University System of Georgia Studies Demand for Georgia Film Academy

Lucy Adams

Monday, October 6th, 2014

The University System of Georgia trademarked the name Georgia Film Academy as a proactive measure in its process of determining whether the state of Georgia has need – and the exact nature of the need – for such an institution. Almost anywhere a person travels in Georgia, he treads where film crews have worked, from the remote banks of Snake Creek near Whitesburg, where scenes from Fried Green Tomatoes were filmed, to busy Chippewa Square in Savannah, where Forest Gump famously waited for the bus, and other places across the state. The big screen and television have displayed the scenery and sounds of our natural spaces, big cities and small towns. It is a point of pride.

It is also big business that has grown exponentially since the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act was signed into law in 2005 and updated in 2008. At its core, the act provides tax incentives to qualifying entertainment entities choosing to complete some or all of their production in Georgia. California aside, Georgia ranks fourth in the nation for production spending within its borders. The film and television industry spent $1.4 billion on 158 productions during fiscal year 2014, generating an economic impact of $5.1 billion. The number of projects in Georgia is expected to double in the next three years.

On July 1, a High Demand Career Initiative meeting focused on the growth of the entertainment industry in Georgia and the need to develop a workforce to accommodate that growth. This discussion set in motion a study by the University System of Georgia to assess industry needs, current workforce capabilities, and gaps in current education and training curriculums available within the technical college system and the university system. Other states’ activities in this vein are also being reviewed. “The goal is to find ways to use University System resources to address those workforce needs,” says Cecil Staton, Vice Chancellor for Extended Education, University System of Georgia.

The state’s and the University System’s response has been quick. The General Assembly appropriated a grant to fund preliminary gathering of data. Dr. Kay Beck, Associate Professor and Director of the Digital Arts and Entertainment Laboratory at Georgia State University, in collaboration with Lee Thomas, Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, developed a survey instrument distributed in August to an excess of 400 entertainment and digital media companies. Staton plans to have results of the surveys compiled by December 1.

At the same time, the University System of Georgia is in conversation with the Technical College System of Georgia to determine how they together can meet workforce needs identified by the survey. “This is a little unusual in state government,” says Staton of the cooperative effort. “It’s a little outside the box. This is an exciting business industry that dramatically embraces Georgia. We want the industry to know that Georgia is open for business.”

Those employed by the film industry earn an average annual salary of $84,000. Providing citizenry with industry specific work-ready skills is a win for Georgia and for the entertainment industry.

Everyone involved agrees that a singular, focused response to the data will serve Georgia better than if multiple bodies tackle it alone. Until all of the incoming information is assembled and interpreted, however, a clear definition of the Georgia Film Academy is difficult to outline. Staton says it will not negate any of the film and digital entertainment programs already in existence in the state. It will complement them, as well as meet needs that those curriculums do not. But Staton cannot address at this time whether the academy will form as a virtual institution, a brick and mortar facility or some combination, nor has any decision yet been made as to location. The response, should the data justify it (and preliminary appraisal of returned surveys predicts that it will), will be system-wide and capitalize on the resources already available.

“This is economic development 101,” says Staton. He anticipates rapid progress toward the goal.