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EDUCATION: Training Alaskans for the Film Industry

Seven grants awarded, each with a $40,000 ceiling

Every time you turn on the TV, it seems, there’s another Alaska-themed show premiering. And Alaskans are getting used to seeing such Hollywood stars as Drew Barrymore, Jon Voigt and Nicholas Cage.

A feature film, with its high pay, can lure all local trained film crew from their regular jobs, creating hardship for businesses. That’s what happened when “Big Miracle” (formerly “Everybody Loves Whales”) came to town in 2010. Even smaller productions such as TV series or commercials can lure resident lighting experts, camera operators, set designers and builders, makeup artists, electricians and production assistants away from their day jobs for the chance to make more money and stretch their wings.

The renewal of Alaska’s Film Production Incentive Program for another 10 years beginning July 1, 2013, tweaked from the original version for more transparency, stability and incentives for local hire, ensures that the state’s fledgling film industry will keep growing and putting residents to work.

One major challenge to the Alaska emerging film industry is getting enough people trained to fill these sporadic positions while not glutting the market with too many trainees and not enough year-round jobs to keep them employed in the industry. Dave Worrell, head of the Alaska Film Office, emphasizes that the state’s economic big picture includes “a mature, sustainable film and television production sector” that provides “good-paying jobs and can help keep creative Alaskans here, instead of having to leave the state to pursue their career goals.”

 

New Grant Program

That’s where the new Alaska Crew and Cast Advancement Program, or AKCCAP, comes in. This state-funded grant program is a partnership between the Alaska Workforce Investment Board and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to provide training support for film and television occupations. Jason Bluhm, program coordinator with AWIB, says, “This is a one-time funding measure able to be used through June 30, 2015, for training Alaskans and establishing Alaska workforce development programs in the film and television industry.”

Seven out of 14 grant applications were approved, each with a ceiling of $40,000. That $280,000 is more than half of the $486,000 appropriated by the Alaska Legislature; the remaining $206,000 is to go toward Individual Training Accounts for Alaskans seeking specialized training through the Alaska Job Center Network. The approved grantees anticipate they’ll train more than 800 Alaskans.

There is no shortage of ideas for film cast and crew training, including everything from lighting and audio to set etiquette. Researching market needs and then designing and implementing all these ideas that dovetail with various industry goals, however, is where things get complicated, especially since the program came online this year just as the industry was gearing up for its busy season—summer. That explains why some are playing catch-up now to get the ball rolling on their training plans. Six businesses around the state were approved for grants to fund seven training plans.

 

Talking Circle Media’s plan that was awarded grant funds is to provide five to 10 weeks of daily training, for up to 20 students per class, in textbook and hands-on crew training on live sets, locations and studio sound stages of film and television productions. Additional assistance will be developed to provide participants individualized career/job search counseling, job placement resources and tools.

Jonathan Butzke, owner of Talking Circle Media, sees crew training as a long-term process. AKCCAP, he says, is just the beginning, a way to get plans designed, but not necessarily implemented. He’s busy working on a website that he hopes will be the go-to place for productions looking for trained crew. Besides the listings of experts such as the Alaska Film Office and the Alaska Film Group offer, Butzke sees his future website as a resource for students as well, with training videos and equipment rental information among other aides, such as the focused seminars on specific skills he’d like to offer.

Alaska Crew Training’s “Production Boot Camp 101: Cast & Crew Training” is one of two plans by the company approved for grant money. It will offer classroom and hands-on intensive crew training for entry level positions in rural and urban communities, providing participants with an overview of production to include terminology, set etiquette, start paperwork, deal memos, equipment, storyboards, call sheets and more.

The second ACT plan receiving funding is for week-long programs to prepare attendees for specific disciplines such as producing, production management, production coordination, production design, art direction, grip and lighting, wardrobe, make-up, sound, acting and examining the knowledge and skills expected of each discipline.

Deborah Schildt of Alaska Crew Training was not available for comment on the plans.

IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 918 was approved for its “Professional Film Technician Training,” a plan to provide classes consisting of basic filming fundamentals, grip basics, electrics, safety, set etiquette and film construction to be taught in Anchorage and Fairbanks and video streamed through the University of Alaska Anchorage for rural Alaska access.

