New film-TV agency seeks to build ecosystem in Georgia with local writers
By Maria Saporta
It’s the dawning of a new age for the film and television industry in Georgia — where there is a complete ecosystem that includes writers, financiers, directors, producers and the agents who represent them.
At least that’s the vision of Jeffrey Stepakoff, 59, the founding executive director of the Georgia Film Academy, and his business partner, Josh Lee, 37, who served as director of strategy and operations for the Georgia Film Academy.
Stepakoff and Lee, on July 22, stepped down from their roles with the Georgia Film Academy to launch a new venture — Content Talent South — as a way to actualize the expansion of Georgia as a complete film and television producing state. The new company is serving as a consultant to the Georgia Board of Regents to make sure the Georgia Film Academy continues its mission to educate and train the next generation of skilled workers in the film and television industry.
“It is very personal for me,” Stepakoff said in an interview. As a Georgia native who attended the Woodward Academy, Stepakoff had to leave Georgia to become a writer for film and television. “I left my beloved home state to go to California.”
When he returned to Georgia to teach at Kennesaw State University, he was reminded that something was missing.
“A lot of students had that amazing script,” Stepakoff said. “I would tell them that if you want to be a writer, here’s an agent and move to California. This is insane. We’re sending our creative class out of state.”
There were 550 television shows produced in North America last year — meaning there were 550 television writers’ rooms in North America. The overwhelming majority of those rooms are located in California.
Stepakoff and Lee believe Content Talent South can help change that.
“We believe this is the next generation of Georgia’s film business,” Stepakoff said. “No longer do you have to go to California to be a writer. No longer do you have to go to California if you want to finance your show.”
Content Talent South will be one of the first talent management and production companies for Georgia-based writers and content creators. It will identify, represent and produce the work of Georgia-based writers. The company also will provide consulting services to brands, businesses and education initiatives including digital production, gaming and esports.
The Georgia Film Academy was founded in 2015 as a way to bolster the state’s growing film industry by training the students for the various jobs in film crews. It was the first of its kind, and it has now become a model to develop industry professionals for major production companies.
Since classes began in 2016, the Academy grew from less than 200 students at two universities and a technical college to more than 14,000 enrollments with 29 partnering educational institutions — both public and private. More than 1,400 students have completed internships in the business. During that seven-year period, direct spending on television and film production in the state more than doubled, from $2 billion to $4.4 billion.
But most of Georgia’s film industry remains concentrated on the production of movies. Content Talent South will focus on expanding the business by developing, representing and producing the work of writers, who create jobs and are the wellspring for virtually all economic activity associated with filmed production globally.
Josh Lee joined the Georgia Film Academy in 2017 when he started developing high school programs for students interested in getting into film and television production.
“We are helping develop the pipeline,” said Lee, who added there’s great growth potential in esports and digital entertainment. “Esports is now the second most watched professional sport in the world after soccer. And Georgia is a center for esports.”
Content Talent South will focus on expanding the business by developing, representing and producing the work of writers, who create jobs and are the foundation for economic activity associated with film production globally.
“There’s a chance to build the industry in Georgia that I dreamed of,” Stepakoff said. “We now have professionally trained Georgia-based writers. How can we keep them in Georgia?”
Stepakoff used Donald Glover as an example. Glover grew up in Atlanta, but he had to leave the state to get work as a writer, actor and entertainer. He was behind the television series — Atlanta — but the writers were based in California.
“You need a full ecosystem of the film industry in Georgia,” Stepakoff said.
Content Talent South has acquired the intellectual property rights to nine novels, scripts and outlines — all with stories set in Georgia. The intention will be to use them as the basis for motion pictures and television series that will be entirely produced and filmed in Georgia. Stepakoff says script development is currently underway for the first of these acquisitions, and production is planned for 2023.
When asked how he would define success, Stepakoff first laughed and said “success is fluid.” Then he became more serious.
“Success is when we have a robust community of writers who are based here in Georgia and when we have an ecosystem of agents and managers who represent them,” Stepakoff said. “Success is when there’s a vibrant community of writers who call Georgia their home.”