Jim Owens is Dean of the School of Communication Arts at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Tom Martin talked with Dr. Owens about efforts to create jobs in the Kentucky film industry with the launch of the Kentucky Film Certification Program.
Q: What is the Kentucky Film Certification Program and why should it be of interest to readers?
A: Our goal is to help create jobs or help fulfill those jobs. We have film companies coming in and calling us and saying “we need entry level people.” Most universities here in the state are offering a big picture in film. Meaning, they analyze what makes a good film, how to tell a story, producing, directing, post-production, which is editing, screenwriting all of that. But, the films that seemed to be coming into town are looking for entry-level people that have very technical basics. We want to offer this certification to people who may be unemployed electricians or painters that can work on set constructions.
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Q: Tell us about your partners
A: We’ve been working with the Kentucky Film Office and the Kentucky Film Association. Their boards have been able to provide us with a lot of information. The training is utilizing professionals that are here in the state. So, it’s not like our faculty are doing that training. We’re actually managing it and working with these partners to find the right people to do the training.
Q: So, let’s say that I’m skilled in a trade. What do I need to do to become certified?
A: The certification program is a two-step process. We have an online portion that could last anywhere from six or eight hours to 24 hours.
Q: And what’s the link for that?
A: The link is kyfilmcertification.com. Our goal there is to provide the basics: safety on the set, what the various terms mean, and give them good examples.
The nice thing is we’re partnering with another company in Los Angeles called Film Skills to provide the online portion and most of the people who are speaking in those sessions are Emmy and Oscar Award-winning directors, producers, technicians, people that work in the film industry.
Once they complete the online portion, then they get a hands-on portion of the workshop and those classes are being taught by filmmakers here in Kentucky. The goal there is to also get them to know who the filmmakers are and the filmmakers get to know them so that they’re the ones being contacted by personnel and they can then recommend them and help them get jobs.
Q: You mentioned filmmakers in Kentucky; any idea how active film production is in this state?
A: Well, the film office is now saying that 36 films have been shot in the state this year. And we know we’re getting a real uptick in film production companies contacting Asbury University saying can we shoot in your studio? Do you have students that could help us or graduates who you know? They really want to spend as much as they can in Kentucky that helps them with that film incentive. It’s business. So, with that uptick in demand, we’re trying to find and build that base to fulfill the need.
Q: What sorts of skills are being sought?
A: We are starting out with basically 10 different certifications and they include things like first assistant camera, that’s someone that would assist the camera operator. We have set constructions, so, we’re looking for people who enjoy design or even existing painters or construction personnel who with a little bit of training can easily market themselves in the film industry. They understand the industry a little better because they do build differently. You build a set for temporary use compared to a home which is built for permanent or long term, so there’s a difference in the way they build. We’re working with Griffin Electric, those are the people who set up the lights who set up all the power. So, if we’ve got electricians, for example, who are unemployed, they could, with some training, be able to redirect some of their work and hopefully pick up additional work for some of the films that are coming in. For students, we’re looking at building on the education they’re already getting from their universities. So, there seems to be a pretty broad number of entry-level positions. Most of them start out as a production assistant which is just the very basics and then work their way up.
Q: From an education perspective this sounds like more of an extension of vocational education and training versus liberal arts or humanities.
A: I know Asbury best. We’re providing a very broad film program there. What our graduates have said is that as they are going for that entry-level job they may understand the big picture, but there are terms and basic vocational things that they need to understand that we’re not providing. And, instead of adding additional classes, we’ve gone with a certification because we think it’s less expensive, it’s quicker, we can turn it around a little faster. But, I think if someone wants a long-term position in film they’re going to still go for the degrees the universities offer. This is not meant to replace, this is meant to supplement.
Q: And so, what are the course loads and the cost of participating in the program?
A: The cost ranges from about $200 up to $1,000. And it will depend on a number of things. For example, when you’re learning electricity and all the various lights and light stands and how to set them up and rig them with other devices, that takes multiple days of training. And we are actually hiring Griffin Electric companies here in Lexington or Louisville to bring their truck in, set it up, and work with them, so we’re paying them their day rate and we’re creating some jobs in that alone. That is a more expensive one, that costs around $500.
Our goal all the way through determining price and how we set this up is based on the idea that a participant can recoup their money within two weeks of working in the industry.
Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.