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Hollywood at home - An Illinois organization is offering free training for entry level film talent

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Most major films made in the U.S. are done in Hollywood, which means most of the crew members flock to that area as well. An Illinois organization is working to increase the talent pool for local productions by offering free training.

Peter Hawley is the director of the Illinois Film Office. He said the state has had to forego some film projects because of the lack of infrastructure.

“Infrastructure to me is two things,” he said. “One, more soundstages and we're working there and there are more soundstages here in Illinois than there were when I took over the job in 2019. And more, especially entry level crew positions.”

Some positions can include production assistants, production design or art direction.

“The number one need we have as a crew base here is carpenters,” he added. “If you are good with a saw, and hammer and nails, you know you can work here and those are good high paying jobs. They pay much higher, on average at about $75,000 year jobs.”

An expansion of the Illinois Film Production Services Tax Act is changing this. This tax credit will allow wages for a limited amount of non-resident positions.

“The expanded credit also triggers a fund that goes into effect July 1, 2023. A fund of a million to a million and a half dollars for an ongoing film workforce training program across the state of Illinois,” Hawley said.

Hawley put out a grant opportunity in 2019 and notified seven Illinois organizations that they would be participating, but then the pandemic made an appearance, which put things on hold. In February of this year, the state let him know that the funds were still available. Those seven organizations are taking part in a pilot program, with a second round is coming up next year.

Jerry LaBuy is the chair of the mass communication program at Rock Valley College. The school is one of the seven in the pilot group. LaBuy said the grant Hawley mentioned is allowing those who wouldn’t normally be able to afford this type of training to take part. He explained the breakdown of the sessions.

“It's really going to be more like, you know, how to talk on a walkie talkie on a film set? What are the codes,” he said. “What are things that are going to happen in those types of jobs? Working as an assistant for a sound recorder, working as an assistant with the camera department, all those entry-level-type things.”

Set safety is another important factor that will be taught.

Hawley said they are looking for a diverse pool of participants. The goal is to not only train these individuals but to also make sure they are placed in jobs in the state.

“Our job is to retain Illinois residents and bring them here and show them that they don't have to go to Hollywood to get into the film industry,” Hawley said.

LaBuy mentioned one Rockford story that wasn’t filmed locally.

“The Rockford Peaches show that was on Amazon recently did go to Pittsburgh for logistical reasons and things,” he said. “But there's hope that with programs like this, we could at least bring some of that production in for a more authentic flavor to those shows of being in Rockford and Rockford areas.”

Other organizations taking part include Chicago Filmmakers, Free Spirt Media, Chicago Screenwriters, Community TV Network, Shatter Glass Studio in Champaign, and Fresh Films in Rock Island.

The pilot program included 76 state trainees. Fifty-four percent were placed in productions. These include film, commercial and network positions.

Those who complete the four-week Rock Valley training will be credentialed with the Illinois Film Office. The next round begins Jan. 11. Seating is limited. Those interested can apply here. The deadline for submission is Dec. 15.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.