Harlem Commonwealth Counsel (HCC) will start its five-week production assistant and digital production trainee program this week.
Started in 1967 and located in the building that they own (361 W. 125th St.), the HCC program is part of a workforce development initiative targeted at West Harlem and encompasses low-income residents of greater Harlem and the Bronx. The pilot program, funded in part by the West Harlem Development Corporation, will only cover the 2014 program for two and a half months. In the future, they aspire to take up to 75 students for a full-year program.
The rigorous training, provided by industry professionals, resembles a “boot camp” model and recreates the pressure that production assistants encounter on working sets. “The film and TV industry in New York City today generates a direct spend of approximately $7.1 billion,” said Alexander Betancourt, vice president of HCC and creator of the production assistant training program. “Despite an increase of $2 billion since 2002, the percentage of working production assistants and trained digital media professionals that are Black and Hispanic is shockingly low. The reason cited repeatedly is the lack of experience, which requires training. This program addresses that by providing that needed component.”
The curriculum includes production and script development, storyboarding, camera and equipment training and inventory procedures, set and office etiquette and language, call sheet creation, location scouting and simulated shoots, as well as teaching Microsoft Office Suite, social media networking and editing (e.g., Final Cut Pro, Photoshop).
“Graduates of the program will become certified production assistants,” said Betancourt, whose carefully selected industry professionals will also help guide employment efforts. “With those skills, this could lead to careers as production office coordinators; technical operators; editing assistants and unit production assistant positions in all key departments. Of the 20 students, in 2013, 10 are currently working in their respective fields.”
During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, he formalized many successful programs that resulted in explosive growth, and New York emerged as one of the world’s leading centers for production and digital innovation and enterprise. In 2010, with the assistance of Commissioner Katherine Oliver, NYC Digital was born–a new agency within the mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which continues to thrive.
The lack of minorities benefiting from this bounty is one impetus behind the HCC’s continued commitment to leveling the playing field and smashing the proverbial catch-22.
“Mayor Bill de Blasio has gone on record with the desire to triple funding to agencies that provide production assistant and digital media training,” said Betancourt. “He considers both as viable jobs with bright futures, and he wants all New Yorkers to benefit, not just a select few.”
This is a hopeful time for creatives looking to break into the entertainment industry. The sentiment from the mayor’s office was expressed recently with the return of “The Tonight Show,” calling it “ the perfect symbol of an incredible comeback we’ve worked to create in our city’s film and television industry.”
The economic upswing was so significant that the mayor further stated: “Not since the invention of television has so much production been based in our city, which is creating good paying jobs for New Yorkers in all five boroughs.
Today, more than 130,000 New Yorkers make their living working behind the scenes on productions–a 30 percent increase over the past decade—and the numbers continue to grow.”
People of color want to experience that bounty and creative fulfillment as well. Said Betancourt: “We are hopeful that the new administration will welcome us into the ‘Made in NY’ family and support the efforts to engage the Harlem commonwealth council as full partners in workforce development.
“Until that moment, we will continue to proudly brandish our ‘Made in Harlem’ brand as a cultural jewel of the city.”