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Film industry in Greater Victoria on hunt for workers

If you’ve ever considered a career in the local film industry but aren’t sure if you have what it takes, now’s the time to take a closer look at the big picture, Victoria film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert says.

If you’ve ever considered a career in the local film industry but aren’t sure if you have what it takes, now’s the time to take a closer look at the big picture, Victoria film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert says.

With 2017 shaping up to be the busiest period for movie and TV production in the capital region since 2015, when 24 projects generated $18 million in direct spending, there’s a pressing need to recruit more locally-based crews, said Gilbert. There are at least four projects set to begin production here soon on the heels of Police Mom, a low-budget movie for Lifetime that wraps a 13-day shoot on Thursday.

To bolster the local crew base, currently big enough to staff about one-and-a-half shows, Vancouver Island South Film & Media Commission is partnering with Chemistry Consulting, GT Hiring Solutions and Inn at Laurel Point to present a film industry career fair.

It’s scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Pacific Fleet Club, 1587 Lyall St.

“We want to find people with transferable skills and get them set-ready as quickly as possible,” said Gilbert, who also presents film industry orientation sessions.

A person who works in a beauty salon, for instance, could potentially work in hair and makeup, or a house painter could be hired as a set painter, she said.

Thirty industry professionals are expected to be on hand to answer questions.

Participants include producer Don Enright, director of photography John Helms, extras casting director Annie Klein, key grip Brian Smith, acting coach Jacqui Kaese, set decorator Terry Lewis, location manager Paul Russell, production coordinator Miles Gorovich, script supervisor Alison Hunter and special effects veteran Bill Mills.

Representatives from B.C. film unions such as I.A.T.S.E and the Directors Guild of Canada are also expected to attend.

While a film industry career can be lucrative, it’s a uniquely demanding business. Attendees will learn not just about job opportunities, but the skills, attitudes and potential training required to get ahead.

“It’s like any other business where you can’t just walk in and be the president,” said Gilbert. “You’ve got to work your way up from the mailroom, start as a P.A. [production assistant] and make minimum wages.”

The film industry is often perceived as glamorous, but the reality is it requires hard work, stamina, conscientiousness and the ability to take direction and work on intense deadlines, say industry veterans.

“There’s a lot of stuff I love about this job, but glamour is not on that list,” said Shamess Shute, a Victoria-based first assistant director who got his start as second assistant director on the 2001 horror film Ripper.

A first assistant director is the director’s right-hand person whose duties include doing script breakdowns, creating a filming schedule, and co-ordinating logistics on set during the “hurry up and wait” production process.

“I love that it’s always totally different, that I’m responsible for facilitating this crazy process, dealing with one set of problems after another. As soon as you get it ‘perfect’ you move on to a whole new set of problems.”

Shute, whose credits include The Bridge and being second-unit first assistant director on Night at the Museum 3, War for the Planet of the Apes and Power Rangers, has earned a reputation for being particularly unflappable.

“I don’t lose my patience often. I learned early on that if you can make people feel they have ownership over the process they’re more likely to work harder, be happier, have a better time and create a better product.”

One thing you cannot plan for is “having those six weeks off in August,” laughs Shute, who has learned that flexibility in lifestyle and work schedules is key.

A multitude of factors determine financial compensation, including whether you’re working on an independent project, a non-union or union shoot, a made-for-TV movie or a studio project such as Disney’s Descendants, X-Men or the Fox series Gracepoint. Typical rates can range from about $230 for a 15-hour workday for a production assistant on a made-for-TV movie to negotiated deals for certain department heads or specialists.

“A good location manager or first A.D. can make $5,000 a week,” said Gilbert, reiterating this is compensation for very long days and a strong work ethic.

On a small feature film, home video or TV movie with a budget of between $1.2 and $2 million, a production manager can make $870 for a 15-hour day, according to Directors Guild of Canada figures.

Under terms of the Association of Canadian Film Craftspeople Local 2020 Unifor’s standard producer’s agreement, a gaffer on a feature with a budget over $8 million can earn $30 per hour.

“It’s sporadic work, and we don’t have a big infrastructure,” said Frank Bourree, principal of Chemistry Consulting. “To attract enough of the right productions we need to demonstrate we have experienced crews.”

Companies with long track records such as Front Street Pictures, which has filmed several projects here including Hallmark’s The Gourmet Detective, Framed for Murder: A Fixer Upper Mystery and A Rose for Christmas, have provided more of an impetus for seasoned film workers from the capital region to remain here, or to return after working in Vancouver during economic downturns.

While the film industry is often regarded as “more sexy and intriguing than some other careers,” it hasn’t “made as much noise” about potential job opportunities as other industries that require more skilled labour to keep up with demand, as in the hot construction and technology sectors, said Garth Yoneda, GT Hiring Solutions community relations manager.

Gilbert cautioned there are some “reality checks” film and TV production industry newbies need to consider, however.

While you might score an entry-level position — a production assistant in the locations department, for instance — being hired on one project is no guarantee you’ll be hired on the next, she said. “You have to really prove yourself, and you might not get full-time work for awhile,” said Gilbert, a former locations manager. She said who says it’s not uncommon having to work 15-hour days. “That’s basically two days work for most people,” she said. “Most entry-level work requires a lot of physical activity. You do have to be in superior health and have a lot of energy because the hours are so long.”

