Hollywood: Help Wanted in Savannah - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Hollywood: Help Wanted in Savannah

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

A lucrative movie studio tax credit? Check! A moving expense incentive to lure production workers to Savannah? Check! 

As Savannah's Hollywood workload grows, the Savannah Area Film Office now battles one last frontier: developing its homegrown production workforce. We did some digging to see how Georgia is trying to nurture those seeds in this special report: Hollywood: Help Wanted!

Movies in the Peach State, Y'allywood as some call it, is a bigger business than ever. 

The symbol, made in Georgia, is popping up in more film and television projects than ever before.

“The first 25 years of our office, we did $2.5 billion. Last year, we did $6 billion, so last year we more than doubled the first 25 years of the office,” said Lee Thomas, Georgia Film Office.

Lee Thomas with the Georgia Film Office has a word of caution for Savannah. A key player in growth, she says, is threatened by a shortage of skilled production workers - the rank and file of film and television crews.  

“What the governor has done is create something called the Georgia Film Academy - a partnership between the University of Georgia and the technical college system,” Thomas said.

“We have close to 100 technicians living here. We need considerably more,” said Ralph Singleton.

Ralph Singleton is a longtime hit TV show and movie producer. He says Savannah's current technical pool is shallow, with workers often imported from Atlanta and others states. This fact hurts our chances for new movies and the crown jewel of what the local film industry is chasing: a TV series.

“Well, they say, ‘do you have a crew?’ Yes. ‘Do we have enough for three productions?’ No, we do not.”

Singelton does think that the Georgia Film Academy is a perfect tool to get Savannah's movie workforce up to speed, and make the shallow talent pool deeper.

“My husband heard about this. We came to orientation. That Monday, I was in class. It's been fabulous,” said student, Cherie Becker.

Cherie Becker and Savannah-Tech communications professor, William Martin, are two of the 30 members of Savannah Tech's first ever summer On-Set Production classes. Cherie was a stay-at home-mom whose birds have flown her now empty nest.

“I am so excited….something brand new.”

“With all the new opportunities opening up and the chance to get the background to just walk onto a movie set and qualified and certified, is a great opportunity for anyone,” said student/professor, William Martin.

“Let's face facts. Savannah is the hot pace where all the filming is coming, so why not be a part of it, Becker said.

It's a smart money class with projections of up to 5,000 new jobs over the next five years, earning as much as $84,000 a year. 

Cherie is starting a career; William is expanding his, and so many students in this class, all different ages, all different backgrounds, learning about the film industry.

From dolly work and sound, to hair and makeup and props, they are learning it all.

“It doesn't guarantee them a job, but it will give them a leg up,” said instructor, John Grace.

John Grace was brought in from Colorado to be the production training instructor for Savannah Tech's Georgia Film Academy courses. 

“The goal is to provide good, high-paying jobs to Savannah residents. There is no reason for people to come from other parts of the state or other parts of the country and take these jobs. They should be going to Savannahians,” Grace said. “We teach two semesters, reasonably priced, short-term, and at the end of the second semester, they will have had on-set experience working under the mentorship of a working film professional.

So, the next Do Over, Dirty Grandpa or Baywatch, these students may be working behind the scenes. 

“It's not easy money....”

“It's blood money really...very hard work.”

It's 12-hour days or more, but it's Savannah's future if economic developers get their way.

“We are trying very hard to get a series here. We've had pilots, but never a series here,” Singleton said.

The only way to get a series is to have the workers ready. Take it from a pro. He says this class is the ticket.

“It is the closest thing to full employment you are going to see in this business of freelance,” Singleton said.

Just to give you an idea of how fast the movie business is growing in Savannah and surrounding areas, SEDA's Ralph Singleton tells us that last year alone, did more business than the previous five years combined.

Click here for information on fall courses for the Georgia Film Academy, as well as more details on the local film industry.

The registration deadline is Aug. 5.

SEDA presentation below:

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