The Athens Banner-Herald
ATHENS — Films shot in Athens and throughout Georgia in recent years hired an imported technical workforce to staff the productions. But a new partnership between industry and education groups in Athens might create a homegrown labor pool to feed Georgia’s growing film industry.
Film Athens, a nonprofit centered around promoting the film industry in the area, announced this week the opening of an office with the Athens Community Career Academy, located on the H.T. Edwards campus. Beginning in 2014, the nonprofit will organize classes about all aspects of filmmaking for Clarke County School District high school students. Eventually, through the career academy’s partnership with Athens Technical College, Athens will boast a college program able to create a local legion of grips, sound engineers and lighting technicians who can become the future workforce for Athens’ burgeoning film industry.
Athens Technical College Executive Vice President Dan Smith said he’s spoken with studio and production company heads that have shot TV shows and films in Georgia. Smith said they all say something is missing here: a qualified workforce.
“If we can create the staff that they need, it will reduce the cost (studios) will have to spend,” attracting more productions to shoot in Georgia, Smith said. Film and TV production in Georgia has been booming since 2008, when the state Legislature passed one of the country’s sweetest tax incentives for the film industry. According to Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, the number of dues-paying union film technicians in Atlanta tripled since the incentive went into effect.
One of biggest challenges to maintaining that pace of growth is staffing productions with enough local crew, said Georgia Film Office Communications Manager Stefanie Paupeck. Education is a key component to building industry infrastructure already underway in the state, she said, citing two recently-opened studios that can train staff in-house.
Paupeck said state universities and private colleges offer undergraduate degrees in film, but she didn’t know of any project that sought to train high school students. She said Georgia workers can effectively staff 10 simultaneous productions, five times as many as it could five years ago, yet a bigger labor pool is a necessity.
“It’s always great to have homegrown talent,” Paupeck said.
The career academy offers high school students joint enrollment opportunities, called pathways, in fields like accounting or health care, earning the students college credit for their studies.
By spring 2015, Smith estimates, the curriculum for a college credit-earning film pathway will be fully established.
Smith envisions the program producing the technicians needed to perform filmmaking’s nuts-and-bolts tasks - grips and gaffers, for example.
The curriculum being developed at ATC is based on industry standard skill sets needed for employment in filmmaking, Smith said.
Film Athens Director Danielle Robarge Rusk, though, said the nonprofit will kick off the program in Spring 2014 with workshops offering students a chance to whet their appetites for a career in the industry.
“We want to teach everything involved in film,” Robarge Rusk said. “From pre-production like writing, budgeting and storyboarding ... to production, technical classes and definitely editing, distribution, the whole gamut. We’ve had a lot of local filmmakers in the past express interest in teaching, and there are people in Atlanta we can work with.”
This early form of the film pathway won’t be “workforce training,” Robarge Rusk said, but a way to show the variety of work opportunities in the film industry.
The career academy already hosts a lab filled with digital film equipment and editing computers previously used in broadcast video classes.
But that equipment at the career academy isn’t quite what’s used in filmmaking currently, Robarge Rusk said.
But Smith confirmed plans to retrofit some ATC storage facilities as a teaching studio.
William Jackson, business agent for IATSE Local 824, the Athens-arm of the union covering technical work in the film industry, called the partnership “something we can definitely use in town.”
“Georgia is now No. 3, with some people claiming it’s No. 2, for filmmaking in the country. The tax incentive has greatly increased Georgia’s filmmaking; it’s still coming and hopefully will stay as far as jobs go,” Jackson said. “(The program) sounds good. It’s something we’d like to be involved with. And we are also ready and waiting for the films to come to town.”