Lighting the way for future Georgia filmmakers

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Film making may seem romantic to those who dream of a glamorous job, but with the glamour often comes sitting in the hot sun all day or freezing through cold nights on film sets around the world.

Just ask Atlantan Brian Gunter. The price for working on more than 150 films during his 35-year career was often months at a time away from his family. Brian has lived in Georgia all his life and never wanted to move his family to Los Angeles. When he would get a call to work, he’d just pack his bags and go. He lived out of hotel rooms for about 15 years. It was hard on his family, but they would come to the set to visit and his kids enjoyed the travel and their adventures with him, like learning to ski in Prague. So it was a blessing when work started to pick up in Georgia over the past eight years.

Now Brian has found a new career path that lets him stay in the film industry, requires little travel, and even allows him to take vacations. Thanks to the recent boom in the Georgia film industry, the next generation of filmmakers needs to be trained by people like Brian with decades of experience.

Brian has retired from the set to teach film lighting and electrical work for the Georgia Film Academy. He is also an adjunct professor at Kennesaw State University, which is a part of the Academy.

During his career on set, Brian spent about 10 years as an electrician (a member of the lighting crew), 20 years as a gaffer (chief lighting technician), and five years as a camera operator and director of photography, working with some of the most accomplished directors and actors in the world.

“After all those years, I lost my enthusiasm for the long hours on set. Teaching at the Georgia Film Academy gives me the opportunity to get off the set and pass on my knowledge,” says Brian. “What I’m teaching is something I’ve done for so long I could do it blindfolded.”

Brian knew the material, but had never taught it before. Aaron Levy, Director of Academics for the Georgia Film Academy, offered Brian this advice: Treat teaching like a performance. That made sense to Brian, who has a trove of stories to tell his students.

“One of my favorite stories is from the set of ‘The Newton Boys’ with Matthew McConaughey. I built a lot of my own lights to make them fit perfectly for tight, nighttime sets. These lights were made out of cardboard,” says Brian. “My crew was rigging five of these lights around McConaughey and I joked with him, ‘They’re paying you so much money I have to shoot you with cardboard lights.’ He was good-natured about the ribbing.”

Several of Brian’s students are now bona fide members of the film community. He’s proud of their hard work and perseverance, but according to Brian, it’s a myth that it’s difficult to get into the film business, especially in Georgia.

“Georgia is the best place to be if you want to work in the film industry,” says Brian. “The industry prefers to hire locals and the Academy is meeting its goals of increasing the labor pool in Georgia. I wish I had this opportunity when I first started in this industry.”

This story is presented in cooperation with the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance. Learn more about the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance.

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