The academy grew from Deal’s High Demand Career Initiative launched last year and is now a collaborative effort between the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

Despite Georgia’s booming film industry, studio executives reported having to import production workers from as far as California because of employee shortages in Georgia.

“Film in Georgia is exploding right now,” said Jeff Stepakoff, a Georgia native and 28-year film industry veteran who was tapped in August to lead the academy.

Georgia is third behind Hollywood and New York and fifth worldwide in producing films and television shows. Some 248 film and television shows were produced in Georgia last year. About 100,000 people currently work in film in Georgia.

Some 100,000 people currently work in the film in Georgia, only about a quarter of those people work directly in the industry. The rest are employed as a result of new businesses such as travel agencies, restaurants and dry cleaners that have sprung up to serve filmmakers, Stepakoff said.

Industry growth is expected to generate 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs in Georgia over the next five years, most of which will be on production sets. Jobs in the entertain field are seen as lucrative with entertainment industry workers earning an average of $84,000 a year as set dressers, construction crews and other skills.

However, breaking into the industry can be challenging. Entry-level workers need a specific set of skills that industry experts say can only be achieved by training on industry-standard equipment and experience on professional productions.

Stepakoff, who has developed pilots for major studios and networks and whose work includes “The Winder Years,” and Dawson’s Creek”, likens the academy to a “teaching hospital.” The two-course program will be a “broad soups-to-nuts overview for all the crafts needed to work in the industry.”

“We’re going to bridge the gap of needing the skills and making the contacts, ” Stepakoff said.

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