It has been five years since film producers showed up in Columbus, closing the 13th Street bridge downtown for several days to shoot one dramatic car crash scene for the 2014 movie, “The Need for Speed.”
In hindsight, that white-knuckle experience appears to have foreshadowed the future for Columbus as it yearns to quickly grab a larger slice of the Georgia filmmaking pie, with the industry’s statewide economic impact now approaching $10 billion a year.
The local effort to secure a seat at the table with Hollywood filmmakers seeking somewhere a little different — and perhaps more authentic — in the Deep South to make their movies and TV shows is now taking a major step forward.
It starts with the opening Friday of what is now being called “Flat Rock Studio,” a state-of-the-art sound stage and production facility that has been set up at 7100 Jamesson Road by the W.C. Bradley Co. It also will become home to the film program offered by Columbus State University.
“We get the keys on Thursday,” Danna Gibson, a professor and chair of CSU’s Department of Communication, said Monday of the classroom and support space that the 56 students enrolled in the school’s film certificate program will occupy starting Friday, with classes that day and on Saturday.
“This public-private partnership has moved so rapidly and W.C. Bradley has been absolutely wonderful to let us go in to make sure we have everything in the classroom that needs to be there,” she said.
The strategy for growth in the program calls for CSU students to learn from professional movie and TV production staff who use the Columbus studio and sound stage — in essence, on-the-job training as interns — which keeps them learning in the area locally rather than having to travel elsewhere in the state.
Gibson said some student volunteers were on the Flat Rock Studio set of the Kendrick Brothers’ recent on-location production in Columbus of a faith-based movie called, “Overcomer.” It’s about a cross-country runner searching for her own identity and a stronger faith in the Lord.
CSU also is working with the Columbus Film Commission, which is overseen by the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, to raise $5 million for a fund that will offer grant money to qualified productions willing to film in and around the city. That will not only create spending in the local economy by actors and crews, but also give the university’s students a learning playground of sorts. Gibson hopes to have another production on site at Flat Rock Studio sooner rather than later.
“For us, fairly quickly,” she said. “If we got something by the end of this semester or the first of next semester, that’s fairly quickly. And I think that’s a reality on some of these productions.”
While Flat Rock Studio will be an ideal training ground, there’s another recent decision made by the University System of Georgia that could very well prove a game changer for movie production locally and statewide. CSU certainly should benefit from a new “nexus degree” that it has been approved to offer in film production.
The 60-credit-hour degree, which could begin by next spring, will put students into hands-on situations in what is known as “experiential learning,” which will comprise six hours of the degree requirement. Rounding it out is 42 credit hours in general education and 12 credit hours in coursework geared toward skills and knowledge related to the film industry.
The nexus degrees, which will be offered in multiple industries aside from filmmaking, aim to meet the demand of employers that are experiencing growth and need a steady flow of top talent. For CSU, it also has a major advantage over the basic film certificate it is now offering.
“It’s a coup for us to be the very first one to be created” for the film industry, said Richard Baxter, CSU’s associate vice president over engagement, economic development and university advancement. “The nexus degree allows us now, with this facility, to expand the number of students. It qualifies students for federal financial aid because it’s a regular degree program. Certificate programs can’t get financial aid. It’s a big plus. It expands the opportunities exponentially for us.”
The additional degree could easily push student enrollment in the CSU program over 100 in its first semester, he said, with considerably more classroom space and times available at the new Flat Rock Studio. The current film certificate program also has waiting lists now, he said, which should be eliminated as more people shift into the larger degree program.
“Of course, we’ve got the tuition exception for residents of Alabama. We’ve got the whole state of Georgia we would recruit from,” Baxter said. “Soldiers leaving the military at Fort Benning could move into this program. They would be able to go into the nexus program immediately and be out in the workforce in a new career very quickly.”
The Georgia Film Academy brought in production experts to check out Flat Rock Studio and give W.C. Bradley Co. advice on how to set it up and market it effectively to recruit films to the city, he noted.
Overall, this is a big week for Columbus State and Flat Rock Studio, with the Columbus premiere of the film, “Still,” taking place Thursday, followed by a ribbon cutting for the production facility Friday afternoon. More than a dozen CSU students served as production assistants for “Still,” which was shot in Harris County, just north of Columbus. The premiere takes place 7 p.m. at the Rainey-McCullars School of the Arts Auditorium, 1700 Midtown Drive. Tickets are $15.
Columbus State University students are shown going through the Georgia Film Academy certificate program for future employment in the film industry. Image courtesy of Columbus State University and Georgia Film Academy