Georgia is the number three production center in the country.
With this growth comes a building boom in terms of facilities, along with a population explosion of both young filmmakers and the support staff required to make a vision become a reality. The hope is that the next Spielberg or Scorsese is currently in a Georgia school waiting for his or her shot at creating a magic movie.
Georgia has been through a hot production cycle before—going from the hot place to shoot a movie or television show to not a stitch of work to be found. There are many ideas of how to prevent this from recurring. To some, the answer to how to keep the work flowing is having a young, talented, trained and committed corps of filmmakers dedicated to remaining in their home state. Many in the community are working to ensure that filmmaking in Georgia remains a viable industry through programs created and offered by film professionals, reaching students from third grade through middle and high school.
“I come from the industry, “says Josh Lee, who manages the Fulton County Schools Cable Television and oversees its filmmaking programs, “and I never planned on being an educator. I see a lot of relevance to gaining those professional skills. You can learn only so much about working in the industry from reading about it in a text book. To actually get that real exposure and experience at a young age is invaluable. I still find a need to provide students with that professional experience.”
"To actually get that real exposure and experience at a young age is invaluable."
Lee taught video production for three years before stepping into his management role. In 2014, he started an internship program in the district where students from seven schools are given paid, professional experience. To get into the program, students have to fulfill some prerequisites, including two years of video classes and an interview process. When there are requests for video work from county departments or from small businesses, Lee assigns the students. The students get paid for their efforts, and the work goes on their reels and résumés. There is also a summer program where the students tour various media outlets, get to meet people in the industry and get to work on projects. Students at schools throughout the district gather in Lee’s studio over the course of the year, working on different tasks to improve their skills and abilities.
Although the program is only two years old, Lee says that students have already been accepted into prestigious film schools such as New York University and the Savannah College of Art and Design. Their videos can be seen on the Fulton County Schools main website, (fultoncountyschools.org), or on Comcast channel 24, the Fulton County Schools television station. In addition, Lee explains that a number of the county government departments and small businesses utilize these productions on their own websites and in-house presentations.
Like Lee, Tom Karsch came from a production background rather than an academic one. Karsch heads up CampFlix, which provides summer campers with a filmmaking experience on college campuses like Oglethorpe and Emory universities.
Karsch had been an executive at Turner Broadcasting for 16 years, eventually holding the top spot at Turner Classic Movies and Turner South, also serving as a consultant for the Atlanta Film Festival. About six years ago, with the idea for a film camp floating in the back of his head, Karsch met a man who was presenting a rock & roll camp called Camp Jam across the country. Karsch asked if ever he considered doing a filmmaking camp. Karsch partnered with him and launched CampFlix based on the Camp Jam model.
“It’s a matter of accessibility.” says Karsch on why youngsters with an interest in a film career should consider CampFlix. “The tools today allow kids to do more exploration. What we provide is fine tuning for that passion, advancing their knowledge by working with filmmaking professionals.” Most of the young filmmakers are in their early teenage years, but Karsch believes that the younger the beginning student, the better. “When you’re a gymnast, you don’t start at 15 years old, you start at age six,” he explains. “We’ve had some talented kids in our camp who have gone on to college film programs. Some of the best kids are two or three years away from graduating high school. It’s scary how good they are.”
A typical session at CampFlix lasts five days, Monday through Friday. First-year campers typically spend Monday and Tuesday in workshops learning from working professionals about sound, lighting, and cinematography. The campers are divided into teams of seven and spend the next two days working on their project, usually shooting Tuesday and Wednesday, using Thursday to edit. The completed project must be submitted by noon Friday, with a showing for the parents on Friday night. The films can also be viewed online after the camp. “We want the kids to see that filmmaking is a collaborative process,” explains Karsch. “They come in wanting to be directors, but they get to see that the lighting and sound people are just as important as the screenwriter or director.”
When Karsch’s children were younger, he sought to enroll them in a film-oriented camp in Atlanta, but there were none to be found. Now, youth-related film programs are on the rise. Touting her organization re:imagine/ATL as a strong platform for future film professionals, Susanna Spiccia promotes the mission of “empowering the next generation of content creators through in-school and out-of-school service.” Spiccia’s group works at the high school level with existing video programs creating video content. They also have a music video camp in the summer: Green Room Camp, bringing in musicians to work with the campers on songs, some of which are created during the camp. The kids create concepts for videos and work with the musicians to bring them to life. “All of our projects are client-based,” says Spiccia. “Sometimes they’re paid, sometimes unpaid—but from start to finish, they’re working with clients. They work with and are mentored by professionals in the entertainment industry.”
