Peaches, Peanuts, and Now Stepakoff Tackles Production
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Peaches, Peanuts, and Now Stepakoff Tackles Production

Atlanta native Jeff Stepakoff returned from years in Hollywood to run the amazingly successful Georgia Film Academy.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Georgia Film Academy Executive Director Jeffrey Stepakoff is the steam engine behind our state’s business of film entertainment.
Georgia Film Academy Executive Director Jeffrey Stepakoff is the steam engine behind our state’s business of film entertainment.

We Georgians go gaga over our burgeoning film industry. Peering out at my condo parking lot, I see a full movie set. My friend chatted with Cameron Diaz getting a manicure in East Atlanta; witnessed Jennifer Garner walking on the Atlanta BeltLine; and was that Jennifer Anniston shopping at Whole Foods?

Peel back the shiny surface and who congeals all this revolutionary activity is native son Jeffrey Stepakoff, the steam engine behind our state’s business of film entertainment.

With a sweeping 30-year career in the development and production of film, television, publishing, animation, and digital media, Stepakoff is an accomplished producer, screenwriter, novelist and entertainment industry expert who also happened to become a bar mitzvah at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

Stepakoff was featured in the Atlanta Business Chronicle article Dec. 7 by Randy Southerland titled “Georgia Film Academy Executive Director: Film could be the state’s premier industry.”

Thinking “big picture,” compare Stepakoff to other local media visionaries such as Ted Turner – with the mojo of it happening so rapidly. “In 2007, prior to the 2008 film tax credit, there was $242 million in economic activity in Georgia from film and television production. Currently that is a whopping $9.5 billion,” he said, emphasizing the “b” in billion.

Read on to understand what makes him get up every morning at 5 a.m. to welcome the sunrise.

Jaffe: Growing up in Dunwoody, were you dreaming about becoming Steven Spielberg or Tennessee Williams?

Stepakoff: My goal at that time was to be a playwright. I attended Woodward Academy, the University of North Carolina, and then got an MFA at Carnegie Mellon. In 1988, the day after graduation, I drove out to Hollywood where I was an intern for Universal Studios. Then there was the writers’ strike; but that’s a different story.

Jaffe: As an author, your novels have romantic sounding titles: “The Melody of Secrets,” “Love a la Carte,” “Fireworks Over Toccoa,” “Billion Dollar Kiss,” to name a few.

Stepakoff: They certainly are all set in Georgia. In terms of career writing, I worked on the scripts for “Dawson’s Creek,” “Tarzan”(the movie ), “Chasing Life,” “The Wonder Years” … maybe 16 TV shows over my 20 years in LA.

Jaffe: Would you describe yourself as an academician?

Stepakoff: For many years I did teach at Kennesaw State. I enjoy sharing “best practices” with colleagues and recently returned from Ireland doing just that.

In my current role at the Georgia Film Academy, we provide leadership in academics by working collaboratively with colleges and universities.

Jaffe: How does the Georgia Film Academy operate?

Stepakoff: We are THE platform with 17 partners, including Kennesaw State, Georgia State, University of Georgia, Clayton State, etc. We hire instructors, develop classwork, and further job placements. Students register through their chosen institution. Our course takes three semesters to complete.

About one-third make it all the way through. Over 4,000 have taken our courses. Currently there are over 800 enrolled students.

We are also affiliated with Pinewood Studios in Fayetteville, where we operate a 15,000-square-foot sound stage, and a Gwinnett County film production facility.

We are the “gold standard” in workforce training.

Jaffe: You are a man with a mission. How would you translate that into what it means for Georgia?

Stepakoff: I’ve already addressed the economic impact, but what it means to individual Georgians is jobs. For those who dream of creating content, they no longer have to leave their beloved state of Georgia to make that happen. We are developing a full ecosystem.

Jaffe: How does this affect our work force?

Stepakoff: The impact on jobs in Georgia is phenomenal. About 92,000 Georgians are employed, and 300 new businesses have been created. This is unprecedented!

The positions that are most needed in today’s market are “below the line”: grips, scene designers, electrical, accounting, and post-production like hair, makeup and special effects.

One area of the business that I’m uniquely passionate about, especially because of my own history in the writer’s rooms of Hollywood, is supporting writers here in Georgia.

Jaffe: What can we learn about politics and civility from this enterprise?

Stepakoff: Both sides of the aisle are unified in support of our entertainment industry as a major economic driver. If you are looking for political drama, we find that more often in scripts for projects set to film here than in our own reality.

Jaffe: What’s in your average day, and what happens in your rare spare time?

Stepakoff:  I get up around 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise, exercise, catch up on correspondence, and then head out to work. I might finish around 7:30 p.m. I enjoy Atlanta’s art ecosystem and live near Piedmont Park, … like to hike and go to the High Museum, music scene, etc. On weekends, I spend time with my three children from ages 10 to 19.

Jaffe: What would you like your legacy to be?

Stepakoff: We are on the tidal wave of creating a permanent, sustainable impact that will leave a legacy for Georgians for generations to come. I am deeply impassioned about that. That’s what I wake up thinking about.

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