Georgia’s university system launches initiatives to train students for film industry

Georgia State University's Creative Media Institute will oen this fall.
Georgia State University's Creative Media Institute will oen this fall.
Georgia State University's Creative Media Institute will oen this fall.
Georgia State University’s Creative Media Industries Institute will open this fall.

California and New York have long been the top two shooting locations for film and television production, but Georgia, currently ranked in the number three position, is rapidly gaining momentum.

This didn’t happen overnight or by accident. Under Governor Nathan Deal, the Georgia Department of Economic Development has made the film industry a major priority. Hard work and productive collaborations between the film industry and state government have had a major impact on the state’s success.

But success creates new challenges, and foremost among them is the ability to meet the demand for skilled workers at every level of the profession. Such was the conclusion of a state-commissioned study supervised by the Georgia Board of Regents and spearheaded by Kay Beck, Associate Professor of Communications at Georgia State University.

Information gathered from surveys of and interviews with a wide swath of stakeholders –production assistants, developers (e.g. Jim Jacoby, Atlanta Media Campus & Studios), producers (e.g. Tom Luse, The Walking Dead) — identified the need to develop personnel, both “above the line” (producer, director) and “below the line” (grips, gaffers, wardrobe and makeup services).

At the behest of Governor Deal, Georgia’s university system is building an educational infrastructure to help meet these needs. One effort is the creation of the Georgia Film Academy, which will launch by the end of the year. Led by Cecil Staton, vice-chancellor for Extended Education with the University System of Georgia, the Georgia Film Academy has three main goals.

Cecil Staton will head the  Georgia Film Academy.
Cecil Staton will head the Georgia Film Academy.

“One of the things the Academy will do,” Staton says, “is utilize the resources of the university system and the technical college system to do short-term certificate training for many of the below-the-line positions where needs have been identified. We will also offer programs that use our resources and institutions to train people in every aspect of film and television production,” he says.

Second, Staton plans to create a state-run, work-force office to help connect industry professionals and students who are prepared — and are preparing — for entry-level jobs in the industry.

Finally, he wants to create a capstone experience for the very best students, who will receive hands-on experience on major film and television productions. They will shadow industry professionals in action and eventually produce their own projects in a collaborative environment.

The Georgia Film Academy is conducting searches for an executive director as well as director positions for specific initiatives. There will be a headquarters at an as yet undetermined site, but Staton says there may be multiple sites as well. “We want to be very flexible because this industry is growing in different areas of the state.”

In an equally significant development, Georgia State University will open its Creative Media Industries Institute (CMII) this fall at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Park Place.

Funded by a 22.8 million dollar gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the largest gift GSU has yet received, it will be interdisciplinary, specializing in media production, design, music management, digital publishing and other skill sets that prepare students for careers.

“The goal is to add on pathways, certificate programs and accelerated dual- degree programs so that students still benefit from the core liberal arts training in film or music,” says David M. Cheshier, director of CMII. “They can package their education so they also get some training if they want to be an entrepreneur or if they want to start a production company.”

The idea is to allow students to map majors to suit their goals. For example, a student may start out as a computer science major but have an interest in video gaming and create his own interdisciplinary program of the two related fields.

In the past, breaking into the film industry meant proving yourself in an entry-level position or having an industry insider vouch for your abilities. The Georgia Film Academy and the Creative Media Industries Institute will offer another route and, at the same time, help give Georgia a competitive edge.

“This initiative will be a very strong signal to the industry that we take these workforce challenges very seriously and we’re going to work very hard to meet them,” Cheshier says.

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