Augusta ought to be in pictures, professors say

Michael Holahan/Staff
Rick Pukis, associate professor of communications at Augusta State, sits in its editing room, which features everything from robotic cameras to a 27-by-13-foot cyclorama backdrop.

Tucked away at Augusta State University might be an idea for economic development, one closer to reality than diverting a canal or building a stadium.


The television and cinema lab at ASU is of such high caliber that, with a little help, it could attract professional production companies, professors say.

"When you go into a professional studio, this is what you find," said Rick Pukis, a filmmaker and associate professor of communications.

Movie companies shoot films in locations that fit their scripts, but finding an indoor location for professional production can be difficult, said Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner of Georgia's Film, Video and Music Office. Having an indoor facility, such as at Augusta State, could be a selling point for a community.

From robotic cameras to a 27-by-13-foot cyclorama backdrop, ASU's studio has everything needed for a professional production, Mr. Pukis said. The facility also has three editing bays, a green room, an audio control room, a sound booth and a studio control room.

"All of the cat's pajamas and right here at Augusta State. Who would have thought?" he asked. "I get all kinds of reactions from students. Some of them wig out when they walk in here."

In the seven years that he has been at the university, the facility has evolved tremendously, Mr. Pukis said. Just a couple of days ago, new computers with 23-inch side-by-side monitors were installed in the editing rooms.

And in that time the program has grown from a handful of students to the largest of five in the Department of Communications, he said.

His colleague Steve Clements, who has 25 years of experience in Hollywood, agrees that ASU's production facilities could drive the local economy.

Efforts to attract production companies to Augusta are already in the works, Mayor Deke Copenhaver stated in an e-mail. When he appeared in the movie Forces of Nature, he befriended K.C. Hoddenfield, a first assistant director.

"I have brought him to town on several occasions, and he has been very enthusiastic about the potential of the area," Mr. Copenhaver said.

"I feel strongly that Augusta has the potential to lure more production crews to our area based on the variety of landscapes and settings we have throughout the region," the mayor said. "A partnership between ASU and the city to promote the area would seem to be a natural fit, and I look forward to having the opportunity to explore this further."

Traditionally, movies in Georgia have been shot in metro Atlanta, but recently more have been shot throughout Georgia, Mr. Thompson said.

Augusta could get movies because it has "historic buildings as well as beautiful surroundings in the area."

Currently, 20 movies that are in development are looking to come to the state, he said. Through June, the movie industry had brought $157 million to Georgia this year. That could reach $250 million to $300 million by year's end, he said.

"We had quite a flurry of movies over the summer we haven't counted yet," Mr. Thompson said.

The push for movies in Augusta isn't new.

Former Mayor Bob Young tried to establish a film office as early as 1999, but it never moved beyond the concept phase, he said this week. The important thing is to market what is unique in Augusta, such as the canal and Phinizy Swamp.

"If a movie ever called for blowing up a mall, we have one to blow up," Mr. Young said.

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