Movie production seminar
HUNTINGTON -- At age 35, Gary Romolo Fiorelli quit his full-time job in the hotel industry in the nation's capital in favor of following his dream.
His dream was to work in the movie industry, and he went from being fully insured with a steady paycheck to making $75 per day as a production assistant on small productions during the day and bartending at night.
It ultimately was the latter gig that landed him his big break in the early 1990s.
"I just happened to be working at a bar where a movie company came in," said Fiorelli. "From that point, I kind of joined the circus and went with them. That's the old story, right? The circus comes to town, and two or three people always leave with it. I left with them that day."
Since then, Fiorelli worked his way up from being a production assistant on films including "The Pelican Brief," "Major League II," "Matilda" and "Air Force One" to assistant director roles on sets of films like "Jarhead," "Blades of Glory" and "We Bought a Zoo" and television shows including "Sons of Anarchy," "Roswell" and the current season of "Magic City" on the Starz channel.
Even with his success, Fiorelli said there are a few things he wished he would have known during his first day on a production set, which is why he co-founded Production Assistant Training Seminar, LLC, otherwise known as P.A.T.S., with fellow frequent assistant director Kenny Chaplin.
He hopes to prepare aspiring moviemakers for some of the skill and even terminology challenges they could face when they have the opportunity to step on a professional production set during a P.A.T.S. workshop that begins today at Trifecta Productions in Huntington, which is being hosted with the support of the West Virginia Film Office, a branch of the West Virginia Division of Tourism, which is under the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
The workshop was booked up well in advance of Fiorelli's arrival in Huntington this week, and Fiorelli said that interest bodes well for attracting production companies to the state.
Of course he and Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner with the state's Division of Tourism, were quick to point out that state officials already had taken a step in the right direction with its tax incentive program to encourage production companies to bring their projects to the state.
Several states offer such incentives, said Fiorelli, and the people living in the state can be what makes the difference in whether or not a company chooses to film in a particular location.
"West Virginia has incentives, and productions will come here to take advantage of that," said Fiorelli. "Now, they're in a quandary because they have great incentives, but they need skilled people. If you have to bring them in from somewhere else, that's a cost that goes against what they're for in the first place. If we can develop a workforce here that is skilled and trained, then that is really attractive to production companies not just from the outside, but local production companies, commercial companies."
Fiorelli said the goal of his seminar is to provide participants with the tools and skill sets to be able to go into a production job, for which there isn't much practical training outside of competitive internships.
"A lot of people who work on productions who come in on their first day, they don't come back on the second day," said Fiorelli. "It's a high pressure and very expensive proposition to make movies and TV shows. What you find out is that people not having a basic understanding of the language and what goes on in a day-to-day basis are not going to succeed."
Proctor said this training is the next step in taking West Virginia to the next level in production. The state already has provided a backdrop for films including "We Are Marshall" in Huntington and "Super 8" in Weirton, and she mentioned Huntington-based Trifecta Productions as a local company making filming in the state an attractive prospect.
"We already have a bit of Hollywood here, and we'd like to invite more of it," said Proctor. "When you think in terms of a business, there's everything from having a workforce on site that a company doesn't have to import from another state or location, having food services available, having hotel accommodations available, having the services or the availability of the local hardware guy to the big box stores. It really does generate a level of economic development for the community it's in at that time. "
Even if community members are not involved on a production level, Fiorelli said a community's support is key in making an area attractive to a film company.
"It's invaluable," said Fiorelli. "It's really the deciding factor often on having a production company come to an area. If, for some reason, people are against it, that makes for a really bad working environment."
Filming often impacts the day-to-day lives of residents of a location, but he cited residents in Weirton as a prime example of a community pulling together to make a film happen.
"Like with 'Super 8,' I'm sure there were days when everybody was not into it -- traffic might have been delayed," said Fiorelli. "All of the filmmakers, you know when they go and talk about shooting in West Virginia -- I did my homework -- everybody was really impressed with it.
"I think if citizens, even if they aren't involved with it, the more informed they are, the positives outweigh the negative impacts."
Proctor also was quick to cite Huntington's involvement in filming "We Are Marshall," saying residents were more than willing to serve as extras or accommodate filming at any location.
In the future, she said she expects to see West Virginia become a prime destination for production companies large and small, which, ultimately, will boost tourism and commerce in the state as production companies come and go and movie buffs visit to see scenes from their favorite films.
"That kind of film tourism is another aspect and benefit in the long run of having a workshop like this because we want these companies to come here and film and utilize our talent. We have plenty of it," said Proctor. "It's not, 'Why West Virginia?' It's, 'Why not West Virginia?'"
Follow Lacie Pierson via Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.
Production Assistant Training Seminar
WHAT: A workshop featuring presentations from producers, directors and other film production industry professionals.
WHO: The line-up of guest speakers will include J.T. Arbogast, Kim Dilts and Charles Haine from the independent feature film "Angel's Perch;" Brad Kalinoski and Tina Wallace of ExodusFX; Joe Murphy of Trifecta Productions. Gary Romolo Fiorelli, managing partner at Production Assistant Training Seminars, also will present during the event.
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23 (all slots are sold out).
WHERE: Trifecta Productions, 555 Fifth Avenue, Huntington.
WHO'S INVOLVED: Huntington Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, the Greater Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the West Virginia Film Office.
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