For Francis Harlan of Atlanta, Georgia’s film and television production industry has been a game-changer.
“The Georgia film industry has changed my life,” says Francis, a key rigging grip. “It’s allowed me to pay off credit card debt, build my own company, explore other entrepreneurial avenues and give back to others. I never would have been able to do that without this industry.”
Francis started as a lighting and equipment rental warehouse manager, where he learned the intricacies of the equipment, picked up film industry-specific vocabulary, forged relationships with industry people and did freelance work setting up lights for productions.
Today, a big part of his job is hiring the best crew possible. He’s built a solid group of high quality, dedicated grips. Francis firmly believes that diverse people with a plethora of backgrounds and skills make the best crew, but most people never have the opportunity to even try so Francis gives people with potential but no experience a chance. And his gamble has paid off.
“I’ve helped 10 guys turn into high-quality grips and several are working as best boys. This opportunity really changes their life for the better,” says Francis. “I hired a restaurant cook and kept him with the crew since then. He’s skilled with a phenomenal work ethic. He was able to buy a house.”
After earning a degree in photography from Georgia State University, Francis joined the union in 2009 as productions started ramping up in Georgia. They needed crew and Francis used his connections to get a job on the first season of “The Walking Dead.” Francis says he told himself this would be his career, and he was right.
Francis moved up through the ranks to Best Boy where he hired crew, estimated equipment needs, and procured equipment. His warehouse experience gave him the capability to fix equipment before returning it and saved the productions money.
He now runs his own company, Omega Grip Studio Rental, and operates a side business buying houses and renting them to people in the film industry.
“I want to continue growing my business and bringing other people into the film industry,” says Francis. “This work gives people pride in themselves and they would do a lot to stay in this industry.”