Camera Ready: Atlanta Showbiz Boom
Focuses Spotlight on Georgia State
As the tanks rolled, fires blazed and attack dogs howled and pulled tight on their restraints, Michael Oloyede, his face and hands covered in dirt and grime, let loose a war cry and raced toward certain death.
On the chaotic front lines of a full-blown riot, he cocked his arm back and aimed a brick at the adversaries bearing down on him. But before he could let it fly, a familiar word rang out to stop him dead in his tracks: “Cut!”
Oloydede, a senior business major at Georgia State, had heard it dozens of times since he’d come on the set of “Hunger Games II” as an extra. This was his third, grueling night of filming in and around an abandoned warehouse in the West End of Atlanta.
“We were all going crazy, yelling, screaming and rioting for three nights solid,” Oloyede remembers.” It was exhausting, but a lot of fun.”
“Hunger Games II,” to be released in November, is the second feature film Oloyede has worked on since he’s been at Georgia State. He had a small part in the made-for-TV film, “The Preacher’s Kid,” when he was a freshman. He’s also been cast for a part in the “The Good Lie,” a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon, and shot partially on the Georgia State campus, based on the real life story of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
“Hunger Games II” is one of the dozens of motion pictures shot in Atlanta in recent years. Several, such as “Zombieland,” “The Change-Up” and, most recently, “Anchorman 2” have used downtown and Georgia State as a backdrop.
For aspiring actors such as Oloyede, Atlanta’s boom in film and video production has offered an entrée into the industry. The same is true for graduates and students in the Department of Communications’ film and video program.
Kay Beck, professor of communication and director of the Digital Arts and Entertainment Lab at Georgia State, said the undergraduate and graduate programs in film and video prepare students for all angles of work in show business.
“I would guess that probably half of the people working in the film industry in Georgia went to Georgia State or are studying here,” she says.
The Georgia Production Partnership and the Georgia Film Commission, organizations of which Beck is a member, lobbied in 2005 to pass a tax incentive as part of House Bill 539, making it more attractive for television and films to shoot here. Now, the film commission estimates that the direct economic benefits of film production in Georgia came to nearly $3.1 billion in 2012.
Mike Brune (B.A. ’02), an actor, writer, producer and a member of Fake Wood Wallpaper, a filmmaking collective made up of a handful of Georgia State graduates, says he and his fellow filmmakers have remained gainfully employed in the business, even if it’s meant they’ve had to wear many different hats.
“Most of us work in the film industry in some capacity, either as a production manager, locations manager, camera assistant, propmaster, graphic designer, etcetera,” Brune says. “But it’s allowed us to have a steady income while we produce independent films.”
As an actor, Mike has appeared in “Van Wilder Freshman Year” as well as several commercials for CNN and TBS.
“Congratulations,” filmed in Johns Creek, Ga., in and around the house he grew up in, is his first feature film as a writer and director. It’s making the rounds on the festival circuit and won Best Georgia Connected Film at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival.
Other students and alums have also found considerable success in show business.
When Oprah Winfrey wanted someone to follow her for a year and tell the story of the start of her new network OWN, she chose Vasco Nunes (B.A. ’98).
Nunes accompanied Winfrey to high-wattage interviews and to more intimate moments, including interviewing the Kardashian family and doing skits on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel.
Brandon Kersey, a graduate assistant with the baseball team working toward his master’s degree in sports administration, portrays Dave Koslo in the Jackie Robinson biopic “42.” Koslo is the pitcher who served up Robinson’s first-ever major league home run.
And fans of “The Office” may recognized Lance Krall (B.A. ’95) as “Sensei Ira,” a recurring character and the karate guru for Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson). Krall also starred in his own 30-minute comedy series on Spike TV, “The Lance Krall Show.”
Perhaps the most recognized television series filmed around Atlanta portrays a world where the dead have risen to feed on the living, “The Walking Dead.”
Now in its third season, the wildly popular AMC series has provided opportunity for several Georgia State students and alumni. For Kevin Galbraith, a senior psychology major and a longtime fan of the zombie films of director George Romero, the chance to portray the undead was like a twisted dream come true.
“They did an open casting call — pretty much two lines on Facebook, asking, ‘Hey, we’re looking for skinny people for a zombie show,’ and I said ‘Oh my God, I look like a corpse already. It’s perfect!’” Galbraith says.
Galbraith has portrayed several different zombies on the program, each time eventually getting impaled, beheaded or shot. He earned cult status in season two when he eviscerated Dale Horvath (Jeffrey Demunn) before being dispatched by Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), who jammed a knife in his zombified skull.
Tom Luse (B.S. ’74, M.S. ‘81 ), now the show’s executive producer, says his experiences at Georgia State were the launchpad to his career.
“I got to make films everyday,” Luse says. “I got to make a film as my master’s thesis. I had great advisers. I had a great internship. I was a lucky winner.”
As many more Georgia State students and grads get set to break into the industry, Luse implores them to enjoy the ride.
“There is no single path to someone’s career in the film business,” he says. “Take any job you can get and figure out where this will take you. The best way is to just jump in and see.”