Compared to Atlanta, there has never been much of a film industry presence in Athens, but the introduction of a new soundstage development could change that.Why It’s Newsworthy: Athena Studios will be “the first of its kind in Athens,” featuring a 45-acre campus with over 350,000 square feet of space for film and TV productions. Once the soundstage is complete, it will bring many benefits to Athens, including jobs and unique opportunities for University of Georgia students.
According to a press release from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, there are currently 2.1 million square feet in purpose-built stage space and 3.2 million in retrofitted stage and dedicated warehouse space in Georgia. But demand is rising for more space.
“Georgia is the epicenter of international film and television production, the scale and scope are just absolutely unbelievable. And it’s the demand for space by outside companies coming in that is driving the reason why Athena Studios is getting built on the outskirts of Athens,” says Jay Hamilton, the head of the entertainment and media studies department at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA.
The Economic Impact
According to the Georgia Department of Labor’s Workforce Statistics and Economic Research (WS&ER) Division, more than half of the 20 fastest-growing occupations through 2028 in Georgia are dominated by healthcare and movie and television-related professions.
Joel Harber, CEO of Athena Studios, expects the soundstage to be very impactful on the Athens community when it comes to jobs.
“Depending on the number of productions, and once the studio is fully built, it could be upwards of 1,000 jobs that would be on the Athena Studios Campus throughout the year,” says Harber.
Harber says that people who are IATSE union members who live in Athens or who want to move from the Atlanta area to Athens will have more opportunities available closer to home.
Lee Thomas, the Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, says that productions filming at Athena Studios are going to try to find as many people locally in Athens to work on the sets.
Union regulations could also be beneficial when it comes to job growth in Athens.
“Because of union regulations, a lot of the below the line crew have to actually live within a certain number of miles of a set, or that production needs to basically house them and get them set up,” says Jeff Springston, the director of the Master of Fine Arts program at the Grady College at UGA.
Athena Studios is also expected to indirectly generate economic activity throughout Athens. Harber says that people may want to move and live in Athens instead of Atlanta if there is an opportunity for steady work.
Both Harber and Hamilton agreed that the introduction of the soundstage will bring more business to local businesses and hotels because of people either moving to Athens or coming to stay and work at Athena Studios.
Although some movies have been filmed on-location in the past, like “The Spectacular Now” and “Trouble with the Curve,” the sound stage should bring even more opportunities for on-location shooting to Athens and the surrounding communities.
“You can’t build some things on a soundstage. If you look around Athens and surrounding areas, we have rural spots, we have downtown and UGA’s campus, which is a landmark that could be utilized,” says Harber.
Athena Studios’ Educational Opportunities
Currently, entertainment and media studies students travel to Trilith Studios in Atlanta to get most of their hands-on experience, but Athena Studios is going to have a 14,000-foot soundstage specifically for UGA and the Georgia Film Academy.
Hamilton hopes to start having classes there in fall 2023 for advanced majors to create sets and shoot in studios for the first time.
“I think it just gives students a lot more potential avenues to get really interesting film work done if they don’t have to always rely on getting access to locations,” says Springston.
Hamilton said they are also looking into the possibility of bringing some film and production classes to the commercial sets for students to see how everything is truly done, but that there are many steps to go through when it comes to getting access and non-disclosure agreements.
Chances for internships are probably going to be slim according to Hamilton, but many students are already paid workers on other sets in Atlanta, so those types of paid jobs for students may be possible at Athena Studios.
Right now, there has only been communication between UGA’s Grady College and Athena Studios for students to work there. However, Harber says that they plan to work with anything film-related that exists at UGA, such as the theater and film studies department.
Athena Studios is under construction, and the first phase is expected to be ready by the beginning of 2023. Harber says they’re already talking with multiple studios that would potentially lease the soundstage, bringing these opportunities closer to the people of Athens.
Erin Johnson is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in fashion merchandising and a certificate in new media studies.
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