Q&A: With Jeff Stepakoff at the helm, the Georgia Film Academy begins classes next month

Stepakoff says the academy will help train Georgia students to work in the film industry.
Stepakoff says the academy will help train Georgia students to work in the film industry.
Stepakoff says the academy will help train Georgia students to work in the film industry.
Stepakoff says the academy will help train Georgia students to work in the film industry.

On June 9, ArtsATL posted an article on state of Georgia initiatives for meeting the needs and competitive nature of the rapidly expanding film and television industry, and one of the solutions was the creation of the Georgia Film Academy. 

At the time, Cecil Staton, vice-chancellor for Extended Education with the University System of Georgia, stated that the GFA would offer programs and training to prepare people for every aspect of film and television production, utilizing Georgia’s educational institutions and industry resources. What was particularly surprising was the proposed timeline — a launch in early 2016 — that would put this initiative on the fast track.

With a remarkably fast and aggressive development scenario, the Georgia Film Academy is now a reality with an executive director (Jeff Stepakoff), staff and a website where you can register for the Academy’s initial two-course certification program which begins in January 2016. 

Stepakoff says classes begin in January.
Stepakoff says classes begin in January.

Stepakoff’s appointment is particularly appropriate because he is a Georgia native with a formidable resume that balances industry experience with academic achievement. With a 30-year career in the film and television industry in Los Angeles — as well as a professorship at Kennesaw State University, where he teaches screenwriting and other industry practices — Stepakoff is well aware of what the state needs to make film and TV production a viable and permanent local business. And the Georgia Film Academy is poised to play a major role in making this happen.

“Our initial goals are to meet the high demand careers that are needed on set right now,” Stepakoff stressed in a phone interview. And one of the biggest challenges for Georgians in the film and TV industry is to be competitive with Hollywood-based professionals. The simple fact is that there are not enough highly skilled on-set workers to meet the current demand for everything from sound mixers and camera operators to make-up artists and set designers. The mission of the academy is to address and resolve this need. Stepakoff recently talked with ArtsATL and provided details about his objectives.

ArtsATL: What is the relationship between the GFA and Georgia’s educational systems?

Jeff Stepakoff: The Georgia Film Academy is a collaborative effort of the USG (the University System of Georgia) and the TCSG (Technical College System of Georgia). You might say that the Georgia Film Academy is the umbrella organization coordinating the [state’s] film and television workforce development, which covers both institutions.

ArtsATL: What is the focus of the initial course offerings?

Stepakoff: They are very much hands-on, practical classes. Students will be touching and holding the professional equipment they’ll be using on set. The first class is a soup-to-nuts comprehensive exposing students to all the basic crafts. The second class is a full semester on-set where students join the Georgia Film Academy crew and train as part of a professional or semi-professional production. 

ArtsATL: In addition to offering on-set production training, do you foresee developing courses that focus on other areas such as screenwriting, directing and producing?

Stepakoff: Our initial goals are to meet the high-demand careers that are needed on set right now. But yes, we very much intend to support the above the line crafts as well. The Georgia Film Academy is really committed to doing two things right now. One, jobs for Georgians. We want to get our people onto the film sets and get them working on these high demand production jobs. In addition, we are committed to building a permanent and sustainable entertainment industry in Georgia. And we do that by supporting independent productions, by supporting our local talent, our content creators and producing the work of Georgia based screenwriters. 

ArtsATL: Can you talk a little bit about the enrollment process and the classroom locations?

Stepakoff: Our first three schools are offering pilot classes for our inaugural season. The classes will start at two USG institutions — Clayton State and Columbus State — and one TCSG institution, Gwinnett Tech. Any USG student can enroll through Clayton State and get credit at their home institution for Georgia Film Academy courses. So if you’re a Georgia State student, a Kennesaw State student or a Georgia Tech student, for example, you can enroll through Clayton State. Just go to our website and click the button for Clayton State. You can enroll as a transient student and credits will come back to your home institution. Anyone in the state of Georgia or even the United States or anywhere in the world can register for Georgia Film Academy courses. There’s a model for everyone to take our courses, and become part of the film and television workforce here. 

ArtsATL: But course offerings are not available online and are only available as live classroom instruction for the present, correct?

Stepakoff: That’s right. These classes will be taught at our university, college and industry partners’ sites, and we expect Pinewood Studios to be one of those partners. We are in the very last stages of finalizing that partnership for classes at our Pinewood Studios school.

ArtsATL: Do you foresee a permanent location for the GFA at some point?

Stepakoff: For now and the foreseeable future, the GFA is a virtual institution. 

ArtsATL: This is an exciting time for the Georgia film and TV industry, and you seem like the ideal person to lead the Georgia Film Academy.

Stepakoff: I have one foot in the academic world here in Georgia and one foot in the professional film and television work out in L.A. But being from Georgia, this is really a golden opportunity to help build a permanent industry here so that my children — my teenage daughters — don’t have to go out to L.A. to pursue a career in film and television. They can pursue a career right here in their own state. 

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