As anyone in the film industry will tell you, sometimes you have to improvise. And sometimes that improvisation opens up new possibilities.
Such is the case with Wilmington’s film workforce training initiative, a project of the newly formed Film Partnership of North Carolina. Established in late 2021 with a $400,000 grant from Wilmington’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, the training program aimed to expand and diversify the local film crew.
The first cohort of eight trainees has completed the five-week internship, working with and learning from skilled tradespeople on the sets of film projects in the area. But, given the relatively slow pace of local film activity and the increasing demand for training, the Film Partnership faced a dilemma this summer. It was time to improvise.
“In the absence of having adequate production activity we have partnered with Cape Fear Community College and the Wilson Center,” said Susi Hamilton, president of the Film Partnership board. “So many skills they will learn working with live stage productions are transferable to film projects. And it’s an opportunity for them to get paid.”
Program participants earn $15 an hour, with the possibility of up to 20 hours of pre-approved overtime each week at $22.50 per hour.
Hamilton delivered her update on the training from Los Angeles, where she, along with Wilmington Regional Film Commission director Johnny Griffin and N.C. Film Office representative Jen Vogelsberg attended the annual conference of the Association of Film Commissioners International. She found that the workforce training program was an attention-getter as she pitched North Carolina as a great place to shoot films, TV series and ads.
"We're marketing out here for our paid internship program, which has a focus on DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion]," she said. "Studios are committed to making their crews more diverse."
The Film Partnership-Wilson Center collaboration, which launches Tuesday, is beneficial for the performance venue as well as the trainees, Hamilton noted.
“The Wilson Center had about 100 backstage workers before the pandemic,” she said. “They lost about 65 of them and have not yet ramped back up, so they’ve been using temps – which are not always the right fit. We’re trying to supplement their workforce with these interns.”
There’s another cohort of 15 to 20 aspiring interns behind the group that’s starting next week, according to Hamilton.
“We’d like to do [the same kind of collaboration] in other venues where there are live performances if there is a person there willing to train the interns,” she said.
When film activity increases, interns will return to film project training.
The major goal of the workforce training program, obviously, is to increase the number of skilled, experienced workers in a wide variety of film production trades, not just in Wilmington but across the state. Beyond that, however, the aim is to create a more diverse workforce, with a higher representation of women and minorities. Even though it’s in its early days, indications are promising.
All first-round interns – those who started in May and were trained through the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees – are now working, most on film sets in fields like carpentry, costuming, hair and makeup, plumbing, electrical, lighting and grip, Hamilton said. About 30% of those interns are from historically underserved populations.
“Based on what we’re seeing on [new] applications, we’re looking at a high percentage of minority candidates,” Hamilton said.
Interested individuals can now apply for the workforce training program online, using the Film Partnership’s new website, filmpartnershipnc.org
NOTE: This version of the story includes the correct state film representatives who attended the AFCI conference in Los Angeles.