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New Jersey film and TV industry bouncing back from COVID as state hosts boot camp for aspiring production assistants

New Jersey film and TV industry bouncing back from COVID as state hosts boot camp for aspiring production assistants

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'The Equalizer' starring Queen Latifah is one of many shows and movies that has filmed in New Jersey in recent years.

Actress Halle Berry meets with children from Atlantic City on Tuesday on the set of the movie 'Bruised' inside the main arena of Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

Action behind the scenes has bounced back in a big way for the film and TV industry amid the horror of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Production has resumed or begun for many movies and television series that were delayed by coronavirus shutdowns, including in New Jersey, where a boot camp to prepare aspiring production assistants for the workforce is set to take place April 10-11.

“We’re not where we were before yet, but we’re getting there quite rapidly,” Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and TV Commission, told the Daily News on Tuesday.

“In fact, I just had a meeting ... with the council of motion picture and television unions that serve the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area, and the reports were very cheery in terms of the amount of production that’s taking place. We’re getting lots and lots of calls.”

That rapid increase of projects shooting in New Jersey means more job opportunities.

That’s where the upcoming Production Assistant Bootcamp comes in. Organized by the New Jersey Motion Picture and TV Commission and sponsored by NBCUniversal, the application-only program in Newark offers New Jersey residents thorough and fast-paced training for everything they need to know about being a production assistant, Gorelick explained.

“We’re getting more and more production, day by day, and that’s going to continue in the years to come because Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s administration has put a huge emphasis on this, and we’re really working hard to bring as much production in as possible,” Gorelick said. “You have to have the infrastructure to support that, and part of that infrastructure is having a talent pool that can serve the industry.”

In recent years, Oscar-nominated films “Joker” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” have filmed in New Jersey, as have TV series such as “The Equalizer,” “The Enemy Within” and “Emergence.”

Gorelick said the state enjoyed its biggest year in terms of production in 2019. That was the first full year the state operated under a tax credit incentive program introduced by Murphy that made New Jersey more desirable among production studios.

There’s an “incredible appetite” for new content among viewers, Gorelick said. With so many networks and streaming services now available, he says, “You need a big pipeline to feed all of that.”

“Right now, the industry is behind in terms of the amount of product available because for the better part of a year, nothing was being filmed,” Gorelick told The News.

Applications recently opened for the Production Assistant Bootcamp, and while there’s no formal deadline, Gorelick encourages people to apply quickly because spots fill up fast.

This upcoming session will be limited to 23 participants, compared with the standard 33, due to pandemic restrictions, and will require attendees to wear masks, socially distance and get their temperatures checked both days.

Gorelick says the program places an emphasis on communities that have been underrepresented in the industry.

“We’re trying to get more women and minority (applicants) involved in the industry, working on sets,” he said.

Although it airs on CBS, the action series “The Equalizer,” starring Queen Latifah, is distributed by NBCUniversal and shoots in Newark.

“Some of those graduates (of the boot camp) probably, there’s a likelihood, will end up working on ‘The Equalizer,’” Gorelick said. “That’s why we’re holding this particular one in Newark.”

Gorelick’s commission was unable to put on a boot camp last year due to the coronavirus crisis after hosting three in the previous two years.

He and his team are excited to get the program started again. “You’re taught, in rapid-fire fashion, all that you need to know in order to go on the set right after you graduate, and become a production assistant and get your career started.”

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