Ann Reddig of IATSE reports that they have offered seven film entry level classes, including four in Anchorage (two of which were streamed online) and three in Fairbanks. Their grant proposed 20 classes over two years, half in Anchorage and half in Fairbanks, as well as streaming from the UAA television studio when possible. Reddig says 127 people have participated so far in the classes, plus anyone who accessed them online. “We have offered film set construction, film grip and film electrics. We also had a master class training the (Alaskan) trainers,” she says. Their biggest challenge so far, she says, has been keeping up with demand for training. “We are very fortunate in our national connections and support from our international stagehand union IATSE,” she says. Reddig also commends the state for its support and the students for their interest and enthusiasm.

Affinityfilms Inc.’s “Script Supervisor Intensive Training” was funded to train script supervisors on films and commercial shoots in Alaska. The plan included training four to five individuals who already have a good working knowledge of film production but who have not worked as script supervisors before.

Mary Katzke, executive director of Affinityfilms, Inc., was not available for comment.

KPU Telecommunications was approved for grant funds for the Southeast Alaska Film Training Consortium: Video Production, a class emphasizing video production, including pre-production (story development, script writing/storyboarding), camera operation and recording procedures, electronic field production, lighting and audio techniques and post-production.

So far, KPU has completed one four-day seminar for which 23 students registered, with 17 completing the course and receiving a certificate of completion and a copy of the show they produced, as well as being qualified for a City of Ketchikan job-shadowing certificate through KPU.

Michelle O’Brien, sales and marketing manager for KPU, says, “Our first seminar was a huge success.  Our students ranged from high school students to retirees, and they successfully shot a three-camera, live sporting event, as well as filmed two shows for airing on KPU's local television channel.”

The only difficulty, she says, was with the first seminar; it was so popular that some additional students were waiting at the door the first day, as opposed to registering with the Job Center. “Nevertheless,” says O’Brien, “we welcomed them, and they were active participants.” KPU is also offering a distance learning option for K-12 students through the Ketchikan School District.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Film Program’s “Film Reel Alaska Mentoring Experience (FRAME) Phase II - Production & Post-Production” was approved for funding. The plan provides three tiers of training to applicants in pre-production, production and post-production using live film shoots to mentor students in all departments and positions on a small film set. Also, to provide classroom and hands-on training to students in a mentorship capacity while they develop and produce short format projects for film/television.

Maya Salganek, assistant professor and director of UAF’s film program, says they are on track to provide the training they call FRAME, scheduled for May and June of 2013. They are also collaborating with Alaska Crew Training, IATSE Local 918 and potentially others to offer more programs in Fairbanks for students. Salganek says, “Independent of AKCCAP we are training students every day for film/television production through our complete list of course offerings.”

 

Program Support

The Alaska Workforce Investment Board administrators the grants and provides technical and procedural assistance for the grantees. The AWIB collaborates with the Alaska Film Office and Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Employment Security Division to provide updates and general information to the public. The AWIB also works with ESD to provide Individual Training Accounts, which fund tuition and travel expenses for trainees.

Though the application period for training provider grants is past, Bluhm says additional businesses interested in providing similar training can still be recognized through the program. “The AWIB and Alaska Film Office do encourage those that have an interest in becoming a state recognized training provider to apply through the Alaska Film Office,” says Bluhm. “This is an opportunity for those that did not receive grant funding to become a recognized training provider by the state. These entities are not eligible for grant funds, but are eligible for trainees to use ITA funds for their courses.” Bluhm reported that as of late September, the Employment Security Division reimbursed 26 trainees for a total of $5,000.

Worrell of the Alaska Film Office says Alaskan crew members are already advancing in the industry, and that an exciting side benefit of the AKCCAP is that as the workforce gains experience, more entirely Alaskan projects will be produced. He says, “There are lots of amazing Alaska stories waiting to be told and we’re seeing a new generation of filmmakers gaining the tools and experience they’ll need to tell those stories.”

For more details of this program, visit http://labor.alaska.gov/awib/akccap.htm.

 

Susan Sommer is a freelance writer and editor living in Eagle River.

 

This article is a web exclusive to the December 2012 edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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