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Film Workforce Training Program Continues Despite Strikes

By Jenny Callison, posted Aug 14, 2023
As Susi Hamilton shares updates on the film workforce training program at Dark Horse Studios' groundbreaking, program participants and trainers take a bow. Photo by Jenny Callison
Despite the current film industry strikes, New Hanover County’s film workforce training program participants have stayed busy.
 
Twelve idled crew professionals agreed to work with the program interns on a project that would involve a whole range of skills, according to Susi Hamilton, chair of the Film Partnership of North Carolina.
 
“We paid them their hourly rate,” she said Monday, adding that the 18 or so interns involved were paid what the training program offers them: $15 per hour.
 
The fruit of that effort was a three-minute motorcycle stunt scene performed at the Aug. 3 Dark Horse Studios groundbreaking. Not only did the motorcycle leap off a structure, but the rider seemingly burst into flames as well and drove headfirst into a sheet of glass.
 
“It took about $50,000 worth of labor to produce that three-minute shoot,” Hamilton said.
 
The interns who trained on that project are the most recent of approximately 95 workforce training participants; the first class started in March 2022. And of all participants, about 40% are from historically underserved populations, Hamilton said.
 
“We have had African American, Latino and Native American interns,” she said. “We have also trained women, who are considered to be an underserved population in this industry. The crew base used to be dominated by white people because so many crafts operate like guilds with training and jobs handed down from father to son or father to daughter.”
 
Hamilton believes that the program is accomplishing its goals: to produce more skilled professionals working in all aspects of behind-the-scenes filmmaking and to ensure that the film crews of today and tomorrow reflect the diversity of the U.S. population.

Alice Armstrong and Taylor Jacobs (from left) were among the interns who practiced their new skills in the shoot. Armstrong, a military veteran, was trained as a medical emergency worker and was on the front lines to monitor safety during the motorcycle stunt. Jacobs, who was involved in the glass-breaking (really, a sheet of transparent candy), has also trained as a production assistant on some independent films.

"We need more women [working] in film," said Marla Barthen, a registered nurse who works with film safety teams and has helped train interns like Armstrong. "We also need more trained professionals, medics included."
 
At the Dark Horse groundbreaking, Hamilton announced that the Film Partnership, which started in Wilmington, is spreading into other areas of the state. The University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem was an early partner, but now the city of Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad Film Commission have joined the organization, joining a membership that includes the N.C. Department of Commerce, the Charlotte Film Commission, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and several Wilmington-area entities.
 
Both Cape Fear Community College and the Wilson Center, its performance venue, are members of the partnership. CFCC students have participated in the training since it began last year, according to college officials. When there was a lack of film projects, a cohort of interns trained backstage at the Wilson Center.
 
Hamilton hopes that, when the Writers Guild of America and the SAG-AFTRA strikes are resolved and film projects return to the state, students at North Carolina community colleges that have film programs can intern on the site of projects even if they are in other locales. That would mean finding funding for their room and board in addition to the hourly wage the interns earn.
 
“Diane Keaton had a project, Summer Camp, ready to film in Flat Rock, North Carolina, and we were preparing to send some of our interns there. It was all set to go when the strike started,” Hamilton said. “We would like to duplicate that kind of training now while things are slow.”
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