Whitefish-born Filmmaker Aims To Get Montanans On Set
Flathead Valley Community College, Accelerate Montana and the Media Training Center are partnering for a two-day course designed to offer training for work as a production assistant in the film and media industry.
Taught by filmmaker and producer Lynn-Wood Fields, the class is part of an effort to boost the pool of Montana residents for hire in the state’s growing film industry. Fields, who grew up in Whitefish, said production assistant jobs are a way for people to break into the industry, which can open up other opportunities to work on set.
“It’s similar in some ways to being a busser in a restaurant,” Fields said of production assistant jobs. “It’s the way you start, and for people to see your work ethic.”
Show Imaging Inc., the event production company behind the Under the Big Sky music festival that takes place each summer near Whitefish, will consider hiring course graduates for upcoming events, and have donated five scholarships for the class.
The two-day class begins on Saturday, March 11 and concludes March 12. The course costs $500 total, and each day it will run from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The course is broken down into about 10 modules and will focus on film industry lingo, safety guidance, equipment names, paperwork basics, crew roles and how to support them, and walkie-talkie protocol.
“We mix in what we call pro tips,” Fields said. “So I interviewed friends with Netflix and HBO, and so there are interviews about what they wish you knew.”
The passage of the 2019 MEDIA Act, and the explosion of the “Yellowstone” television series and its spin-off shows have grown demand for qualified set workers in the state, Fields said. Some of the financial incentives in the MEDIA Act, a piece of legislation aimed at enticing filmmakers to choose Montana over other states, are attainable by hiring Montanans. Fields said her goal is to produce reliably trained Montanans that filmmakers can have confidence in hiring. For example, she said when representatives from the “Yellowstone” spin-off “1923” visited a previous class in Butte, all of her students were able to land jobs either working on set or as background extras.
By Fields’ estimation, flexibility, a good attitude and a willingness to work hard are all key traits for production assistants, “which is why Montanans are so good at this,” she said.
Fields keeps a database of names she can use to refer people for hire on different projects. Production assistant gigs can pay $150 to $200 a day, and higher-level set jobs can pay double that amount or more. Fields added that while the pay may be on a limited basis for some projects, those who can find full-time work in the industry can see make anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 annually.
“People who are doing film love the jobs they do. And I love what I do, and I wanted to pass that on as we grow this industry,” she said.
Fields said there have been more than 193 productions in Montana over the last two years, resulting in $200 million in direct spending in the state that’s led to 840 full-time jobs.
“I have a mission of 1,500 to 2,000 working crew members in the state of Montana in the next five years,” Fields said. “We have 250 to 500 in the state right now who could be on a professional set.”
As of March 2, Fields said 10 people were registered for the class, which leaves room for another 20 registrants before the class fills.
Fields said some of the funding behind the nonprofit Accelerate Montana’s Rapid Training Program comes from a grant issued through the governor’s office, and that an online version of the course is also available for remote learning. To register for the class, go to https://mediatrainingcenter.co/. Information about trainee scholarships is available at https://bit.ly/FVCCProductionAssistant.