Volume 76, Number 8 | July 12 - 18, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Morgan Miller on location for the independent film “Capers”

Getting on-the-job film training while on location

By Anindita Dasgupta

At age 10, Morgan Miller made the decision to someday go into filmmaking after watching the movie “Trainspotting,” whose tagline ironically was: “Choose life. Choose a job…Choose your future….”

Ten years later, the 20-year-old East Villager says she has not once swayed from that decision. After studying film at Boston University for a year, her passion for film has landed her a position as a location scout for the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting’s Workforce Training Program. In an effort to help New Yorkers benefit from the multitude of television and movie shoots taking place in the city, the program helps independent film production companies hire New Yorkers at advanced crew positions through federal funding from the M.O.F.T.B.

The M.O.F.T.B., the city’s Department of Small Business Services and Independent Feature Project created the Workforce Training Program in September of last year. Those hired are trained on site by supervisors during the time of production, at advanced positions that may not have been available to them otherwise. The program strives to train New Yorkers at these positions, which will qualify them for further advanced positions on other film sets in the future.

In a written statement, Katherine Oliver, M.O.F.T.B. commissioner, said, “Our local entertainment industry employs 100,000 New Yorkers. Contrary to the image of the highly paid film star or director, the vast majority of these jobs are filled by New York City residents.”

David Steck is one of the producers of the independent film “Capers,” on which Miller spent her training.

“I’m investing my time and my resources into training them. I want them to stay in the business. I want them to be good,” he said. “It does me no good to hire somebody who is no good.”

Miller joined the program in late May, before “Capers” began shooting. After discussion with the film’s producers regarding criteria for site locations, Miller approached businesses and residents in various parts of Lower Manhattan and discussed the option of having “Capers” film on their street or in their neighborhood.

Steck and Miller said that in addition to basic aesthetics needed for scenes, the locations departments looked for communities with many small businesses available.

“We buy everything we need in these communities,” Steck said. He said that productions do this in part out of necessity and partly to give back financially to the community.

Said Commissioner Oliver, “The entertainment industry also injects $5 billion into our local economy on an annual basis. When productions shoot in our neighborhoods, they support 4,000 local businesses, such as lumberyards, restaurants, clothing stores and office shops. And the industry is an important driver of our multibillion dollar tourism industry, because people around the world want to visit our city after seeing it featured in a film, television show or commercial.”

Steck described Miller as the face of the film to the community in which they are shooting. Part of what makes local trainees so good at their jobs, said Steck, is their inherent familiarity, love and respect for the city.

“Being from New York and the city, in particular, I would approach people the way I would want to be approached because I am part of a community,” Miller said. “As much as my responsibility is to the production, it’s just as much to the people whose location we’re using.”

She said that making sure the filming did not inconvenience residents in any way was a top priority to her.

“We were always very diligent in asking and making sure we did things for them that were possible,” she said.

Miller hopes to use her experiences with the internship program to later help her in a career in film.

“My end goal is to be a producer,” she said. “But locations is a great route to take if you want to be a producer as an end result. You deal with people and it uses much of the same skill set that I’ll need in the future in any job that I take — film, producer or otherwise.”

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