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"Made in NY" PAs Offer Career Advice, Success Stories

February 2, 2009 - The night might have been frigid, but over 120 New Yorkers braved the cold to learn about the exciting career opportunities available through the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program as seasoned graduates shared their experiences working in film and television at “Made in NY” Production Assistants: A Peer-to-Peer Discussion, which took place at the NYC College of Technology.

The “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, developed in partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and non-profit Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, provides free, month-long training to young New Yorkers who otherwise lack access to the entertainment industry. A PA is the entry level position in film and television; PAs work on set or in production offices, supporting various members of the crew.

Since the program launched in 2006, 149 “Made in NY” PAs have been certified and have worked on hundreds of film, TV shows, commercials, music videos, and other entertainment-related events. Each graduate also receives two years of job placement and career development.

Four successful graduates of the PA Training program took part in the discussion on January 15 along with Mara Prater, the Associate Program Manager, with Commissioner Katherine Oliver serving as moderator. When recruiting for new applicants to the training program, Prater pointed out that they’re looking for people with initiative; education and experience are not required.

Classes start early, 7:30 in the morning, and run until 4:30 in the afternoon. There is homework every night and quizzes every morning. Nelson Quinones joked that the most difficult part of the training was waking up each morning. “You look forward to what you do after a while.” Quinones has started to pursue a career in directing after being accepted into the Directors Guild of America Assistant Director Training Program.

Part of the training during the four weeks involves learning how to use a walkie talkie on set and the lingo that goes with it. PAs also have to know who everyone is on set and what they do. During the third week of the training, students are placed in internships on sets and production offices, giving them first hand experience.

All the panelists stressed the need to humble themselves as a PA. Brian Hightower, a production assistant with “Access Hollywood,” noted that in the beginning the job comes down to how well you can get someone their coffee. But with the knowledge provided by the roster of industry professionals who serve as instructors, “Made in NY” PAs quickly become known for their resourcefulness.

“Once they’re on set,” said Prater, “[‘Made in NY’ PAs] are motivated and prove themselves. There are unlimited possibilities once they get their foot in the door.”

The panelists also offered that advice on what makes a good PA. “Be on time,” recommended Gabrielle Rivera. “It’s a reflection of what you’re willing to do to be there. Be humble, and always pay attention. And write everything down.” Rivera recently finished writing, directing and producing her first short film Spanish Girls Are Beautiful.

"Made in NY" PA graduates Maya Thomas, Nelson Quinones, Gabrielle Rivera, Associate Program Manager Mara Prater, Commissioner Katherine Oliver, and Brian Hightower at "Made in NY" PAs: A Peer-to-Peer Discussion.

PA work is hard and physical. “There’s no time for stilettos on set,” said Maya Thomas, who graduated from the program in October 2007. “You have to carry things, be willing to get dirty.”

“You have to have a positive attitude,” stressed Hightower. “You need to turn your personal life off when you come through the door, and put a smile on your face. No one wants to hear your problems; they want their coffee.”

“I’ve never worked harder,” added Rivera. Despite the workload, Rivera noted how fulfilling it feels to be working in a community, collaborating creatively to finish a project.

Thomas spoke about how before she became a “Made in NY” PA, she felt unsatisfied with her 9-5 jobs. “You get discouraged when you work at a job you don’t like. I have a career now,” she said proudly. After working on projects like “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Chopped” on the Food Network, Thomas recently began to branch out as a stills photographer on set.

“The Made in NY” PA Training Program has afforded career opportunities that panelists never before thought were possible. Quinones fondly remembered a moment from last Thanksgiving when his family was together and watching television. Suddenly two of the commercials he had worked on aired one after the other, giving his family the chance to see his work in action.

“I wake up everyday loving my life, said Quinones. “I’m proud to be doing what I’m doing.”

To learn more about the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, click here.
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