Georgia College’s first course in moviemaking prepares students to work in the state’s $7 billion industry, dubbed “Hollywood of the South.”
Only five of 30 schools in the University System of Georgia (USG) – and four schools in the Technical College System of Georgia – have partnered with the Georgia Film Academy (GFA) to offer “Introduction to On-Set Film Production.”
“Georgia College needed to be teaching film. It was always on our wish list,” said Dr. Karen Berman, chair and artistic director of theatre and dance. “We got in on the ground floor, and we weren’t sure how it was going to work, but it’s been growing with us.”
“I think our students are very motivated, and they have great work ethic,” Berman said. “Now, being able to learn actual skills in the craft of moviemaking, they are going to be unstoppable.”
In 2008, former Gov. Sonny Perdue created a tax incentive to lure movie production to the state and generate thousands of jobs. By 2010, more than 100 movies were filmed instate, a rise of 400 percent. By 2015, the economic impact from movies was $7.2 billion, according to Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment.
Georgia now ranks third in the nation for moviemaking, behind Hollywood and New York. More than 245 films and television programs have been shot here. In the next three-to-five years, the industry is expected to create up to 5,000 new jobs with median salaries of $84,000, Berman said.
Blockbusters like “The Hunger Games” trilogy were filmed in Georgia. In recent years, Macon hosted several movies: “42,” “Trouble with the Curve,” “Need for Speed” and “The Fifth Wave.” This year, according to Project Casting, nine movies will be filmed instate, including “Avengers: Infinity War,” “The Darkest Minds,” “Den of Thieves” and “Misfortune.”
The attraction is availability of cheap land, good tax incentives and a varied landscape, said Bryan Krass, the GFA instructor who teaches film at Georgia College.
“You’ve got mountains. You go to Columbus, and you get more open fields. You go southeast, and you’ve got the coast. Swamps in the south. The Southeast is pretty diverse,” Krass said.
The only thing lacking was a qualified, instate workforce. GFA was created to meet that need. The academy opened in 2015 and graduated its first class in December – 209 students with job-ready certificates.
“If you don’t have a labor force, it’s hard to attract movies,” Krass said. “It’s always been an industry where, if you don’t know anybody, it’s hard to get that first job. The Georgia Film Academy tears down that barrier.”
“We give students the tools they need, skills-set-wise, to survive their first day on set,” he said. “If you can do that, you can make it to day two. If you survive day two, you can make it to day three.”
Senior management major Christopher Smith takes the film course. He lives in Atlanta, where many movies are filmed. Acting is a side-passion, so Smith wanted to learn what goes on behind the camera.
“Being around colleagues who enjoy and are interested in being a part of the film industry is really cool,” said Smith, who aspires to be an executive producer.
“I like the creativity and open-mindedness of it,” he said. “The filming industry is all about making conscious decisions and your ability to trust those decisions. I believe we all need that in any workplace.”
The introductory, six-credit course covers all the basics students need to become production assistants or camera, lighting, grip and electrical workers. The weekly class is six hours long and mostly hands-on.
Basic protocol is taught: using a walky-talky, lighting, grip work, audio and camera techniques. Students also learn about state and federal regulations, finding movie locations, hiring security, arranging parking and casting.
After this course, students compete for summer internships or take two additional classes at GFA. The academy is located at Pinewoods Atlanta Studios on 700 acres outside Fayetteville. The multi-million-dollar complex was built in 2014 with 18 sound stages that movie companies rent. One stage is an exact replica of the company’s famed 007 James Bond stage in Shepperton, England.
Movies like this summer’s “Spiderman Homecoming” and “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” were shot at Pinewood Atlanta Studios. Last year’s “Captain America: Civil War” was too.
Internships on movie sets – as well as access to $100,000 worth of real film equipment – are what make this opportunity exciting, Berman said. Equipment includes professional HD cameras, tripods, dollies, digital recorders, wireless microphones, lighting gear and a full grip package of hardware, speed rails and nets.
Senior mass communication major Maggie Foster of Marietta discovered she likes using a counter-weighted camera crane called a ‘jib.’
“I never would’ve known I’d enjoy using it had I not been able to try it in class,” Foster said. “We’re really immersing ourselves in what it means to be a proper member of a film crew.”
Foster hopes to be an assistant director someday. But, if that dream doesn’t materialize, she said this course gives her confidence to easily adapt to any job.
Senior rhetoric major Nicholas Landon of Macon wants to own a production company. He took the class for networking connections, not expecting to learn much.
“As it happens, I’ve learned a ton about the way the film industry works,” Landon said. “This class has made me more confident walking onto a movie set.”
Landon enjoys using production-level cameras, executing shots the way they’re done in professional movies. The class taught him how to break into the movie business and keep working in an industry where jobs last only a short time.
“I know more than I ever have about the film industry,” he said, “and that’s prepared me to go out and be competent anywhere I go.”
Getting jobs in the movie industry is mostly based on reputation, but “once you’re in, you’re in,” Krass said.
One GFA student interned on the set of “Spiderman” last summer. Another worked on the set of “Moonshine” and, four days after filming ended, got offered a job.
“That’s how quickly it can happen,” Krass said. “Film is one of the last few meritocracies in the world. If you’re good, you’re good. And if you’re good, you’ll work.”