THIS YEAR, JEFF Stepakoff’s team gave him an hourglass inscribed with the words, “It is a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.” It’s a fitting gift for the executive director of the Georgia Film Academy, who admittedly jumps out of bed each morning. He’s that excited for the day, which usually begins at 5am by reading the entertainment trades and exercising on a treadmill. Driven by his passion for storytelling and his home state of Georgia, the Atlanta native was handpicked for the instrumental job that facilitates the training of Georgians in all aspects of the film and TV industry. “There is no other film academy in another state, and nowhere that’s seen this kind of rapid and dramatic growth from film and television—because when it comes to this industry, Georgia is all-in,” says Stepakoff, whose 30 years of accolades include Hollywood writer and producer for TV shows such as Emmy-winning The Wonder Years and Disney’s Tarzan; a tenured professorship at Kennesaw State University; and three published novels. Stepakoff and team, through 12 different academic partners, are creating a local workforce that’s competing with New York and Los Angeles. The proof is in the numbers: The film industry had a multibillion-dollar economic impact in Georgia this year, and 92,000 Georgians now work in film and TV. “I see a world where film, TV and digital media become a real legacy for Atlanta. Peaches, peanuts and production!” says Stepakoff. Even as the day dies down after a slew of meetings with everyone from the leadership at Pinewood Studios and Tyler Perry Studios to college presidents to production companies, Georgia film’s biggest cheerleader doesn’t tune out his beloved industry. Two hours each evening are spent watching shows like The Americans, This Is Us and Stranger Things. As for movies, he prefers to watch them on the big screen at Phipps Plaza: “It’s part of my homework!” he says.