Just because “school’s” out, that doesn’t mean the students aren’t learning.
The SAG-AFTRA strike continues to pause most film production, even though the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) action has been resolved. The production halt has motivated area crew professionals to find new opportunities. In Wilmington, a “frightening” project has hired not only experienced crew members but trainees as well.
Wilmington-based Port City Fear Factory announced this summer it would create a seasonal destination, “Chapel of Horrors,” at The Bottle Works, formerly the Coca-Cola plant, at 921 Princess St. The spooky project has proved an ideal hands-on experience for current enrollees in the Film Partnership of North Carolina’s film workforce training program.
As originally envisioned, program interns would be paid to work alongside and learn from practitioners of many film-related crafts on actual film sets. With the writers’ strike resolved after five months but the actors’ strike dragging on, finding training opportunities had been a challenge. Then came Chapel of Horrors.
“I’ve been part of the film and business community in Wilmington for almost 30 years,” said Chapel of Horrors producer – and Opera House Theatre Company executive artistic director – Justin Smith. “A haunted house has always been a dream project I have wanted to produce.”
When the writers’ strike froze local productions, Smith said some “talented crew members” contacted him about such a project. They formed a team to conjure up that haunting.
“Thanks to the help of the Film Partnership of North Carolina, that dream has exceeded our expectations,” Smith said. “In addition, it has provided several opportunities for some of our local film crew to get a much-needed gig. My favorite part of having the film partnership’s involvement is seeing first-hand the impact of their intern program.”
“They are learning on the job,” Susi Hamilton, Film Partnership president and CEO, said Wednesday of the interns involved. “The most exciting thing for us is we are engaging with [professionals in] special effects, hair styling and makeup, working with [IATSE] Local 798 to put interns in place. We’re taking advantage of those film professionals being home.”
That chartered local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees is specific to hair stylists and makeup artists. Film Partnership training funds underwrote their salaries, along with those of lighting, grip, set dressing, sound and music specialists who worked with interns to bring Chapel of Horrors to life.
“This has provided a crash course for so many interns to learn technical aspects from the very best in the film industry,” Smith said.
Hamilton said the Film Partnership’s training funds are paying about 15 interns and 20 instructors. The trainees, about 40% of whom come from historically underrepresented communities, honed new skills in the building of the attraction and are involved in the running of it. They’ll also help take it down after the venue closes. The Chapel of Horrors opened Sept. 29 and continues through Halloween.
“We’re spending $100,000 on this production, putting local film professionals to work, similar to what we did at Dark Horse Studios, where we created a film for the groundbreaking Aug. 3,” Hamilton said.
Next up for the workforce initiative: a short film project at Cape Fear Community College that will again pair trainers and interns, according to Hamilton.
By Christmas time, the initiative will have employed at least 35 film professionals and 100 interns since its inception in March 2022, she added. The program has maintained a high retention rate and, as productions return after the lingering actors’ strike is resolved, those interns will be job-ready.
Recently, the Film Partnership received an endorsement of its success in the form of a $500,000 grant from the state, Hamilton continued.
“When the strike is over and people go back to work, we’ll be able to offer the workforce training program statewide,” she said. “The grant will make a huge difference.”
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