How Hundreds of Production Assistants Got ‘Made in New York’
The training program to help bring underrepresented New Yorkers into the film and TV industry has led, on average, to graduates’ salaries growing by 2.4 times.
Teena Marie Delerme-Lugo was struggling to find work and spending nights in her car or sleeping at Penn Station in the mid-2000s, when she came across a training program for people looking for jobs in film and television.
Although she was initially skeptical of the free, four-week program called Made in New York, she applied anyway.
“Just like any New Yorker I was like, ‘Nothing’s for free,’” Delerme-Lugo recalled, thinking it “was some sort of weird scam.”
But what she pegged as a scam has “completely changed my life,” said the South Bronx resident.
In the 15 years since she graduated, Delerme-Lugo, 39, has worked as a caterer and production assistant. Now a married mother of three, she’s a second assistant director who’s recently worked on the NBCUniversal shows “Dr. Death” and “Manifest.”
Work has slowed during the eight-week Writer’s Guild of America strike, however, and has even halted some productions across the city.
Getting the Part
Delerme-Lugo is one of 1,100 New Yorkers — predominantly people of color — who have graduated from Made in New York, according to a report released this month by Brooklyn Workforce Innovations and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Katherine Oliver, the former commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment who now works at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said the report was commissioned to get solid data on the program, which has expanded to other cities, including Atlanta and Los Angeles.
The report found that 78% of graduates worked in film and television for more than two years after graduation.
On average, those who completed the program saw their incomes increase 2.4 times, as they found work as production assistants — and later moved up to jobs as script supervisors, sound mixers, location managers and assistant directors on productions across the city. Many of the graduates have joined local unions or guilds, or are on track to do so.
The program “brought assistant directors, they brought key players from set that looked like me, that looked like my father, that looked like the person sitting next to me, that spoke like me, and were bosses,” Delerme-Lugo said.
The creation of the Made in New York program has its roots in the 2004 city and state film and tax credit program that was created to lure media production back to New York and away from the incentives offered by Canada, Oliver said.
“Very quickly, production flooded New York City,” she told THE CITY.
The film and television industry directly contributes more than $63 billion and employs more than 100,000 people, according to the mayor’s office.
Oliver said the influx of production was accompanied by “an impact on neighborhoods,” with a surge in complaints about noise and production vehicles on city streets.
Production assistants are the face of most projects, so Oliver and her team created a training program where production assistants could interact with local communities to deal with issues that arise during production.
They teamed up with the nonprofit Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, which offered job training and placement, to teach around 20 students in each cycle the realities of working on sets. The program could also serve to diversify the production crews.
“The crew base is very white and very male, traditionally,” Oliver said. “We thought that the crew should be reflective of the city.”
Applicants must be 18, current city residents, and either under-employed, unemployed, or from a lower-income background, according to the requirements.
Made in New York continues to evolve to keep up with what productions and workers need. The program has grown to include a focus on mental health for crew members who work long, grueling hours on set. There’s financial coaching, including advice on how to get paid and how to pay taxes as a freelancer, Oliver said.
“It’s not just checking a box, we’re actually working with the industries to make sure that the skills we’re providing New Yorkers are relevant to the jobs that we’re trying to place them in,” said Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Anne del Castillo.
Dream Turned Reality
Venus Anderson went through the program in 2008 and worked on multiple sets as a production assistant before coming back to run Made in New York at Brooklyn Workforce Innovations in 2011.
“The program saved my life the first time, but it really saved my life the second go-round when I started working here because then I had stability,” said Anderson, 40.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s updated film tax credit program is expected to boost productions in the city and the state once the Writers Guild strike is over, although critics say the estimated $700 million is too much money.
For graduates like Janae Harrison, Made in New York provided a pathway into an industry she could only dream of working in.
Harrison graduated from the NYC College of Technology at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, and began her training program remotely soon after that. Once productions resumed, she found work on TV sets including that of “Law & Order: SVU.”
She’s now a member of the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, working with the camera department.
“Never in a million years did I think I could get into this industry, let alone the camera department,” Harrison said.
She also credits the program for giving her the confidence to work her way into a union where fewer than 1% of the members are Black women.
“I appreciate the program for believing in me and opening my eyes that I can do it.”