The boom in television production has lead to a boom in television festivals across the country, as well as internationally: Even film festivals like Sundance and Toronto are now screening TV series as part of their lineups.
But for Paula Wallace, president and founder of Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), her burgeoning aTVfest — which just celebrated its fifth year — stands apart. “It’s the only one affiliated with a major university, which is a preeminent source of knowledge,” she says. “The students have actually studied their work. The professors have actually been in these same roles as the writers and actors in television. That’s why the people in the business like to come to SCAD. It’s very much of a familial, mutual admiration.”
Each year, SCAD sets a lineup of premieres, screenings, panel discussions, and master classes for aTVfest that recruits an impressive roster of showrunners and stars from across the TV landscape to their Atlanta campus. This year’s festival included the premieres of Fox’s “24: Legacy,” season three of ABC’s “American Crime,” and NBC’s “Taken,” among others. “Once Upon a Time” star Jennifer Morrison was also honored with the festival’s Spotlight Award, as was Jenna Elfman (“Imaginary Mary”) and Christina Ricci (“Z: The Beginning of Everything”).
The industry has increasingly embraced the festival, Wallace reports. “We have more and more people wanting to participate,” she says. “People in Atlanta love it. People in the business love it. So many showrunners are very familiar with Atlanta and Georgia these days.”
Back in 1982, SCAD started offering a degree program in video, which has since expanded to 22 different disciplines related to film and television. “We’re preparing students to go into entertainment arts,” explains Wallace, “and we realized that Atlanta has become a major market for television.” Not only is CNN based there, but tax incentives have drawn over 200 film and TV productions to the state. “We like to put the professionals front and center and honor those people who have achieved in their different disciplines so our students see what it means to be successful.”
There’s also the added benefit of exposing the students for potential career opportunities. “Hosting something in Georgia shows our support of the business and also provides a bridge for our students so they can walk across from student life into professional life,” says Wallace. She reports that thanks to the festival, many students have landed auditions, including a test for one of the upcoming Shondaland shows. More than 200 graduates of SCAD have been cast in films and TV series, including WGN’s “Underground,” HBO’s “Vinyl,” and Amazon’s “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”
(above: Wallace with SCAD alumnus DeRon Horton, who’s starring in Netflix’s “Dear White People”)
SCAD’s intensive curriculum provides students with experience that translates to real-world production. This season, for example, students were tasked with creating their own sitcom, and produced “The Buzz” — it was written, performed, and produced entirely by students, and was also screened at the festival.
“We were very proud of them,” says Wallace. “They had the experience of being able to reflect on their work and share it with others.” Next year they’ll tackle a dramatic series. “From start to finish it’s a true production that’s something they can refer back to when they’re interviewing for jobs and auditioning for roles later.”
The plans for next year’s festival are still underway, says Wallace. “I see our role as being an advocate for the television world,” she says. “Just putting it front and center and shining a light on it.”
But her goal is primarily to promote her students and help them land jobs. “Our goal is 100 percent employment of our graduates,” she says. “So far, last year we recorded 98 percent across the board in all disciplines. It’s not only performing arts and dramatic writing. It’s also for the architecture graduates and the fashion graduates. And production design and visual effects and animation. We teach there are many opportunities in the TV world for them.”
(Pictured: Jennifer Morrison with “Once Upon a Time” executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz)