Georgia in a film boom town mode

Barton Bond's picture

The rapid and large-scale growth of the film industry in Georgia is resulting in some of the same types of classic effects experienced through the history of the U.S. – specifically, the growing pains associated with “Boom Towns.”

Booms started most notably with the Gold Rush of the 1840s in northern California, and then extended to Alaska, then to the Land Rushes of the 1880s in Texas and Oklahoma; the “Oil Boom” in those same states a few decades later and right now in North Dakota and Wyoming related to oil shale. Economists and social scientists have studied these experiences and have found a number of commonalities – some of which we are seeing in Georgia.

For example, rapid influx of a new industry often results in a serious need for trained workers and then the corresponding lack of same. This pressure creates an imbalance in supply and demand and the consequences include industry having to import workers and/or pay a premium for qualified workers. Obviously, we see that in Georgia right now in the film industry.

Another effect is the rapid build-up of support businesses – either from businesses from elsewhere moving in or local businesses starting up. We also are seeking this in our state. In fact, the growth of both varieties has been dramatic in just the last few months.

The leading indicator of growth has been Pinewood Studios – open for barely six months and already there is serious talk of expansion of studio facilities. However, under the radar have been the establishment and influx of dozens of support and related companies. All these together are forming a strong and diverse backbone essential to long-term, sustained and multi-tiered growth. And maybe more important – creating a basis for additional growth ... sort of a self-generating economic development engine.

But what we don’t see, nor are we likely to see in Georgia, is the rapid decline of this new industry, such as what happens historically when the gold or oil runs out or the market price drops dramatically. Regarding film, there are two fundamental reasons this “bust” is not in the cards.

Number one — the film/entertainment industry in this county is more than 100 years old and still very robust. Hollywood per se is not doing too well as many productions move away from Los Angles, but overall, there has never been a busier time with more production in more different venues, platforms and distribution streams than right now;

Number two — the film and digital media industries are so well established in the state that barring some very large scale changes or crises, this industry is here to stay.

Back to the issue related to a trained labor force – not an easy problem to solve. Skill sets for film workers are quite unlike any other job or industry. Learning on the job is difficult, and productions are by nature not very excited about having to pay trainees, particularly because they are “on-the-ground” for sometimes a month – barely time for someone in a “normal” job to get up to speed.

Thus, it is easy to see that a potential negative situation could develop around the issue of the availability of trained workers to the extent that productions may find that the difficulty and expense in finding those workers may outweigh the advantages of the state’s financial incentives and even the availability of support services (studios, rental companies, etc.)

As a state, we are not there yet, but within the industry there are many horror stories about productions that were enticed to shoot in other states that had larger incentives but lack of crew and other resources created serious problems. Needless to say, most of these problem states are not hosting many shoots any more.

The process of training, like so much of the activity around any growth industry, will most likely be organic. That is to say, training can also be a growth sub-industry, where in the level of need will create a number of players; formal higher education (both academic for-credit and non-credit), industry-sponsored training, proprietary/private trade schools, organizations like the film union or film festivals, private individuals, etc.

Of these, the higher education non-credit component offers the quickest and arguably the best training path. Courses and workshops can be developed quickly, but with the rigor of academic college courses, and delivered by qualified, credentialed instructors at very reasonable prices and in concert with the needs and requirements of the industry.

In the end, this is an issue that will be resolved. It is reasonable to believe that, even as big economically as film is right now, and as big an impact as it is having in a myriad of business sectors, in five years we will look back at 2014 and say: “Wow! Look how far we have come.”

[Clayton State University Digital Media Center Director Barton Bond came to Georgia from New Mexico in 2013 with 45 years of experience working in electronic media – the last 25 of which focused on teaching at community colleges. In 2003 he developed and taught the first, and at the time the only, film technician training program in the country. Clayton State’s Digital Film Technician Certificate program is the second.]

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