The start of March was an exciting time in the nation’s capital for many Veep fans and Julia Louise-Dreyfus aficionados. The HBO Emmy-award winning series was in the District for a week-long shoot, and fans took to Twitter and local blogs to share stories of their celebrity sightings. But the show’s stint in D.C. added an additional layer of excitement for the city as several locals were afforded the opportunity to work on set through the network’s Production Assistant Trainee Program as part of a larger program, HBO & Cinemax Community Impact Program. The initiative is one that continues to grow and touch the communities where HBO films on location.
The Production Assistant Trainee Program is implemented by NOVAC, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that develops training programs for jobs in the film industry. HBO began working with NOVAC a couple of years ago on the set of Quarry in New Orleans, a drama series set to debut later this year. Though elements of the HBO P.A. program have been around since the filming of The Wire in Baltimore, the program officially debuted with Ballers, filmed in Miami, in January of this year. Veep is the second show that has partnered with the P.A. initiative.
“We want it [location shooting] to be mutually beneficial for everyone, a reciprocal relationship,” said Dennis Williams, vice president of corporate social responsibility at HBO. Williams explained that offering the program is HBO’s way of saying to the communities where the network is filming, “We want to partner with you. We don’t want to get there, unload our trucks, film, then just pack up and leave.” And for many in these communities (which reside outside of L.A.), it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect with a network like HBO.
“We started out by asking ourselves, ‘How do we work with our productions to be good citizens,” said Williams. “We want the people in our training program to be able to touch Hollywood, to know what Hollywood looks like and feels like.” Those people are potentially the future directors, producers, costume and wardrobe technicians who will one day pack their bags and go to L.A., and it’s HBO’s hope to first springboard their careers in the very communities where they come from.
The focus of the training program and who it’s targeted to varies depending on the city and show. Take Quarry, for example. Darcy McKinnon, the executive director of NOVAC, explained that the series was the “test case” that eventually made the P.A. program into what it is today. Quarry centers around a marine returning from Vietnam, so HBO and NOVAC made it a priority to get veterans involved with the set through an internship program. And earlier this year, the production crew of Ballers partnered with universities in Miami to target and encourage students to become involved in the film industry.
What’s been incredibly valuable and helped ensure the success of the program, added Williams, is the network’s relationship with our productions on the ground and the local film commissioners. Because the truth is, when a shoot occurs in a city, many times roads are shut down, detours occur, businesses are impacted and communities experience inconveniences from time to time. But HBO’s partnership with the respective mayor or governor’s office and with the film commissioners ensures that the needs of the communities where productions are underway are being met.
“We have an important role in pipelining the next generation of programmers and storytellers. We take that responsibility very seriously,” said Williams. “We take pleasure in providing people what we think are meaningful and impactful opportunities to enhance their viability in our industry.”
“By engaging this community practice where they are producing shows, HBO is thinking outside of the box and letting diverse constituents participate and create their own pathways,” added McKinnon. “That’s how we end up cultivating the next generation of diverse talent.”
As Williams said, it’s mutually beneficial for everyone.