Sandy Springs woman leaves teaching behind for a career in the film industry

Torrie Gray left her job as a music teacher to attend the Georgia Film Academy and pursue a career in cinema. Courtesy of Torrie Gray

Credit: Courtesy of Torrie Gray

Credit: Courtesy of Torrie Gray

Torrie Gray left her job as a music teacher to attend the Georgia Film Academy and pursue a career in cinema. Courtesy of Torrie Gray

Torrie Gray went from being a music teacher who watched movies to unwind, to leaving her job to pursue to a career in movies.

Gray, who grew up in Columbus, studied music education at the University of Mobile.

“Music was a big part of my childhood,” said Gray, 27, who now resides in Sandy Springs. “My dad is a musician, and I was in lessons at a young age. I loved student teaching in college and was excited to lead my own classes.”

She began working as a music teacher at an elementary school in August 2019. However, she soon learned that teaching wasn’t all she hoped it’d be.

“I had a burnout experience pretty quickly,” said Gray. “There were lots of stressors, from low pay to violent situations in the classroom, and witnessing situations that kids shouldn’t have to deal with. School is a safe place, yet, in that situation, it didn’t feel as safe as it should be. It created a lot of anxiety.”

Desperate to escape her vocational reality, Gray purchased an AMC movie pass and began going to the movie theater nearly every day after school. From “The Rise of Skywalker” to “Little Women,” she found herself transfixed by every detail of the films, especially the settings. She began to feel a nudge to look at professional options within the film industry.

Gray found the Georgia Film Academy online. It’s a professional organization that partners with universities across the state that offer courses in film, television, digital entertainment, esports, and game development. Gray knew the film industry is hard to break into and GFA is designed to train film workers and help them jump into the industry.

When her 1-year teaching contract ended, she left education, became a nanny and enrolled at GFA. She took specialty courses in the art department at Trilith Studios, a film and production studio south of Atlanta, for a year then applied for an internship. She was chosen to work on the set of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

“I would only be there for 10 days, and the hope was that I’d make a mark and they wouldn’t want to let me go,” said Gray. “Luckily, they kept me and when it was over, I left with a great mix of opportunity, contacts, and training.”

Gray worked as a production assistant. Her tasks included getting lunches, taking meeting notes for executives, delivering packages, and meeting with various departments. The assignment lasted four months, enough time to confirm Gray was right where she belonged.

From there, Gray continued to get hired, from movie to movie for monthslong stints. Over time, her role as a production assistant expanded. While many of her duties stayed the same, she also began cutting and printing graphics, helping with props and set decoration, all things she was trained to do at GFA.

“Bouncing to project after project keeps things interesting for sure,” said Gray. “But when I was a teacher, I was in a classroom all day that had no windows. There was no change of scenery. Now my office is always changing. It keeps things fresh and very exciting.”

As a planner, it can be stressful for Gray to not know what job is next, but she often works with the same crew and usually gets a few weeks’ notice about the upcoming work schedule. She’s learned to roll with the punches and be financially savvy.

Gray’s ultimate dream is to be a set decorator or art coordinator.

“I have always had an eye for movie settings and enjoyed those details,” said Gray. “I enjoy interior design and deciding on the entire look of a room. It’s a well-respected role and I can see myself doing it for a long time.”

Thinking back a few years to the woman sitting in the movie theater, Gray is grateful she took the leap.

“I’m a determined person, so when something doesn’t sit right, if a value of mine is compromised, I make sure I get to a place where I’m happy and enjoying my days,” said Gray. “I know many who are stuck, and I know it’s so hard to make a change. I’m single with no kids, which made it easier for me, but I don’t think anything would’ve stopped me. My mom has always said I’m stubborn, but in a good way.”

Currently, Gray is working as an art and set decoration production assistant on the set of Netflix’s “Cobra Kai.”

“I don’t regret teaching, but I’m so glad I changed a situation that wasn’t right for me. And if I can make the leap, others can, too.”