Time to Shine
Shelbia Jackson is the first Director of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission. Prepare to be entertained
DeKalb County creatives and businesses supporting film, television, music and digital entertainment have a new friend. Shelbia Jackson has been named the first Director of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission (DEC). Launched last year, DEC is charged with attracting and expanding the entertainment industry in Georgia’s third-largest county. Jackson has served more than ten years with the Decide DeKalb Development Authority (DDDA), the county’s economic development department, and was in the forefront of establishing the DEC to be a user-friendly agency spanning all aspects of entertainment.
DeKalb County was one of the 16 inaugural counties named Camera Ready Communities in 2010 by the Georgia Film, Music, Digital and Television Entertainment Office. The DeKalb Board of Commissioners and Chief Executive Office created the DeKalb Film Commission the following year, and the county has played host to hundreds of motion pictures, television projects and commercials. Now that commission has expanded to become the DEC, which is overseen by the DDDA.”
“I started managing film permitting at the DDDA in 2013 when people had to call every department to get permits,” says Jackson. “I met with location managers and producers asking how other places handled this, what were the best practices we could implement to move to a simple, consistent process for the industry.” Her initiative led to establishing one-stop online permitting where every agency that needs to be involved comes under the umbrella of a single final approval – a welcome change for those wanting to bring their projects to DeKalb County.
And the entertainment industry is eager to work in DeKalb. The DEC’s baseline research, prepared by Robert Lann Consulting LLC, shows the positive impact the entertainment industry already has had on the county: $1.98 billion in 2016 and a 12 percent growth in industry jobs in the five-year period from 2011-2016. It’s also estimated that every job created locally in the entertainment industry generated 1.45 additional jobs in other areas. Despite these very positive numbers the DEC believes this initial analysis to be quite conservative.
“We knew anecdotally that people were leasing space to entertainment companies, they were renting parking lots, caterers and restaurants were servicing entertainment projects,” Jackson says. “But we needed to measure the growth this industry has had on DeKalb so we conducted a study to measure the impact. No one expected the business to grow as it has; no one expected it to be as big as it is. We’ve responded with the DeKalb Entertainment Commission to establish a foundation to support the industry here.”
"Producers have gotten over the misperception that Georgia does not have a deep, high-quality workforce..."
Although it’s still early days for the DEC, a five-year entertainment strategy plan will address the film/television, music and digital media sectors, she notes. An Advisory Board of industry professionals will offer guidance on workshops and events; members serving two-year terms represent important cohorts such as SAG-AFTRA, IATSE Local 479, the Georgia Production Partnership, the Georgia Game Developers Association and Georgia Music Partners. And alliances with key groups such as the Georgia Film Academy will bolster the DEC’s ability to support every aspect of the business.
DeKalb County is already well positioned to experience continued growth in entertainment. Its workforce is solid, diverse and expanding. “Some members of the workforce are county residents who have been in the industry for a long time and have worked everywhere. Some are people who have moved here from LA or New York, and some make their homes around Atlanta but work on projects here in DeKalb,” Jackson explains. “Producers have gotten over the misperception that Georgia does not have a deep, high-quality workforce, and that they have to ship in workers from other states. We have a dedicated and committed workforce of experienced professionals and well-trained millennials just coming into the business.”
Studio infrastructure in DeKalb offers a combined 13 soundstages at Blackhall Studios, Eagle Rock Studios and Third Rail Studios. The Warner Bros. base in Decatur, home of The Vampire Diaries for eight seasons, is now servicing other Warner Bros. productions. Additionally, smaller facilities, such as Wilder Studios in Decatur and Oakcliff Studios in Doraville, fill the needs of independent producers and artists.
“We’re developing a database of all the studio properties in DeKalb that cater to different types of clients,” says Jackson, “so those looking to rent or lease space will find all the details on studio dimensions, parking, available equipment and other services. Developers are also looking at sites for new infrastructure, and support businesses are opening offices. Mole-Richardson has a satellite office here. Now we need to expand facilities for post production to provide a full range of services.”
DeKalb County is rich in locations, as well. “We have everything the market needs: small towns, downtowns, main streets, railroads, historic sites, lakes and beaches, forests, Stone Mountain and the surrounding open land,” Jackson points out. “It’s a simple process to find locations in our database, call our office for a personal locations services coordinator, and use our online permitting.”
She notes that a number of current series shoot here on a regular basis, including Stranger Things on Netflix, Black Lightning on the CW, MacGuyver on CBS and Greenleaf on OWN.
The DEC has announced a strong roster of summer and fall classes and workshops for residents and businesses. They range from a two-day, bootcamp-style Production Assistant workshop and a course on “How to be a Film Friendly Vendor” to the multipart “Intro to the Film Business,” “Starting a Career in the Film Business” and “Producer Series.”
“We’ve worked with the Atlanta Film Society to develop these classes and workshops,” says Jackson. “We’ll be building out the schedule throughout the year. We want to track participants as they go through and ask if the class has been helpful, what happened afterwards and what else they need.”
Last year the DEC held its first DEC Entertainment Expo with panel sessions across film/television, music and digital media. The next Expo is set for October 20. “This year will have different panels and actual workshops, including headshots, casting and how to pitch your project right there to our guests.”
Jackson has attended SXSW and Georgia Night in LA and is looking at how to expand DeKalb’s presence at other industry festivals and events. “We’re working with the Association of Film Commissioners and the Location Managers Guild on events,” she reports. “And the State of Georgia represents DeKalb and the DEC when they attend events, so we have to make sure they have what they need to support us.”
While Jackson believes there’s a good foundation for the film and television industry in DeKalb County, she wants to ensure that music and digital media get their fair share of business, too. “We need to work on those verticals, which qualify for Georgia tax credits as well – that’s a big boost for them. We want to build classes around those sectors, support those companies already here, and see that students get training in those fields.”
DeKalb County’s best-kept secret may have something that’s hard to quantify in a survey or analysis. “We still have a smalltown feel,” says Jackson. “Residents and business owners are open, positive and happy. I may be biased because I’ve lived here all my life, but when people in the entertainment industry come here they just love how it feels!”