How the DeKalb Entertainment Commission is Attracting More Film Projects to Georgia

The entertainment industry in Georgia has exploded, and DeKalb County is at the epicenter of that continuing growth. On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, area director for the UGA Small Business Development Center, sits down with Shelbia Jackson, Director of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission. Today, Jackson is going to discuss her pivotal role in driving entertainment production in DeKalb County and beyond.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome into The Playbook, Shelbia.

Shelbia Jackson:
Thank you. Thank you for having me today.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, as I said in my lead-in, the entertainment industry is really exploding here. I mean, I drive to work every day, and I see that huge studio going up at 285 at the former General Motors plant. And, of course, Tyler Perry is a well-known commodity here with his studio as well. So before we dive into that, tell me about your professional journey. How did it begin, and how did you get to your current role as Director of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission?

Shelbia Jackson:
Well, you know what, it was by chance because at the time, DeKalb County didn’t have a process for managing the amount of film production that was coming as a result of that film tax credit. It was exploding across the state, and we were no exception to that. So when it landed in my lap to coordinate services, I also felt the need to figure out what our management process should be. And so, I work with county officials, our board commissioners, every single department in the county to determine what does that look like? What should our structure be? What should our film ordinance look like and so forth? So we ended up forming an entertainment commission-

Mark Collier:
Very smart.

Shelbia Jackson:
… that is fully funded by the county. And we have an entertainment strategic plan that guides us in what we should do as well as an entertainment commission of 10 organizations to help us understand this industry and what it needs.

Mark Collier:
Phenomenal. I love to hear the words “strategic plan.” I’m a big strategy guy. And I mean, you need a blueprint. If you don’t have a blueprint, you don’t know where you’re going.

Shelbia Jackson:
Right.

Mark Collier:
All right. So let’s dive a little deeper. Describe some of your responsibilities as the director at the DEC and as well as the responsibility of your team members.

Shelbia Jackson:
So not only do we work with our school system and our technical colleges, we work with partners in the industry who have a longstanding history of understanding and working with this industry, not just including our commission organizations, which also include the unions, organizations that help to create our film tax credit, our music tax credit, our digital media tax credit. All of those organizations provide us with advice on what we should be doing to support-

Mark Collier:
Makes sense.

Shelbia Jackson:
… the creative community. So we want to definitely grow the industry. We want to grow local talent. So we created workforce programs to help them grow their skills from being a novice to intermediate, to advance so they can always have job opportunities in the industry.

Mark Collier:
Excellent.

Shelbia Jackson:
We created services around location. That’s the primary way to get a production to film in your area is to be proactive about the film friendly locations that you have in your area. So we know where those are. We have a free database for residents and business owners to contact us and let us know that they’re film friendly.

Mark Collier:
Interesting. Okay.

Shelbia Jackson:
And then when productions reach out to us, we can go down the list of locations that they need and locate them in DeKalb County. So that’s how we maintain our reputation for being a consistent, streamlined organization that has topnotch customer service.

Mark Collier:
All right. So, well, that’s important because there’s competition out here.

Shelbia Jackson:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
DeKalb County is not the only county in Georgia, and I’m sure everyone’s kind of grasping at those entertainment dollars. So you have to kind of differentiate yourself in order to get a leg up.

Shelbia Jackson:
That is true as well, but we also like to be a regional partner.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Shelbia Jackson:
So we have 12 cities in DeKalb County, but we count city Atlanta, so it makes 13. So we work closely with city of Atlanta. We love working with Fulton County. We love working with Savannah and Columbus. So we try to be a regional partner because we know that if someone’s filming in Columbus or they’re filming in Savannah, more than likely their production will come back and they’ll film in Metro Atlanta. If you’re a regional partner, then you’re welcoming to everybody.

Mark Collier:
I get it.

Shelbia Jackson:
And so you want them to film in Georgia.

Mark Collier:
That makes sense. Collaboration is the name of the game.

