A press conference on the set of Law & Order the longest running TV show in history (okay, it’s tied with Gunsmoke at 20 years) debuted a plan to train women, minorities, and struggling New Yorkers for jobs in film and TV production.
Of course It’s just part of a politician’s nature to take to center stage when it’s time to announce a new jobs training program, and Mayor Bloomberg did just that. Well, you couldn’t get him away from the podium actually, as he introduced a series of short talks by those involved. Set in one of the court rooms of Silver Screen Studios at Chelsea Piers, the ‘Made in NY’ Production Crafts Training Program, it seems, had the requisite send-off. (You can read more about it here.)
The stage got pretty crowded, with nine others jammed in front of L&O’s faux courtroom set as the mayor held forth at the rostrum. Those taking part included MOFTB commissioner Katherine Oliver, Katy Finch (Production Director for the trial period of the new program, to be managed by Brooklyn Workforce Innovations), John Ford (president of IATSE’s Studio Mechanics Local 52), representatives from International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, and actor Anthony Anderson from the TV series, who obviously didn’t have far to go to attend.
Guest instructors will teach other skills such as operation in the grip department. All participating trainees will be provided with
The idea? Provide grip training, e.g. rigging and dolly operation, to “persons of color, women, veterans and economically struggling New Yorkers”. At the end of the yearlong course, a year of job placement assistance is promised.
A pretty tall order, and just 10 or so slots for the first year, but of course this is just the sort of effort a city government can take on, but have rarely bothered about in the past under other administrations. Score one for Bloomberg, who seems energized on the issue; perhaps he’s embracing entrepreneur-in-chief for his last term as an antidote to the lackluster response by the electorate revealed in the last election.
City council president Christine Quinn couldn’t attend, but it was made known the council pushed for this new effort after a 2006 study–the Mayor’s Task Force on Diversity in Film, Television and Commercial Production–found few women and minorities in the city’s prosperous if tightly controlled unions.
While commissioner Oliver spotted the program as part of “ongoing efforts to encourage diversity in the local entertainment workforce”, it also takes on a wider aspect as part of various initiatives to bolster the city’s role in media production and management.
I had a chance to get a question in, and it resulted in a bit of a curious response. Addressing it to union head John Ford, I asked if such a program didn’t amount to slicing the piece of film-and-video production into smaller sections—wouldn’t his union membership be less than thrilled at the prospect?
The gist of Ford’s response was that the folks in his union—the main one all this new crowd would attempt to join–were on such a high level of competency as to make the chances of anyone from this new group getting in anytime soon pretty slim. Hmmm. Didn’t that sound like the same old closed union?
Okay, he didn’t say all that so directly. But it was telling that the Mayor immediately jumped in to elaborate, saying that that the employment situation wouldn’t stay the same, for he was there to “grow that slice” of the entertainment pie/dollar/whatever that the city garners.
Remembering my early days in production and hearing how difficult it was to break into any of the craft unions, let’s see if the new effort can bring about some welcome change.