Special Report: Entertainment – A Hollywood Education
As seen in Los Angeles Business Journal.
It’s the best of times and the worst of times for employment in the entertainment/streaming industry. As with the labor market nationally, there’s a shortage of workers, which is good for those looking for jobs. But the situation leaves companies struggling to fill vacancies. As a result, labor training programs are popping up and expanding across Hollywood.
“There’s definitely a tight labor market for all types of workers, and this stretches the availability of experienced and skilled workers,” said Charles Slocum, assistant executive director at Writers Guild of America/West. “TV is at or near all-time high production levels, and features and other long-form productions are also at or near all-time highs.”
That crunch ranges from production crews to talent, says Slocum, an organized labor executive who held finance jobs in Hollywood early in his career.
The long-running labor shortage seemed to be magnified by the great Covid restart in Hollywood.
“Once the industry was confident that it could produce film and TV in a safe way, in January 2021 we saw all the studios sort of step on the accelerator,” said Mark Goldstein, president and chief executive of Entertainment Partners, which is a production finance, management and enterprise services provider to Hollywood. “The result was a significant number of productions were greenlit at the same time, which then led to a need for more talent in the industry to support all the product” that hit the street simultaneously. Entertainment Partners is owned by private equity giant TPG Capital.
Now, workforce-training initiatives are proliferating across Hollywood, mounted by industry, governments, non-profits and labor unions. Frequently, the ambition is to bring workers from other industries to deepen Hollywood’s labor pool and to hire individuals from historically underrepresented communities to improve demographic diversity. The programs include in-person classroom learning, remote learning via video, and connecting with working professionals and internships.
The California Film Commission has ramped up two parallel training initiatives. CFC, a state agency for economic development, launched its Career Pathways Program in 2020 aiming to attract and train individuals — namely, women and minorities — from underserved communities for entry level-work in Hollywood crafts. Career Pathways adds a life-skills as well as job training.
The separate Career Readiness Program that began in 2005 prepares participants for careers in Hollywood production and utilizes third-party training partners in the mix. The CFC states that in fiscal 2020-21 “approximately 100 productions under Programs 2.0 and 3.0 hired more than 250 interns to fulfill the Career Readiness Requirement, resulting in approximately 53,000 hours of paid work.”
“We’re a piece of the training in the state of California,” said Colleen Bell, CFC’s executive director. “There’s a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion — diversifying the entertainment industry pipeline.” Bell has worked as a TV producer and in government, including as ambassador to Hungary for the Obama administration.
Another piece of the training puzzle is private-sector initiatives. The major movie studios have a myriad of training efforts, which is not surprising given their size and labor needs. For example, Sony Pictures Television founded its Diverse Directors Program as a way to find emerging talent from diverse backgrounds. Among the Diverse Directors graduates is Barry Jenkins, who went on to direct Best Picture Oscar winner “Moonlight.”
Over in the video-streaming sector, Amazon Studios in October announced sponsorship of the 2022-2023 school year Youth Cinema Project Alumni Program, which is run by the Edward James Olmos-led Latino Film Institute.
Taking a remote-learning tack, industry-services provider Entertainment Partners developed 20 self-study video courses in 2020 for Hollywood crew, finance and management training. Some 12,500 people have taken those EP Academy courses, which were free during the pandemic and now range in cost from free to $199 (and free to EP clients).
“It was not expensive to do and was absolutely worth it” to upskill labor, Goldstein said. Entertainment Partners operates a leading Hollywood payroll service.
Organized labor also administers training programs. The WGA Showrunner Training Program, which was initiation nearly two decades ago, emphasizes on-the-job learning for the richly compensated category of writer/producers/director positions that guide TV series; the writers guild union partners with employer group Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. SAG-AFTRA accredits a half dozen training programs for intimacy coordinators, which advocate for actors with producing companies over scenes involving nudity and simulated sex. The unusual job category was formalized in 2018.
The main preparatory grounds for white-collar jobs are local colleges and universities that cater to Hollywood as a big hometown industry. Besides local institutions, more than a dozen out-of-state colleges and universities operate sizeable permanent satellite campuses in the area emphasizing entertainment/media study that also feed graduates to the industry. Among the schools are Emerson College, which is based in Boston, and New York University. Arizona State University opened its media/entertainment-centric California Center campus a year ago at the historic Herald Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles at 11th Street and Broadway. ASU has an ambitious goal of enrolling an additional 100 million students for remote learning globally in 40 languages by 2030.
Training designed to bring in under-represented demographic groups has become sensitive and important. Industry criticism erupted earlier this month over plans to close Warner Bros. Television’s Writers and Directors Workshop, because it has been a conduit for minority training. The decision to close the program was reversed five days after the closure plans were announced, and the workshop is now housed in WBD’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Unit, in partnership with WBTV.