Shelbia Jackson:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
All right. So since a primary role of the DEC is film permitting and location scouting assistance, kind of elaborate on that process and what steps go into that process?

Shelbia Jackson:
So when we first created our entertainment commission, we knew that we needed a streamlined process. And we found that out after talking to location managers. Those are the primary people who reach out to you when they need a film permit, when they’re ready to film. So after talking to them and finding out their needs, it was about making sure that they could locate as quickly as possible. They could get through that film permit process as quickly as possible. They know who to call. You only have to call one place in DeKalb County to figure out where you’re going to film, where you’re going to file your permit. So it’s about a streamline process and being consistent with that process. And location services is about making sure where are those unique places you have in your county? Where are those popular places that they’re always asking for, schools and jails and hospitals and homes that look a certain way. Where are they? And if you can readily have that information for them, it helps them stay in budget, it helps them stay on schedule and that saves them time and money.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. But the bottom line, I mean, film business is a business.

Shelbia Jackson:
It’s a business.

Mark Collier:
So it’s all about the bottom line

Shelbia Jackson:
It’s business. Yes. Its economic development.

Mark Collier:
Definitely understand that. Well, speaking of economic developments is a great segue to my next question. The film industry has helped Georgia tremendously, both financially and in the case of jobs. So can you describe how the industry has helped DeKalb County in particular?

Shelbia Jackson:
So for us, prior to us creating our Entertainment Commission, our DeKalb County school system already had a CTAE program, which is a Career Pathway Program. It’s statewide, created as a result of the Georgia Department of Education, figuring out that there were career pathways these students could begin learning while they’re in high school, so that when they graduate, they have a career that’s ready for them to jump into. Film industry, digital media, TV broadcasting, all of those different pathways our elective students can take in middle school. And so we wanted to connect with them and make sure that we could bring industry into the classroom. “That was a need,” they told us that was missing. So we worked with them to do that. We created an annual student film festival for those students to showcase their skills. We bring industry judges to judge that film festival, but not only that, we work with our technical college system.

We work with Georgia Film Academy, which has all these film courses and workshops that people can take. If they don’t want to go to college, they don’t have to go to college. They can just take these classes. They are certified, they are industry respected. So you’re training that get you can have job opportunities once you complete those. So for us, it’s making sure that we promote those opportunities for people to grow their talent so that productions that come here to film can hire locally and we can complete that process for making sure we leverage that film tax credit the way it was designed.

Mark Collier:
Very good.

Shelbia Jackson:
We don’t want that tax credit to go away until we have a full industry here in DeKalb in Georgia, really.

Mark Collier:
No. I mean, so what you-

Shelbia Jackson:
So, we need to make sure that local people are hired, content is created here, that content is financed here, meaning it can also be distributed from here.

Mark Collier:
Makes sense. I mean-

Shelbia Jackson:
That’s the full circle of making sure the industry is lucrative, that it’s sustainable, that it will stay here regardless of a tax credit.

Mark Collier:
No, that makes perfect sense. I mean, it’s a feeder program. I mean, you want to help the middle school students, high school students all prepare them for potential careers in the film production industry.

Shelbia Jackson:
From the bottom up, making sure there’s a whole central circle process.

Mark Collier:
All right. I love it. So film’s not the only game in town. DeKalb Film Commission also focuses on music and the gaming sectors of the entertainment industry. So kind of discuss the economic vitality of music and gaming in DeKalb County.

Shelbia Jackson:
So Georgia has always been an epicenter for music. All you have to do is do your research and you’ll see all these incredible artists who started here in Georgia, not just in Metro Atlanta, but across the state. So we have Georgia music partners who really helped us understand our music ecosystem and what we are supposed to be doing to help support them. Right now, we’re in the middle of creating a new entertainment strategic plan that will cover the next five years. And what we want to focus on with this new plan is more programs and services for our music creatives and our digital media creatives. We know we got film and we’ve done so much for film and we’ve established ourselves as that film leader in DeKalb.

