Georgia Film Academy students learn about various ways to use a video camera as part of the Introduction to On-Set Film Production course. (Courtesy Georgia Film Academy)

Georgia’s booming film and television industry brought in a whopping $4 billion to its economy last year. But state officials want more than to rake in record amounts of money. They want the Peach State to be a national star of the lucrative entertainment industry.

“The unprecedented growth of the film and television industry is due to the unprecedented growth of our workforce,” says Georgia Film Academy Executive Director Jeffrey Stepakoff. “We are making sure we have a permanent, sustainable workforce.”

When the academy opened in 2016, there were fewer than 100 students enrolled in colleges in Gwinnett and Clayton counties and Columbus. Today, there are roughly 11,000 people enrolled in 29 state colleges and universities.

Jeffrey Stepakoff was a Hollywood writer and producer before coming back to metro Atlanta to lead the Georgia Film Academy.

The academy’s flagship campus is at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, where students gain hands-on training. A new graduate program focuses on content creation, such as script and screen writing. The idea is to build a complete entertainment industry “ecosystem” in the state, Stepakoff says.

Sonja Chappell, 22, enrolled in the academy in 2020 while attending the University of West Georgia. She’s now a production assistant on a Marvel film and works on set designs, costumes, and even fetching lunch for staff.

“The classes I took through the academy really helped me narrow down the department I wanted to work in,” she said. “I am horrible at post-production, but I am very skilled when it comes to painting and detail work.

“I wouldn’t trade my experience with the Georgia Film Academy program for anything. That program shaped me into the person I am and helped me get an amazing job doing what I love,” she said.

Georgia’s film industry took off more than a decade ago when lawmakers approved generous tax incentives to lure major production companies from California and New York. Then studios began building more than 100 sound stages in and around metro Atlanta, including two of the largest in the country.

Post-production editing tools and techniques are taught to Georgia Film Academy students interested in pursuing careers as assistant editors.

These vast warehouses provide the infrastructure and space needed to make feature film blockbusters such as Marvel’s “Ant Man” and “Black Panther.” Georgia’s film and TV industry soared from $25 million a year to last year’s $4 billion. The exponential growth and success earned Georgia the title as the “Hollywood of the South.”

But Stepakoff says Georgians are now running the industry, rather than outsiders from California, due in large part to rapid growth of the film academy and the graduates taking over jobs once held by out-of-state film and television experts.

“We are no longer interested in being known as the ‘Hollywood of the South,’” he said.

“One day, perhaps Hollywood will be known as the Georgia of the West.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.