By MARTIN KIDSTON of the Missoulian
Train them, and the movie cameras will come.
That’s the thinking behind a new initiative between the Montana Film Office and the University of Montana, which have teamed up with a California firm to help train students as production assistants.
Deny Staggs, Montana Film Office location coordinator, said the state’s collaboration with Quixote, of Los Angeles, aims to build a talented pool of film hands in Montana to help lure more television, film and commercial productions to the state.
“After inquiring about our tax incentives, the number one question that producers ask is, ‘Do we have an experienced crew?’ ” Staggs said. “Without a continued effort to develop and train our resident crew work force, Montana will fall behind other states in attracting productions, potentially losing millions in annual cash inflow and tax revenue.”
Staggs, who attended the Toronto Film Festival last week, said he discovered Quixote recently at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The University of Montana’s College of Visual and Performing Arts agreed to host the company’s two-day class this month. Montana State University will get the same opportunity in the months ahead, Staggs said.
“These guys (Quixote) get you on your feet and immerse you in the concept of being a production assistant,” Staggs said. “When you’re in those positions, you interact with every department on the film set.”
The more a film production can rely on a local crew, the less it spends on hiring out-of-state crew members. Staggs said that can lower the production’s overall budget while bringing new jobs and millions of dollars in up-front spending to the state.
Once hired, Staggs said, local crew members also will gain valuable experience, further enhancing the work force for future productions in Montana. The state film office recently scouted for a new film by Alexander Payne (“The Descendants” and “Sideways”), a third of which will be filmed in Montana this winter.
Over the summer, several features used Big Sky County as a cinematic backdrop, including a new production by French director Arnaud Desplechin starring Benicio Del Toro, star of “Traffic,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
“Being on a crew is rigorous, exciting work, and we wanted to offer a training experience that would best match the actual position,” Staggs said. “We’re really excited about the activity Montana is getting. We want to keep that activity moving, keep the crews developing and keep them active.”
Quixote keeps a production placement database and offers referrals to producers looking to shoot. The company’s program develops students for jobs as production assistants, an entry-level position on most film, television and commercial sets.
Staggs said UM students who seek entry into Montana’s crew base, and who have a background in film production arts, will get first dibs on registering for the course.
The two-day class is open to 30 students. The Montana Film Office and UM’s College of Visual and Performing Arts are sponsoring the registration cost for participants.
“We’ve reached out to our key crew base in the state to get suggestions on how to build the production work force in a way that’s advantageous to our industry,” Staggs said. “This is an opportunity to get a hands-on experience in a real filmmaking atmosphere.”
The course will be held Sept. 22 and 23 in Missoula. To find out more, call (406) 243-4540.