Initiative to build spot production careers for U.S. military vets gains momentum at Vets2Set seminar
AICP VP Danny Rosenbloom
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Vets2Set, a not-for-profit organization guiding U.S. military veterans into the commercial, film and digital production industries, recently held a seminar to further the goal of placing vets on every shoot as production assistants, in turn opening the door to career opportunities. Veterans gathered in the Ogilvy New York theater to hear expert advice from producers and executives representing different media perspectives. Speakers from Nice Shoes, Moving Picture Institute, and the AICP described what veterans can expect working as PAs and developing careers in production and post.

Veterans had the opportunity to network with industry leaders and to ask questions of the experts. Vets also met personally with Vets2Set co-founders David Cohen, Peter Friedman, and Col. Maureen Weigl as well as Ogilvy host, Lynn Roer, who is chief development officer of this veterans’ employment and education group. Veterans throughout the United States who are enrolled in the Vets2Set database participated in the seminar through livestreaming.

Freelance producer Daniel Hank who has 40 years of experience in production started as a PA. He noted that in New York there are currently 90 active projects in television and feature film requiring up to 25 PAs every day. That number does not include PAs needed for advertising, postproduction, and experiential projects. When asked by a veteran in the audience who came in for the seminar from Buffalo, NY, for advice about finding work, Hank quickly mentioned two movie projects shooting in Buffalo and urged the veteran to connect with that city’s film commissioner. This advice reflected what the other industry leaders had to say: pursue contacts based on what you know, get experience, and keep in touch because the very active production industry needs you.

Hannah Earl talked about the paid internships available at the Moving Picture Institute and gave advice on how to maximize the first day on the job. She urged PAs to always work for the next job. “You are auditioning all the time.” Being an eager problem solver brings more work, but where unions are involved, a PA must know the difference between taking initiative and doing someone else’s job. If unsure, ask.

AICP VP Danny Rosenbloom, who also spent time as a PA, drew applause when he indicated that his organization is working with its members to make hiring veterans as PAs the industry standard. With 85 percent of commercial advertising production in the hands of AICP members, the potential for veterans is great.

Tara Holmes, executive producer at Nice Shoes, described the explosion in digital and postproduction work. College degrees are not as consequential to finding work as familiarity with design software and spreadsheets. It was mentioned more than once that a lot of PA work is done in offices, not only on set. There are production-related jobs that suit all sorts of interests and knowledge. Several veterans raised questions about how to turn their personal interests into job opportunities. “Make yourself known” was the frequent answer. Use social media to demonstrate your creativity, have business cards ready, take notes, follow up with people you meet, during downtimes on set learn about the people you are working with and how they do their jobs, and research the part of the industry you favor.

Vets2Set co-founders Friedman and Cohen described how they each started their professional careers pursuing various interests including casting, acting, and directing, which led them step by step and connection to connection into executive positions in production. Roer advised “make yourself invaluable” because people in the industry talk to one another and share with colleagues who is good. Col. Weigl commented on using the government’s tuition assistance in a focused way to pursue specific interests.

Following the presentations and questions, the veterans had an opportunity to continue private conversations with the Vets2Set and industry leaders. In the afternoon, members of the Vets2Set board met with the in-house WPP production team, Hogarth, to broaden their awareness of veterans looking for PA positions. The effort to employ veterans can be promoted by advertisers and brand managers when they require hiring two veterans for their projects by using the Vets2Set database. The support of major corporations and their advertising agencies is essential for encouraging the hiring of veterans throughout the production industry.

Lisa Stevens, Hogarth’s manager of broadcast traffic, praised the “great presentation” and reported that “a number of production and account people who attended the seminar told me they are going to or have already spoken to their clients about Vets2Set.” According to Cohen, brands are key to hiring veterans. He and his team are working for the day when a client won’t sign a production estimate before asking “Are there two veterans on my set?” With brands on board, Vets2Set will attain its goal.

Vets2Set is a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization and takes no fees from either veterans or employers but rather depends on fully deductible donations to operate. With the large number of shoots taking place every day for advertising, sports promotion and entertainment as well as postproduction work, the potential income for veterans hired as production assistants could range as high as a combined several million dollars each year. Although most employment opportunities are in New York and Los Angeles, nationwide recruitment of veterans by the organization makes it possible for production companies to find veterans wherever a shoot takes place.

The great virtue of the Vets2Set strategy to employ veterans is its simplicity. With a phone call, email, or text message, a veteran finds a job and opens the door to an industry not easy to enter. Once on a set or in a postproduction facility, veterans acting as production assistants are paid and have the opportunity for hands-on experience leading to a new career.

Veterans and employers can enroll in this veteran employment program here.


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