State suffers shortage of movie, TV workers

As Georgia looks to grow own film employees, industry imports some. By J. Scott Trubey strubey…

Georgia (Jul 2, 2014)   Georgia’s burgeoning film and TV business is having some growing pains.

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As Georgia looks to grow own film employees, industry imports some.
By J. Scott Trubey strubey@ajc.com 

   Movie producers and studio operators told a panel of state leaders Tuesday that they have trouble finding enough local people to do technical work behind the cameras. They added they want to work with state education leaders and labor unions to cultivate more talent.

   The needs are for carpenters, electricians, digital wizards who make slick visual effects and special-effects folks who create gory wounds and make stuff go boom!

   Such jobs are sometimes filled by importing workers from California, North Carolina and other big production states. That has offset the effect of Georgia’s lucrative incentives, one television executive said.    “Some of the advantages of the (production) incentive is wiped away because we have to import so many people,” said Craig McNeil, a production executive with the cable arm of NBCUniversal, who’s working on a new drama on the USA Network called “Satisfaction.”

   Tuesday’s meeting at Georgia State University was part of the Governor’s High Demand Careers Initiative — a 12-stop tour for top state leaders to learn about the jobs of the future.

   Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr said the program is aimed at better aligning state recruitment efforts and college curricula and training programs with businesses’ needs.

   Since the state rolled out sweetened film tax credits in 2008, production spending has more than tripled in Georgia to $934 million in fiscal year 2013.

   Pressure on the local labor pool should be expected, film industry officials said.

   The crew base here has grown in the past six years; a representative of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 479 said membership has tripled. But with 26 movies and television shows currently shooting in the state, some critical skills have come up short.

   Gaps in local technical talent haven’t cost Georgia many movie or television projects so far, state film office chief Lee Thomas said, but they are a concern.

   Both industry and state officials said they want to find ways to expand skilled-trade programs and film-related courses in high schools, technical colleges and universities.

   State schools and colleges have already added film education and trade skills programs. Among them: Clayton State University has a digital film technician program; Kennesaw State has an entertainment business program. Southern Crescent Technical College is planning a film program including set construction and hair and makeup design in Griffin.

   Movie executives suggested internships with production companies and studios, and new certification programs similar to those in film-savvy states such as California.

   “This is a great problem to have,” said Carr, the economic development commissioner . Carr said Tuesday’s hearing shows the state “is doing something about it.”

   In previous stops on the career initiative listening tour, state leaders have met with software companies, manufacturers and logistics firms. The need for more trained labor is a recurring theme.

   Film tax credits are controversial. Critics contend the jobs created are transient and the highest-paid people on set — actors and directors, for instance — often don’t live here.

   Production companies can earn a credit of up to 30 percent of what they spend on qualifying projects. What they can’t use to defer their own taxes — many aren’t based here and have little tax liability — they can sell for cash at upward of 90 cents on the dollar. Companies that buy the credits can then use them to reduce their Georgia tax bills.

   Film tax credits resulted in a hit of at least a $250 million to the state treasury from 2008 to 2011.

   Michael Akins, a business agent with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 479, said the recent development of production campuses such as Pine-wood Studios in Fayette County is proof of emerging permanent film infrastructure.

   Georgia’s experienced labor pool will grow in time, Akins said.

   “This is not an industry that’s going to leave Georgia any time soon,” he said.


 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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