But for music, we don’t know where our music venues are. We don’t know what their needs are. So we want to focus more on them and grow that industry. We have incredible students in K through 12, and then our technical colleges. We have Emory and Georgia State and so many other colleges that have music programs now that are growing. We want to make sure that we have the programs and services available to support them. And we know it’s growing so much and we’ll learn from this entertainment strategy just where those assets are so that we can reach out to them and create programs to support them.

Mark Collier:
Well, the arts is important. It’s very important. I mean, you’ve seen cutbacks in funding, federal and state levels for the arts. So you guys are kind of filling in that gap to make sure that those types of things continue.

Shelbia Jackson:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, the individuals out here, as well as the businesses who are hoping to take advantage and hopefully break into the film and entertainment industry, what skills, education, and experience are required to pursue a career or business opportunities in the entertainment industry here in Georgia?

Shelbia Jackson:
So you actually don’t need to know anything about the industry. So if you have a business and you want to cater to the industry-

Mark Collier:
You just have to know Shelbia Jackson, right?

Shelbia Jackson:
Reach out to us so that we can explain to you and figure out what you want to do. Whether you’re a catering company or you’re a construction company, or you own a commercial space that you want someone to use to film in, whether you’re a resident, you just want to be able to offer your home or property that you own as a film location. Just reach out to us. If there are training programs you’re interested in, whether you want to be a photographer. Everybody doesn’t want to be a director. If you love math, and you’re still a creative person, you can be an accountant. And there’s so many different careers in the film industry that people just aren’t aware of. We like to be able to expose people to that information.

Mark Collier:
Okay. So going to your website, is there a database where prospective vendors or suppliers can register to be a part of this?

Shelbia Jackson:
Absolutely. It’s DeKalbEntertainment.com. Just go to our website. There is a info form you can fill out that’ll tell us about your business, tell us your location, who to contact and we’ll reach back out to you and tell you what’s needed in order to fill in all those things on that website, photos and spec information on the size and who the production manager should call when they’re ready to use your location as a film location.

Mark Collier:
All right. So let’s talk about individuals or businesses who have no prior experience in the film or entertainment industry. Does DeKalb offer any training programs, kind of help those interested in breaking into the entertainment industry?

Shelbia Jackson:
So we welcome businesses to reach out to us so that we can talk to them about what’s expected in working with industry. We have industry partners we will bring in for panel discussions. We also have a series of panels and workshops already on our website.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic.

Shelbia Jackson:
They would go to DeKalbentertainment.com. Those links are on there so that you can view all of our previous panels. We normally do an in-person entertainment expo event. It’s a one day event.

Mark Collier:
Is that annually or-

Shelbia Jackson:
It’s annually. So we would have panels. We would have workshops. And at the end of the day, we would screen local movies. We converted that in 2020 because of the pandemic to a virtual series. And we did eight of those in 2020. We’re doing three of those this year and all the links to those are on our website. And we also do them live on Facebook and Instagram.

Mark Collier:
Well, very good.

Shelbia Jackson:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
So last question. What is something you want viewers to take away and know about the DeKalb Entertainment Commission?

Shelbia Jackson:
I want them to know that we are a service driven organization. We support our creative community. We welcome filming here, but we also love the quality of life that you will find in DeKalb County. We love our parks, our public spaces, our libraries, and so forth. We love filming. When it happens in DeKalb we like for our local creative community to be able to have opportunities to join that industry. So I want them to know that we are here, that we will continue to strive to welcome production here and to grow our services.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, as a proud 22 year resident of DeKalb County, I am looking forward to further growth in the area.

Shelbia Jackson:
Thank you.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Shelbia Jackson:
And thank you for what you do. This is a wonderful program.

Mark Collier:
Thank you. Shelbia Jackson, director with the DeKalb Entertainment Commission. I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy day to come in and just kind of detail what the DeKalb Entertainment Commission is all about and how you are driving economic development here in DeKalb County and beyond.

Shelbia Jackson:
Thank you, Mark. I appreciate it.

Mark Collier:
All right.


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