To say that the entertainment industry has arrived in Georgia just might be the understatement of the century. Especially when it comes to film – which can mean anything from commercials to music videos to television shows and movies. The entire state, from government and business leaders to private companies, has gone out of its way to welcome the industry here, largely because the potential for individual and collective economic growth is tremendous. But like many industries, breaking into film isn’t usually something you do accidentally or without training.
Enter the Georgia Film Academy (GFA), an initiative of the University System of Georgia (USG), operating in collaboration with USG and Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) institutions as well as key industry partners. This statewide initiative is intended both to provide Georgians with the education and skills necessary to seek gainful employment within the industry and to create a trained, sustainable workforce so that film companies can be sure of a solid local supply of talent.
“This is an exciting time to be in film in Georgia,” says GFA Executive Director Jeff Stepakoff.
He should certainly know. The Atlanta native has 28 years in the entertainment industry, holds countless internationally-recognized credits, and has earned leadership roles in both content creation and production management. He has written for major motion pictures, developed numerous television pilots, worked extensively in entertainment research and digital arts, and sold more than a million copies of his novels.
For now, the GFA is offering two courses: a six-hour workshop focused on the hands-on essentials of all set-related crafts and a full-semester, 12-credit-hour, on-set course. These courses will cover the essentials of working in departments from props to wardrobe to craft services (that’s food and beverage, in industry-speak). Students will also learn basic grip, sound, camera, electric, and light skills, as well as the know-how to become an entry-level production or office assistant or to assist with location management.
Taken in sequence, these two courses lead to both a certificate and a certification, credentials aspiring production assistants and craftpersons can use to begin their careers in film. Plus, because the semester-long course will be held on a live set whenever possible, students will find opportunities to build their experience and to make connections important to their future careers. The academy envisions students being able to take the certificate classes independently or as part of a regular degree program. Pilot classes began in January, and expanded statewide training and full courses are slated to launch this fall.
The GFA staff says one of the most frequent questions they hear is “Where will the GFA be located?” In fact, while all courses are currently face-to-face, the GFA is a “virtual academy.” Its administrative offices operate out of USG headquarters in Atlanta, but the staff will be developing curriculum for and coordinating and overseeing classes at a wide range of locations across the state. Many classes will be held at USG and TCSG locations because they already have the physical buildings, technology, and other resources in place to facilitate coursework. Other physical locations will be determined in conjunction with key industry partners (read: production companies, sound sets, etc.) since these entities, of course, have the resources vital to real-situation learning. The important thing to understand is that the GFA isn’t just one physical location. It’s an entire set of connected programs intended to serve all of Georgia.
“The Academy belongs to all Georgians,” Jeff says. “Our ultimate goal is to have accessible training available throughout the state so that anyone with an interest in working in film will have an opportunity to take advantage of our programs.”
As many Fayette residents know, our county is likely to be home to one of GFA’s first physical locations. The academy has been in serious talks with Pinewood executives for some time and anticipates announcing a “Georgia Film Academy at Pinewood Studios” early in 2016. This location is projected to host some of the pilot programs and offers a great opportunity for local residents to access training right at the beginning of the initiative.
Another point the academy wants to emphasize is that these educational opportunities are intended to be accessible not just in terms of location, but in terms of budget as well. While official costs are not yet available, Jeff assures us they will be affordable because the classes are operated by a public higher education system committed to economic and workforce development, rather than a private company. Further, many – if not most – students will be able to access financial aid for at least some portion of the training.
While the GFA is currently focusing on the 18-hour certificate program because it provides such solid core training in entry-level production skills and techniques, Jeff anticipates offering additional, more specific courses in the future. These might include advanced training in crafts such as set painting, carpentry, hair and make-up, lighting, sound, and more, as well as classes for aspiring screenwriters. Right now, the goal is to begin helping Georgia residents get the training they need to enter into the industry – and provide the work-ready talent film companies need in order to hire locally instead of outsourcing from other regions.
“We’re beginning to build an impressive support system for the film industry in Georgia,” Jeff notes. “And the GFA is a critical part of that effort. We’re committed to this program and to the future of the entertainment industry in our state.”