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"Made in NY" PAs Offer Advice, Share Success Stories About Breaking into the Entertainment Industry
August 20, 2010 - Long hours and grunt work are all in a
day’s work for a production assistant, the entry level position on a film set,
but it’s also the gateway to a career in the entertainment industry. For New
Yorkers interested in pursuing a career in production, a group of talented
graduates from the “Made in NY”
Production Assistant Training Program assembled on August 17 at the
Harlem Stage to share their experiences and explain what it takes to succeed in
BWI's Mara Prater, "Made in NY" PAs Deshawne Jackson, Drew Rivera, Tsahai Wilson, and Anna Wong.
“Made in NY” Production Assistants: A Peer-to-Peer
Discussion took place as part of the Office of Film, Theatre and
Broadcasting’s continuing “Careers in Entertainment” series. The free panel was
presented by OFTB and Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, in collaboration with
Harlem Stage, to give interested New Yorkers the opportunity to hear firsthand
accounts about the realities of breaking into the industry.
partnership between the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and Brooklyn
Workforce Innovations, the “Made in NY” PA Training Program prepares diverse New
Yorkers for entry level positions on sets and in production offices. The
training, which is free, takes place over an intensive four week period.
Following successful completion of the program, PAs also receive two years of
job placement. Since its inception in 2006, more than 230 “Made in NY” PAs have
been certified and have collectively earned more than $4 million working on over
Mara Prater, the associate program manager who
oversees outreach and recruitment and provides vocational counseling to trainees
and graduates, shared the qualities they look for in candidates to the highly
competitive program: personality, how they present themselves day to day, and
the intuitiveness to take initiative are some of the key traits that make a
person stand out.
“Successful graduates have that personality, drive and
commitment,” she said. “This is a job that requires you to stand in the rain,
throw away garbage, and get coffee for fourteen hours a day and to do it with a
After serving in the US Marine Corps for four years, Deshawne
Jackson was more than prepared for the working conditions in the production
industry. When he couldn’t continue his studies at film school, he found he was
able to get hands-on training through the “Made in NY” PA Training Program.
“They teach you what you need to get your foot in the door,” he said. Since the
program, he has found his niche working in reality television and most recently
was sought out to assist talent on the upcoming reality TV show “Millionaire
During the program, the trainees learn a variety of skills
that will be useful to them when they get to set, like how to use a walkie
talkie, proper set etiquette, and how to conduct yourself on set as a newbie.
“Everything I learned in the program, I have used in real life,” said Tsahai
Wilson, who interviewed for a season-long job on “Law & Order: Criminal
Intent” on the same day she was certified as a “Made in NY”
PA. She was hired that very day. More recently, she has worked as
an associate producer and production manager for various reality
“It is a freelance industry so you’re constantly networking,”
said Anna ‘Itty’ Wong. “The program trains you how to conduct yourself.” Wong,
who was hired by a production company days after completing her training, has
already been promoted twice in the last six months and is now an associate
producer. “Having the extra confidence is a huge part of networking.”
like to meet five to ten people on each new project,” explained Drew Rivera.
“Networking is ninety-five percent of the job.” Rivera commuted two hours every
day from Staten Island to attend the training program. Since graduating, he has
traveled out of the country twice with production crews and has worked on
commercials, feature films, TV shows, and reality shows, in addition to several
When moderator Julianne Cho, from OFTB, asked what it’s like
to be a PA, Wilson said, “You’re going to have long hours. It’s similar to the
military; they will test you all the time. You’re entry level but you’re an
important part of the team. People are always watching you.”
“On top of
discipline, a huge asset is adaptability,” added Wong. “You’re on your feet and
around all different kinds of people. The better you can adapt, the better
An important lesson that Wilson has learned is that no
is not an option. “If you have to say no, you give them options,” she said. “You
do what you have to do to get the job done.”
The panelists also shared
the types of productions on which they like to work. Jackson favors reality TV.
“It’s quick and to the point,” he said. “You travel a bit and it’s quick paced.
I like seeing new things.” Rivera likes working on live events, like award
shows. “You feel the energy of the live audience.” According to Wilson and Wong,
working in reality television is also a good way to advance up the ladder and
work across different fields of production.
Prater and the “Made in NY”
PAs emphasized that it’s important to understand the realities of working in
production. It’s not always glamorous. You need to be thick-skinned because,
according to Prater, “you might get yelled at.” It’s all part of understanding
that success comes gradually. “You’re not going to be working at [a fast food
place] today and tomorrow you’re making a million dollars,” she said, but if you
work hard and keep positive, you will advance over time, as the panelists own
career paths demonstrated.
Part of the program includes life coaching.
BWI’s staff provides resume help, stages mock interviews, and offers advice on
how to think positively when under stress. The program has also developed into a
family; the panelists noted how they rely on each other and know they can turn
to each other when they need help. They often hire fellow graduates when they
need PAs themselves for various projects.
They’re also working on
advancing their own careers. In ten years, Rivera would like to be a director.
His next step is to work toward becoming a first assistant director. Wilson has
directed a short film and wants to direct features while Wong would like to see
her name on various different projects. Jackson plans to work his way to become
a cinematographer “so I can shoot romance films for African Americans. [The
entertainment industry] is an equal opportunity employer. You can get a fresh
start,” he said.
The PAs all agreed that the “Made in NY” PA Training
Program has provided them with experiences they would otherwise never have had.
“The program was a life changing experience for me,” said Rivera.