This article appears in the June edition of 400 Life Magazine.
Jason Hanline always knew he wanted to be a filmmaker in some way.
From binging his favorite movies to making his own low-budget pieces, he has had a passion for film since he was a kid. But when it came time for college, the Forsyth County native realized he didn’t have many options for getting into the film industry.
“It was one of those things that was if you really want to get into it, you were going to have to move and go up to New York or over to California,” Hanline said. “It would have been really tough to try to do something [here] because it just wasn’t really happening in Georgia.”
At the time, Hanline said that huge lifestyle change was just not something he was able or willing to do. Instead, he started looking at classes available in the state.
He ended up at Gainesville College first where he graduated with his associate’s degree. At the time, he said they had some new film classes, but they still did not have a program to support a major or minor in film. Of course, Hanline took every film class available, but he eventually decided to major in English and go into teaching alongside his wife.
Since then, the film industry in Georgia has taken off, with major pictures being filmed all over the state and in studios across metro Atlanta. And the industry continues to grow significantly, with film programs now being housed in many colleges in metro Atlanta including the University of Georgia, which offers a master’s degree in film.
Hanline said if he were graduating from school now, he would probably decide to go to film school and pursue filmmaking in the state. But at the same time, he said this boom in the industry has afforded him a new passion from which he can’t turn away.
He now works as an A/V tech and film teacher in the Central Film Academy at Forsyth Central High School, one of the state’s only dedicated high school film programs, where he gets to spend his time preparing students to take on their own passions in film.
400 Life spoke to Hanline about the Central Film Academy, what he loves about teaching film to students and how he still stays active in the industry today.
How did the Central Film Academy get its start?
Hanline explained that when he graduated from the University of North Georgia with a degree in English, he immediately came to Forsyth Central to teach the subject. But he noticed at the time that there was no longer an A/V program at the school.
“Somehow, I was approached by a group of kids to start a film club,” Hanline said. “And I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ We got together to watch films, and I tried to give them film assignments.”
Eventually, Forsyth County Schools Deputy Superintendent Mitch Young, who was Forsyth Central’s principal at the time, said he wanted to bring the A/V program back.
They were the only school in the county that no longer had one, and he believed it was a great opportunity to create a more unique program.
“He wanted it to be something that stood out from the other high schools,” Hanline said. “He wanted it to just be film, so he started asking around, ‘Who do we got that could do this?’ And everybody kept saying, ‘Go talk to Jason.’
“And now we have this program,” he continued.
School leadership worked with Hanline to create the program in a way that went along with the school’s other STEM and Humanities Academies, meaning it is a four-year pathway students take in a cohort throughout their time in school. Suddenly, Hanline found himself handling cameras, setting up lighting and helping to create films on a regular basis again.
“It’s crazy how that happens,” he said. “ You never know where [life] is going to take you.”
What were your thoughts when Mitch Young came to you and said he wanted you to start the film academy?
“I didn’t even hesitate because as soon as I heard movies, I said, ‘I’m in!’” Hanline said. “But I will say after I committed and said yes, I went home and thought, ‘What did I just do? I don’t know how to do a lot of that stuff.’”
As a film teacher, Hanline said he must know how to edit, operate a camera, understand different types of lenses, camera theory, audio, lighting and more. But to better teach his students about all these different aspects of film, he started to bring professionals from the industry into the classroom.
It started with one filmmaker who came in to shoot a video about the film academy who ended up spending the day working with the students, helping them set up lights on their set and talking with them.
“That was when it dawned on me that I can’t rely on learning it all myself to teach them,” Hanline said. “I have to go find other people to do it, which actually ties right into how the film academy works.”
Within the film academy, Hanline said he and the other teachers all work together to make sure students are learning all of what they need to. He doesn’t teach the students how to write scripts or act in front of the camera. Instead, they learn from a dramatic writing teacher for a separate English credit and from a theater teacher for a fine arts credit.
“You can’t do it all yourself,” Hanline said. “That’s one of the things I’m hoping we can establish with other programs in the state is the expectation of work with the other resources that you have. Because if it’s just one person trying to do the whole thing, it’s not going to be what it could be.“I’m really lucky to be here because that support is already in place,” he continued. “We’ve got kids learning about art, acting, writing, construction and filmmaking, and it’s all different teachers that are coming together in the film academy to make that happen.”
Do you believe this type of program and collaboration better prepares students for college and their careers?
Hanline said the film academy is meant to prepare students to step directly onto a film set as they graduate from high school, and he has already seen the talent and experience in his students that they will need going into a career.
Recently, he took some of his students planning to go to the University of North Georgia in the fall on a tour of the campus to learn more about the programs there, and he said the teachers and university leaders saw that his students are ahead of the curve.
“Before we left, Dr. Parker said to me, ‘Your kids were asking awesome questions. I cannot wait …. You’re doing something right.’ It felt amazing to hear that from him. It’s silly, but when you hear somebody who knows what they’re doing say ... you’re doing something right, it is validating. I don’t need much, but validation is … one of those things that helps.”
How do you stay active in the film industry?
Throughout his time teaching, Hanline said he never stopped making movies. His friends from high school and college would reach out from time to time for help with a project they were working on, and he found he could never say no.
Now, he finds room to meet others in the industry and take classes wherever he can because he knows anything he learns makes it back to his students in the classroom.
He started taking classes at the Atlanta Film Society, reading books on film and finding opportunities through the Georgia Film Academy.
“I hung around the Georgia Film Academy long enough that they kind of just put me to work and got me helping with training other teachers, and now I’m running a summer camp for high school [students], which is also really cool,” Hanline said.
Over time, he said he believes all the work he has put into learning more and getting into the industry has really paid off.
“It’s opening all sorts of doors,” Hanline said. “I’m going to be working with the Georgia Department of Education, coordinating with A/V teachers. I’ve been asked to help with revising standards. People are noticing what we’re doing.”
But Hanline has also started to push himself to create more outside of work.
To show himself and his students that he still has the edge he needs to be a filmmaker, Hanline made a goal for himself to make a small film this summer. Though he loves his work in the classroom, he said he wants to give himself time to work on his projects and be regarded not only as a great teacher, but also as a great filmmaker.
What has been your favorite part of teaching film?
“Seeing them do it without requiring me to help them,” Hanline said. “That’s really the coolest thing.”
At times, he said students rush into the classroom with new ideas and creative ways of tricking the light or building a scene that continue to impress him. At that point, he said they really know what they want, how they can do it and how to make it look like a movie made for the big screen.
“They say, ‘We want to try this. Let’s figure out how to do it,’ and they try it and it works,” Hanline said. “It takes a while to get there, but they get there.”