Although re:imagine/ATL doesn’t have a home base, Spiccia says that situation works to their benefit. "We really don’t have a consistent location, we’re pretty mobile. We work out of a lot of studios but are looking for something more centralized. We are a mobile resource hub that is also creative in the sense that we’re always coming up with projects.”
One of the many locations made available to Spiccia’s campers is Atlanta’s Spitfire Studios. Tripp Rhame, the studio’s creative director/ co-owner, first met Spiccia through the Metro Chamber of Commerce. Since several generations of Rhame’s family were involved in education, there was an instant affinity. “When I saw what Susanna was doing, bringing kids together via video production,” Rhame explains, "it was a no-brainer. I asked ‘how can we help?’”
At first, Spitfire was just hosting the campers for weekend editing sessions, but a business decision by studio management ended up benefitting all: “We decided to buy equipment that we had been renting for commercial productions and keep it in our inventory for the long term,” explains Rhame. “So, we had tons of gear that was not always working, and this group had a need.” Rhame used Spitfire’s equipment as a teaching mechanism for the campers as well: “A lot of these kids shoot, edit and post from their phones. They have no concept of a machine that makes films.”
Spiccia says her program was designed with this technological acumen in mind. “Whether they were from an affluent background or homeless, disabled or refugees, we wanted a program that would draw on their comfort with using technology,” she declares. “They watch shows on television and listen to music all the time. To be honest, it can be intimidating for me because a lot of our teens are way better than me at social media, and they are coming up with ideas all the time about different ways of connecting with their generation. They know what’s up and they got a lot to say, but they’re not
necessarily being asked.”
Rhame claims there are fewer challenges in working with kids than adults. “The younger kids were the first ones out of the gate,” he explains. “They really didn’t have anything holding them back. They weren’t afraid to throw out ideas and were completely transparent. If it didn’t hold or stick, they just kept going. Older kids had a harder time getting projects together. Maybe they were just more shy or didn’t feel good about other people judging their ideas or comments. They wanted to be cool and worried about how they would be judged. The younger kids just didn’t care or have any of that hanging over them. The older kids had the hardest time coming up with concepts and were the last to start filming.”
A number of the kids come into camp with prior experience doing podcasts or short films. “I could see how it could be intimidating to be in a group where two of them have created content for several years on their own and the rest are new to the game and learning the scenarios,” says Rhame. “However, it’s part of their education as a filmmaker to see that filmmaking is a team sport. I like to describe it as ‘blue-collar art.’”
In January 2016, the re:imagine/ATL kids had a special experience: as winners of a contest sponsored by Sixth Man Productions, they went on a cruise to a resort in Cozumel, Mexico where they had an opportunity to write and record music and shoot a video on a private island.
No matter what age they begin a filmmaking class or summer camp, Brandon Jolley, who founded the Kids TV program in conjunction with Atlanta Children’s Theatre, believes that many young people are eager to explore the world of content creation. “For some kids, it’s just a fun project,” he explains, “but many others are born filmmakers and artists, and they’ve never had an opportunity to express that in a trained setting. A lot of kids post to YouTube. The feedback I get from kids when they enter a class or go to summer school is ‘I do this with my friends, but I didn’t know there were other kids who were just like me.’ Now, they have a structured environment and they get to work with other kids.”
Young, Creative, and Unafraid
Three campers who attended CampFlix in 2016 credit the program with sparking an ever-growing interest in a film industry career. Although from different backgrounds and parts of the metro area, the trio is aiming for the same goal.
Unsure of what she wanted to do for summer camp four years ago, Peri Barnard, age 15, took her father’s offer to attend the film camp. “I liked photography, but I hadn’t done much film work,” Barnard explains. “So, I tried out the camp and it was really fun! I enjoyed it and kept coming back.”
One of Barnard’s collaborations led to a screening at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in 2016. Titled In Our Eyes, Barnard was the primary cinematographer on the project, made along with two other campers who shared the production credits. Barnard describes In Our Eyes as a short, abstract film about tolerance that shows how people can still identify with a cause or an experience, despite not directly experiencing it themselves.
Karsch pitched the idea about making a film on tolerance for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, and Barnard’s group made the only film to be selected. Although facing a time crunch, she credits CampFlix and its staff for the guidance they provided: “The good thing about the camp is that the campers get to do pretty much all the filmmaking ourselves, but the counselors know so much and can help us, push us and keep us on task,” says Barnard.
While she hasn’t begun her quest for a college yet, Barnard, who attends the Weber School, says a film career may be on the horizon. “I’ve always planned to go into some artistic field when I grow up,” she explains, “but film was not something I thought about until CampFlix. I’m not set on what I want to do yet; it would be amazing to go to a film school.”
