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Workshop aims to create local film industry workforce

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:58 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese could well be in Huntington this weekend attending a two-day seminar on how to become a production assistant.

While the term production assistant might sound like a specialized job, production assistants are actually the people doing the grunt work -- things like getting the coffee or giving directions via walkie-talkie to people in the film crew, said Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office. Being a production assistant is a way to get into the film business on the ground floor, she said.

"A production assistant is one of the most important positions" on the crew, Haynes said. "It's a starting point. They're there to do anything that needs to be done. We were looking for 60 people and signed up 71. We had to turn people away."

The seminar at Trifecta Productions at 555 5th Ave. was a key component for building the state's film industry workforce, Haynes said. The workshop was for entry-level production assistants in the film industry. Those completing the seminar will get their names listed in the West Virginia crew and vendor directory, she said.

"We had four films here last year," Haynes said. One of them is coming back this year, she said. "It's a testament to our workforce and our cities. When they filmed the movie 'Super 8' in Weirton, Paramount spent $14 million in our state. When a film crew comes to town, they need caterers and carpenters and a number of other things."

Joe Murphy, president of Trifecta Productions, said he started out as a production assistant in 2003. "I moved into the assistant director position," Murphy said. "Now I have my own production company."

"We're trying to build a core infrastructure here," said Murphy who sponsored the seminar. "This is huge." Having 70 people with training to work in the film industry is the equivalent of having 70 jobs in a factory, he said.

The seminar was conducted by Gary Romolo Fiorelli, co-founder of Production Assistant Training Seminar, LLC, otherwise known as P.A.T.S. The workshops aim to help those aspiring to work in the film industry acquire some of essential skills they'll need to step into a role on a professional production. Fiorelli has worked as an assistant director on a number of major Hollywood productions and television shows, including "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Blades of Glory," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Sons of Anarchy" and the Starz series "Magic City."

Sam Holdren of Charleston said he has some experience in the business, but wants to learn more. "I like the idea of having a certification," he said. "This is a good way to network."

Melissa Beckford of Hurricane did some production work in Morocco after she graduated from college. "Then I had to get a real job," the mother of three said. "We did a parenting video." One of her children has been in commercials.

"I'm here to learn," Beckford said. "Anything you can do to acquire extra knowledge is a benefit."

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