Gilbert said her staff has been fielding requests for grips and electricians and personnel in hair and makeup and costumes, but there are plenty of opportunities beyond that.

While she said it can take seven years to become a department head “and make really good money,” demand is so high right now you can move up the ladder sooner.

“It’s been moving at a faster clip than it has ever been,” said Gilbert. “We’re finding more producers willing to take a chance if people show initiative.”

With the Lower Mainland bursting at the seams with production, there has been an upswing in the number of requests from producers eyeing Vancouver Island.

Industry analysts caution that production company standards vary, however, and advise newcomers to align themselves with reputable producers.

“You have good unions in that sector, but applicants do need to be discriminating,” said Bourree. “Be careful who you’re signing up with. Just because you have stars in your eyes, make sure you’re treated well.”

Daryl Litke, chief steward with ACFC West, Local 2020, said working on a show staffed by “an honourable union doing its best to represent workers” by bargaining terms and conditions can be beneficial. “In any industry there are certain individuals who only look at the bottom line,” said Litke. “They can rapidly victimize people and move on.”

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Examples of film crew jobs

• Executive producer. Directly responsible to the studio or network for the entire look, cost and effective running of the project; co-ordinates film production from financing to sales.
• Line producer. In charge of business aspects and may share in artistic decisions, also known to be troubleshooters.
• Director. In charge of creative aspects; interprets script, directs action.
• 1st assistant director creates schedule, in charge of running the set.
• 2nd assistant director responsible for everyone on the crew knowing their call time and location; organizes work for the next day by way of call sheet.
• 3rd assistant director oversees performers’ preparation for set, responsible for time sheets; assists on set.
• Production manager. In charge of day-to-day financial aspects of the production, preparing budgets and schedules, hiring technical crew.
• Trainee assistant director. Performs such work as is within their capabilities which is customarily performed by ADs.
• Location manager. Responsible for finding and securing all appropriate locations or facilities for shooting and acquiring required permits.
• Assistant location manager. Liaison between production firm and community, neighbourhood or location owner.
• Location scout. Seeks out, photographs appropriate locations, liaises with government agencies.
• Production assistant. Provides assistance on set or in production office.
• Director of photography. Responsible for film’s overall look, lighting, camera placement and movement.
• Camera operator. Responsible for framing and composition of shots.
• 1st camera assistant (focus puller). Makes sure subject is in focus.
• 2nd camera assistant (clapper / loader). Responsible for film stock, ordering all camera equipment, additional crewing in department.
• Digital imaging technician. Reports to director of photography, responsible for electronic camera system, viewing system, managing the data flow.
• Stills photographer. Reports to producer, takes still photographs of film sets or studio shoots that are used to create press and publicity for films.
• Production designer. In charge of all visual elements to ensure continuity of design through production; coordinates artistic elements including sets, costumes, props, make-up and hair, working with key department heads.
• Art director. Designs, supervises construction of all sets and scenery; oversees painting and dressing of all sets.
• Set decorator. Responsible for research, acquisition, allocation of items required to dress set.
• Costume designer. Responsible for researching, creating or obtaining appropriate costumes.
• Key hairstylist. In charge of hair styling for each character, maintaining their look, continuity.
• Key make-up artist. Gives each performer their particular make-up look.
• Property master. Researches, obtains or builds all items a performer picks up and uses.
• Gaffer. Chief lighting technician.
• Lamp operators/electricians. Light technicians, working under the gaffer.
• Key grip. Delegates tasks, supervises grip crew responsible for setting up, striking, staging and rigging scenery equipment, scenery pieces, platforms, scaffolding, tenting, dollies.
• Dolly grip. Moves camera dolly for certain kinds of tracking shots.
• Head greens person. Responsible for location requirements related to shrubs, foliage, ground covers.
• Set dresser. Assists set decorator by arranging, placing items and set pieces.
• Costume set supervisor. Responsible for costume continuity, assists in dressing and care of performers and the costumes.
• Special effects makeup. Designs and devises construction and application of facial or body prosthetics, body parts such as hair or teeth and/or any other specialized make-up.
• Script supervisor. Keeps track of everything that happens in the shot, responsible for logging material shot and ensuring consistency of multiple takes covering the same action.
• Sound mixer. Records sound for each scene and mixes levels for each take.
• Boom operator. Handles sound boom, a long extendible rod with a microphone attached.
• Special effects (SFX). Provides visual effects needed on the set such as rain, fog, smoke, wind, steam, snow, explosions and fire.
• First aid/craft service. Provides on-set first aid and medical attention; serves light refreshments.
• Transportation co-ordinator. Responsible for all vehicles used on productions (positions include: transportation co-ordinator, captain, co-captain and drivers), acquiring and maintaining picture cars and vehicles.
• Catering. Provides meals for crew.
• Production co-ordinator. Heads production office staff. Responsible for all travel and accommodation for out-of-town personnel and for distributing all script and schedule changes to crew.
• Production accountant. Responsible for paying bills and maintaining financial records.
• Casting director. Responsible for finding performers required for the film, organizing auditions.