On Wednesday, 41 New Hanover County seventh graders will see what goes into making a film or television show.
In the final segment of the 10-month Career and Leadership Development Academy program launched this year by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, students will visit Wilmington’s Dark Horse Studios, where they will get a taste of the many skills and crafts involved in the industry.
“We have a tremendous itinerary put together for these kids,” Kirk Englebright, president of Dark Horse, said Monday. “Fun stuff, really hands-on. They will see stunt work taking place, and we have a bunch of picture cars to get them excited. We’ll have producers here, and a camera guy as well.”
Darla Montgomery, business agent for Local 491 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) will also be part of the lineup, talking about the various trades the union represents, Englebright said.
CLDA students peeking behind the scenes at Dark Horse Studios this week represent each of the county’s public middle schools. Starting last August, the students have focused on one industry each month, visiting a company that represents that industry.
“We have been going to a variety of industries,” Laura Brogdon-Primavera, the chamber’s director of programs and initiatives, said Monday. The career education tour has enabled them to explore the world of work at such places as GE Aerospace, the Port of Wilmington, Novant Health and Live Oak Bank.
“During April these seventh graders will make presentations to sixth graders on what they have learned. Applications for next year’s cohort are available now through the end of April. Thanks to increased funding from our sponsors, we’ll be able to expand the number of students next year,” Brogdon-Primavera said.
This year’s participants graduate from the program on May 3.
Middle school is not too early to make young people aware of career opportunities, Brogdon-Primavera said. She said research shows that acquainting students “early and often” with opportunities in a variety of industries – and even making connections with specific employers – pays dividends for them as they finish school or choose their paths in college.
This kind of exposure is good for North Carolina’s film industry, said Guy Gaster, director of the N.C. Film Office.
“Having some of the folks who are working in the industry share their craft with the students and, hopefully, talking about how they got into the business, providing a map – that captures the kids’ attention,” he said. “Planting that seed now, giving them that exposure now to an industry in their own backyard: I’m excited to see something like this taking place.”
During their visit to Dark Horse Studios, the students will see a facility that’s about to double its capacity. The building currently houses two sound stages as well as space for offices, storage and set construction. If the studios' plans are approved this week by Wilmington’s Technical Review Committee (TRC), it will begin construction later this spring on a 40,750-square-foot concrete structure that will hold two additional sound stages.
Although progress has been somewhat slowed since the project was slated to go before the TRC in December, it is moving along, Englebright said, adding that once the company breaks ground, construction should take 12 to 14 months to complete. He has two projects on the books right now for his existing facilities.
“We have a pretty high-profile [project] slated to roll in in August, which will take the entire [existing] campus. Another production is rolling in 2024, which will probably take half the campus.”
Englebright said his facility has been in demand ever since he converted a vacant Coastal Beverage plant at 301 Harley Road into a film production site. Its first tenant was Hallmark, which used the space as its local headquarters for filming scenes for USS Christmas in 2020.