A group of students listen as instructor Jeffrey Nichols talks to them about how to properly set up a camera at the Longleaf Studios in Jacksonville. Photo by Trent Penny.
JACKSONVILLE — On the floor of a converted warehouse Wednesday, Jana Tolliver steadied a light on a long, metal pole so it shone on an expanse of green-painted plywood.
Also pointing at the green walls and floor were about a dozen other lights and one camera, waiting for action.
Tolliver, 24, was one of a dozen teens and young adults in the warehouse to learn the basics of film production in a week-long camp hosted by the Northeast Alabama Film Initiative, a nonprofit established by Jacksonville State University to train a workforce to staff a local film industry. It’s hoped the effort will help attract filmmakers to take advantage of a 2009 tax-incentives law aimed at movie and television projects.
For Tolliver, who hopes to become an animator, the camp is a chance to get her hands on movie-making equipment and learn how to tell stories through film.
“I’m building an extra skill that might help me get a job related to what I want to do,” she said.
The converted warehouse is the home of Longleaf Studios, the initiative’s facility in western Jacksonville. The green-painted plywood, according to program director Pete Conroy, is the largest green screen in an Alabama studio. Actors are filmed performing in front of the screen, and producers later replace the images of the green surfaces with other images so the actors can be made to appear anywhere in the finished film.
Conroy said he hopes the program encourages some of the students to consider enrolling in film classes at Jacksonville State University being taught by Jeffrey Nichols, an artist in residence there. Nichols and Louisiana native Chuck Bush were leading the instruction at the camp on Wednesday.
“This is round one,” said Bush, who broke into the entertainment industry as an actor in the 1985 film “Fandango.” “I teach them whatever they need to know.”
On Wednesday, the students learned the basic framework of visual storytelling. Earlier in the week, they learned to use digital video cameras and how to set up studio lighting. By the week’s end they’ll have produced short films with help from the instructors.
“It gives students a big heads up,” said one participant, 32-year-old Jonathan Garland, who has worked behind the scenes at WJXS-TV 24. “It amazes me that it’s in Jacksonville.”
The Northeast Alabama Entertainment Initiative is being supported with state tax money routed through JSU. The 2014 Education Trust Fund budget includes $226,194 for the program, down from $426,194 in 2013.
The cost for each student to attend this week’s film camp was $650, $300 of which is paid by the initiative, leaving the students to pay $350.
The funding is intended to help the local economy cash in on the 2009 tax incentives bill, modeled on a Louisiana law that has grown a film industry in that state.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, 8,655 people have jobs directly related to the film industry in Louisiana, 3,400 of them in production-related work. The state has provided filming locations for movies including the 2013 releases “Now You See Me,” “This Is the End” and “Snitch.” In Alabama, 3,529 people work in the industry, according to the MPAA, 540 of them in production jobs.
While some of the students in Jacksonville this week, including Tolliver, said they were drawn to filmmaking as a form of creative expression, the focus at Longleaf this week has been on the basic skills for workers behind the scenes.
“It’s called show business, not show art,” Bush told a reporter Wednesday.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.