If all goes well, Columbus is going into show business.
Columbus State, the Springer Opera House and the state of Georgia are starting a special program to train Georgians to work on the sets of movies and TV shows.
Springer artistic director Paul Pierce said film has become a $6 billion industry in Georgia because of the state’s generous tax credits. With 157 feature films produced in this state in fiscal year 2015, Pierce said, there are more jobs in the movie industry than ever before. However, there aren’t enough Georgians to fill these jobs. There is a major debate over whether these things actually work. I would love to explore that, but this story was already pushing it at a thousand words.
“Georgia just doesn’t have the volume of scenic carpenters, scene painters, set decorators, lighting electricians, grips, prop masters, audio engineers or wardrobe professionals to crew all these films,” Pierce said. “Jets are landing in Hartsfield-Jackson every day with film workers from other states who are going directly to work sites. Gov. Deal is determined to put a stop to that, and we are determined to help him.”
Deal invited Pierce to bring the Georgia Film Academy to Columbus. In just four weeks, a task force with representatives from CSU, the Springer, Columbus Tech, Columbus CVB, the Columbus Film Office and the Muscogee County School district put together a plan to meet the need for film-trained workers, according to Richard Baxter, dean of the College of the Arts at Columbus State.
In January, CSU will offer a six-credit hour class starting Jan. 11 training 60 students in the basics of the film business. The class will use the Springer facilities. When students have learned about working on a set and know some of the equipment, they’ll spend a second 12-credit hour class working at Pinewood Studios in Fayette County on an actual film.
Baxter said students could put the credits toward their baccalaureate or take just those two semesters and leave with a certification. Students can take that certification to the Georgia Film Academy and get certified to work within a union on films anywhere in the country.
“More and more film is coming to Georgia, and we’re happy to announce Columbus is going to be ground zero in the training of these new workers for these lucrative jobs,” Pierce said.
CSU will be one of only three schools in Georgia tasked by the Georgia Film Academy to offer these certifications (the other two are Clayton State University and Gwinnett Technical College).
Baxter said the waiting list for this uncommon program is long enough that they’re working on a second section that will use Springer’s facilities on Saturday.
While the program will take advantage of Columbus’ capabilities to train students, working in most of Georgia’s film industry will take them outside the Chattahoochee Valley. There is no Columbus equivalent to the sound stages for movie-making like the ones in production in Effingham and Gwinnett Counties.
“We recognize this opportunity for Columbus means that we’re going to be training workers for the production studios outside of Columbus initially, but our hope is this cadre of talented students in the motion picture business will get the attention of those studios who will look to Columbus for their next project,” said Bill Murphy, executive vice president of economic development for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
Kevin Flowers, a music producer better known as Kevin Gr8 Trakz Lamar, tentatively guessed Columbus could get its own sound stage within a year.
“They’ve been talking about this for the last year or so,” he said. “It’s going to be taken care of.”
Flowers said he was interested in working with students from the program. He said he already uses the CSU orchestra for producing film scores.
Terrence Manns, an independent filmmaker who works in Columbus, said he’s used Columbus State students for his job as well. He told the Ledger-Enquirer he wouldn’t mind hiring people straight out of the new program.
“I was thinking of taking the program myself,” Manns said. “As a filmmaker, you can never stop learning.”
A little bit of learning could result in a big payoff. Pierce said the jobs are so lucrative that even an entry-level position could pay $45 per hour.
Flowers confirmed the pay scale, saying he’s charged $100 per hour on some projects.
Like other industries, the money depends on the specific job and hours.
Payden Evans is a senior at Auburn University who works in the film industry. He’s worked as an extra and production assistant on shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “Sleepy Hollow” and movies in the “Divergent” series.
Evans said as a production assistant, he makes about $120 for a 12-hour shift. He said salaries in the movie industry vary by department and whether the person is in a union. Union rules mandate things like time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past a certain point and double pay on Saturdays.
Evans said it while a program like CSU’s is not mandatory for joining the movie business, it can help.
“I think it’s smart to have a working idea of set lingo and how things flow,” he said. “You don’t need it, but it’s not a bad idea. My learning curve was a lot steeper because I had a lot of lingo thrown at me.”
The senior, who graduates Saturday with a degree in media studies, said breaking into the industry was tough. He attributes his chance to a fraternity brother with a family friend in the business.
The movie industry is great for those who want to get in, Evans said. It just requires an incredible amount of work.
“It’s not the glitz and the glamor that’s on the screen,” he said. “It’s early mornings and late nights. I was on set at 4 a.m. and I wouldn’t get off until 6 to 8 at night.”
The job isn’t regular like a 9-5 either. Evans said working on a TV show could mean nine months of work. A movie could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the project.
To students who want to get into that business, Evans advised persistence.
“Do what is asked of you and do more if you can,” Evans said. “People take note of hard work… Georgia is a great place to be if (film is) something you’re into. Go for it. The opportunity is there.”
Credit to the Columbus, Georgia Film Office for the title. They claim “industry insiders” call Georgia’s burgeoning film industry ‘Y’allywood.’
Why it’s a highlight:
This is a big story for our area. Georgia’s film industry is big business. However, we need to ask who is getting the benefit of that business. CSU and Springer are selling this program on $45/hr for entry-level jobs, and that’s just not what everyone will get.
I consider this a good story because it covers an important event while offering another perspective for some realism. Maybe these kids really will get $45/hr, I don’t know. But they do deserve to hear what it’s really like from someone who’s not trying to sell them an 18-credit hour class.