In a Savannah movie theatre 22 years ago, a four-year-old girl sat, entranced, watching the blockbuster Titanic with her mother. It was an event that would make a lasting impression on her life and career.
“It was the first movie I sat through and watched the whole thing - and it was a long movie - not saying a single word,” says Katie Boaen, who now works in the prop and set decorating departments in Georgia’s film industry. “I was captivated by it at that age - the scale of everything coming together; I remember it to this day.”
She continued, “How do you convey a historical event - a huge ship going down - and make it into a story that people want to see? I just thought it was incredible that you could create stuff like this.”
Katie is “a huge movie buff” who has always liked storytelling and mixing it with art. She graduated from the Joel A. Katz Music & Entertainment Business Program at Kennesaw State University. Her end goal was to turn a hobby into a profession and earn some income in the process.
“My major was in communication with a media and entertainment concentration, and I also had a film studies minor,” Katie says, adding that the Katz program initially emphasized the music business but shifted towards adding film courses and hands-on film work as the city became a hub for it. “They started to see there were people who wanted to learn the tools of the trade for having a career in the film industry.”
The university then teamed up with the Georgia Film Academy: “GFA and the MEBUS program, as we called it, were two essential tools in my tool belt,” she recalls. “We would go to Pinewood Studios a few times a week and take classes there with all kinds of industry professionals, such as directors, producers, writers, prop makers, set decorators, set construction workers and all kinds of creative content folk, and they also explained to us the business side behind everything. They helped us get connected with a lot of great internship opportunities; it was a really neat program.”
“Just being able to work behind the scenes and on the stages was amazing - like a dream come true,” she added. “I always loved learning new things and making them come to life.”
Katie’s internship turned out to be on The Walking Dead, and she was hired by the show’s art department a few weeks later. It allowed her to see what goes into making a successful television series and perfect her craft while doing so.
The set decorator on The Walking Dead became a mentor to Katie, who for example was asked to create large banners for each community of survivors that she decorated with felt and hung on the sides of buildings, in collaboration with the show’s graphic designer. “Fans really love them and it was a cool thing for a little PA (production assistant) to make,” she says proudly. Katie told herself, “I can actually be happy and make money doing this.”
Working on the ninth and tenth seasons of Walking Dead, Katie says she enjoyed helping out in the prop department “because you’re in the apocalypse, creating these weapons to fight off ‘walkers’ or whatever it might be… it’s so creative. So, it was really cool taking things from the characters’ environment and putting it all together.”
“I did want to be an actor for a while and I still would love to if that was ever an opportunity,” she says. “That’s mostly what I did growing up in theatre performance; I did a lot of stuff behind the scenes as well but I’ve always loved acting and I’d like to find the time to go and take classes and get more involved with that.”
On the day we spoke, Katie was informed that a short film she worked on called Bloom had won an award for Best Drama/Thriller at the Sandgrounder Short Film Festival in England. The director and cinematographer both received nods as well. “I just got an email this morning about the awards they won. We did it a few years back and it took a while to get all the ducks in a row. It was a great little shoot and my very first legitimate gig.”
More recently, Katie has been working on the fourth season of Stranger Things.
I asked her if Atlanta had been good to her since moving to the city from Savannah in 2013. “Oh yeah, definitely,” Katie replied. “I didn’t really want to move to New York or LA. It’s just so awesome that everything is here and - knock on wood - I haven’t had any trouble finding work. I hit the ground running a week or two after I graduated college. I love it. I’m definitely fortunate.”
On the last day of Katie’s Walking Dead internship, she got hired. “It happened to be my birthday, and they said, ‘join our team!’ I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for GFA and that internship.”