Opportunities abound but experts say training is the key
For those with a longing to be part of the movie industry, there’s probably never been a better time to do so and still live right here in DeKalb County.
Opportunities to be involved in filmmaking in big and small ways have been growing over the last decade or so. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Georgia film industry ranks only behind those in California and New York. The agency states there are approximately 3,000 industry-related businesses and more than 1,900 production companies in the state, responsible for more than $7 billion in economic impact in the 2016 fiscal year.
In February, 34 movies and TV productions were being filmed in Georgia, according to one source that track the state’s moviemaking activity. And the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Guide Office listed on its website Feb. 21 the following help wanteds:
- Feature film Honey 4 seeking a location manager, production designer and first assistant director
- Starz Survivor’s Remorse seeking extras
- Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reboot searching for makeover candidates
DeKalb County is developing a link to that industry with studios opening and many DeKalb venues being chosen for filming locations. Third Rail Studios in Doraville is one of several film studios located in DeKalb County and Atlanta. Recently multiple sources reported that Blackhall Studio is planning to open a $70 million production facility near I-285 and Bouldercrest Road and that the movie Godzilla 2 will be its first production there this spring.
Jobs in the film industry are wide ranging, from the obvious out front roles as actors and extras, to behind-the-scene positions that are often lesser known such as grips (lighting and rigging technicians) and gaffers (chief electricians). However, ancillary positions in moviemaking are diverse: catering, set designers, drivers, production assistants, location scouts, drivers, hair and makeup, construction, etc.
Recently Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Clarkston announced an entertainment-based non-credit program through the Georgia Film Academy and Movie Magic.
The college is offering continuing education classes in film and movie production assistant through which an individual can earn a certificate.
The 64-hour course, with a fee of $649, covers production planning, on-set skills in lighting, grip, sound, camera, art, make-up, wardrobe, script supervision, locations, craft services. The role and function of the director and assistant directors also will be covered. “Classes will be split between lecture and hands-on learning,” states an online description of the class.
“We have beefed up our courses to help individuals get those jobs on the set,” said Gwendolyn Syphoe, business and industry specialist with Georgia Piedmont Technical College.
“They are bringing all these studios [here] but who’s going to work there,” she said. “That’s one reason we decided to beef up our training.”
Syphoe said students who have enrolled in the production assistant classes range from ages 18 to 60.
“You don’t have to be 18, you can be as old as 60,” she said adding that the production assistant course could give direction to those seeking changes in career or a new path.
The average pay rate for production assistants on set (non-union) is $22 an hour/$150-$200 a day, she said.
“A college degree is not necessary for a job such as production assistant,” Syphoe said.
There’s also a new sewing class that may be beneficial to those interested in doing freelance work, or alternation work on set; other classes offer education in lift truck operations, occupational safety and health, and other on-set skills to give enrollees a chance to network, earn certificates and build a resume tailored to the entertainment industry.
“It’s the right time now,” said Syphoe.
Dharma Jackson is a Decatur resident who has been making a living in the television and movie industry and is now sharing her knowledge with others. She’s teaching Georgia Piedmont’s TV and Movie Production 101 class.
“Lots of people do not know about what’s available in the industry,” she said.
Jackson has worked as an actress, producer, production assistant and location manager but pointed out there are also opportunities working live shows such as trade shows, which she said she’s also done. She said she operates a forklift a trade shows at the Georgia World Congress Center. For the Microsoft show in fall 2016 at the center, Jackson said 250 workers were needed but only 150 were hired. Training in forklift operation and knowledge of safety regulations are required for the jobs, she added.
In her production class, she said she crams her “16 years of experience and knowledge into a semester. You can’t bet that.”
Metro Atlanta is becoming a demanding film/movie market.
“My phone rings all the time,” she said adding that she turns down more projects than she can do.
However Jackson cautions those with an interest in the industry that the work isn’t easy and the hours are long.
“It’s not a nine to five,” she said.
And while opportunities abound now, there’s a window that won’t always be as wide open, Jackson said.
“It’s open now, it won’t be open a year and a half from now,” she said, adding people with skills and experience and knowledge about the growth of the industry in Georgia are relocating to the South.
Stone Mountain resident and actor Henry Louis Adams, who’s made a name for himself in the industry as an actor in true crime dramas, said this is an ideal time to establish oneself in the Georgia film industry.
“Now is the time,” said Adams. “You have people moving [here] from L.A. and New York. If you are going to get into it, get out there.”
Adams, who does most of his work in the South, said he’s seen people who come on set to do work as extras transition to working as production assistants.
“This industry here in Atlanta once you get in you are in,” he said.
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