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How Georgia trains production teams for its huge film industry

When either Joe Biden or Donald Trump is in the White House in January, both will want to make more things in America. Our question this week is: Who has the skills to get those jobs? Marketplace's David Brancaccio traveled to Georgia to explore three efforts to create a pool of people from all walks of life who have the skills to work and create those jobs in real life. He begins coverage in the Atlanta area with people looking at the job pool for this “business they call 'show.'”


Have you ever seen the peach when the credits end on shows like “The Walking Dead” or “WandaVision”?

That means it was filmed in Georgia, a state that will surpass California in soundstage space. The names that appear before the award – Best Boy, Gaffer, or in this case, “Key Rigging Grip” – all have a paycheck.

“We do things ranging from mounting cameras on dollies and cranes to hanging heavy lights over people's heads,” said Francis Harlan. He's doing it for a show called “The Bondsman,” which is being shot here on a set designed to look like a honky-tonk bar. It's about an undead bounty hunter starring a certain Kevin Bacon. (That's not even six degrees.) Blumhouse, the production company, has set up a program to give an intern his chance.

“He's been with us for the whole show. And he's doing fantastic,” Harlan said. “Today we inducted him into the union.”

Where did they find this new crew member? Georgia has a source for it.

Scott Votaw is vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia and directs the Georgia Film Academy, a state-funded training network affiliated with more than 30 schools and colleges in Georgia.

“I don’t teach them how to make a film, I teach them how films are made,” Votaw said.

Do you want to be a director or write for the screen? Normal universities offer complete master's programs for that. But the academy trains all the other names that are mentioned in the credits. “They are all craftsmen who make money in this industry,” Votaw added.

Three film students rip up floor tiles from a whitewashed film set in one of the Georgia Film Academy's sound studios. Ashlynn Henderson, a student at the University of Georgia, needed craftsmen to help her shoot her master's project, a science fiction film called “Do Not Go Gentle.”

The academy had trained a team of apprentices who were ready to get started, “that was phenomenal and [we] “I got to use this set,” Henderson said. “We repurposed it. It was a 'Stranger Things' room.”

And meet 29-year-old Samuel Wakina. With no film experience whatsoever, he was accepted into the Academy's program that gave him an internship on a real show. It went well, but Sam thought it was just a one-time thing.

“The best boy calls me: 'Sam, where the hell are you?' I say: 'What do you mean? My internship is over.' 'So, you're hired.' I say: 'All right, I'm on my way to the set.'”

He was recently nominated for two roles as Grips in the second “Black Panther”.

And even in the world of digital effects, real materials are often used to create something artificial for a show.

“We draw to scale,” said Chuck Kerr, senior lecturer at the Georgia Film Academy. “We do elevations. We do floor plans. Then we make a model.”

In addition to all the specializations, the Georgia Film Academy also teaches students the basics of personal finance in a business where money can be good but comes in spurts.

“It's a bit like freelancing,” Votaw admitted. “You go from job to job to job.”

Back at the fake tavern on the professional set of The Bondsman, I got a lesson from showrunner Erik Olseon about Georgia's tax breaks for producing shows, as well as state funding for the training academy to build a local talent pool.

“When you combine a locally available crew base with a tax credit, you make yourself very competitive with other regions that may have tax credits but no crew base, or a crew base but no tax credit,” he said.

The tax credit cost Georgia $1.3 billion last year, and lawmakers this year backed away from an attempt to cap the amount. The film industry spent $4.1 billion in Georgia last year, but the tax credit's return on investment remains controversial.

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Anna Harden

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