Like Barnard, Kiara Sanford was unsure of what do for a camp in 2012. “My mom and I were looking over materials for film camps that first summer, we discovered CampFlix, and I decided to go there.” She recalls, “It was a decision that I don’t regret at all. I got hands-on experience and got to meet new people who are more like me. At the school that I go to, not many people are into entertainment as a filmmaker. Being around kids who are like me has opened my eyes to possibilities. The friendships
you make there are long lasting ones.”
Sanford attends DeKalb High School of Technology South, studying Audio Video Technology and Film (AVTF). “I’m learning the hands-on fundamentals, so that along with what I’m learning in camp, I’ll be able to create a production I can be proud to show in a competition.”
Summer 2016 was a busy one for Sanford, who appeared in four productions as an actor, screenwriter
and director. Writing, however, is her career goal. “I like the idea of creating a story and inserting issues into it to make people aware,” she states.
Motivated by a desire to see what moviemaking was like from the other side of the camera, Maddy Laing began attending CampFlix at age 11. “When I decided to go to film camp,” she explains, “I wanted to make a really good movie there. But I learned that going to the camp wasn’t about coming out of it with a great product or film, but more practicing and learning from the process of making films. I like watching movies and trying to figure out how they were shot. I was inspired by the idea of seeing filmmaking as a puzzle and putting the pieces together. I liked the idea of understanding how people did that.”
Laing, now 16 years old, attends Lakeside High School in DeKalb County. Though her school offers film classes she chose not to take them. “The film program isn’t what I’d like it to be,” she declares. “It depends on the individual kid and what they’re looking for and what they want to learn about filmmaking. For me personally, a less formal structure of learning about filmmaking works better.”
Claiming she doesn’t want to make films that are more mainstream, made-for-TV safe or big box office blockbusters, Laing is interested in making films with an emphasis on dealing with social justice issues, like her short film Dear Drew, which deals with LGBTQ issues. “My future films might be more controversial films that open people’s minds,” she explains. Expressing a desire to become a director, Laing is exploring the possibility of attending Georgia State. “I’ve heard good things about their program, plus Atlanta is becoming a center for films,” she explains. “It would pay to go to college in Atlanta because of the great opportunities here.”
The Bigger Picture
As important as the perfection of technical skills, the art of dealing with the business side of filmmaking is also stressed in these programs. “These students are learning skill sets beyond being just professional videography,” says Lee, “they’re also learning how to dress and communicate like a professional.”
CampFlix brings in special guests as part of the curriculum, not to be instructors, but rather to talk to the campers about their path in the industry and their journey from when they were the kids’ age. “They take kids through the whole process,” says Karsch. “Marketing experts come in as an informal panel and listen as kids present marketing plans and designs for one-sheet posters promoting films.”
"We all have different backgrounds, and we all have something to share, contribute and learn from each other."
Spiccia agrees that the ability to talk to a potential client is a valuable talent for these young students to possess. “They learn everything from marketing their content to how to network,” she explains. “You should be confident enough to stand up and talk about your project—whether it’s to someone who has a lot of sway and influence like a rapper you respect or some bigwig at a company—and treat them with the same degree of respect that you would for the old woman from down the street in your neighborhood. You have to make eye contact, shake their hand, listen and ask questions. That’s pretty much the mantra of respect we instill in our teens. We all have different backgrounds, and we all have something to share, contribute and learn from each other.”
Karsch says that the next step for his operation is an ambitious expansion program. “Both kids and parents have asked about after school program, winter break program, weekends etc.” The demand has grown to the point that a third week was added in 2016 and Karsch says he’s also thinking about bringing the CampFlix experience into other markets. Campers have attended from as far away as Portland, Oregon. About 90 percent of campers learn about the camp through internet searches.
Jolley says he is also seeking to broaden the reach of his Kids TV program. Despite the challenge of cutting through red tape and battling bureaucracies, he’s working to get the concept into other school districts, Cobb County in particular. Money is often a barrier for his plans: “Certain school districts make it tough for after-school vendors, placing limits on what the vendors can charge the parents or putting limits on what vendors can get paid by the school,” he explains. “You can limit what you’re paying me, but I’m bringing in cameras and other equipment that might get broken; or I’m bringing in an acting teacher who would like to get paid for their services.”
No matter what the future holds, these educators, students, and campers all believe that the key to continued success is the continuation of the Georgia entertainment tax credit. “It’s great, and if the legislature keeps the tax incentive in place it’s good for the state because it brings jobs and money into the community, as well as awareness of the industry, which benefits ancillary businesses like myself,” says Karsch. “There’s never been a better time or place to start honing these kids’ skills early on.”