Inside the cafeteria of The Rock Island Center for Math and Science, students used food coloring, oil and rubber ducks to learn about water pollution. It could have been a normal science class, if it weren’t for the cameras and lights set up in a perimeter around the tables.
Behind the scenes, Fresh Films students filmed from different angles, capturing sound with boom mics as the kids conducted their experiment. Instructors handed out advice when needed, while Illinois Film Office Director Peter Hawley observed from the sidelines.
When finished, the day’s clips will run in an episode of “The Detectives Club,” an Emmy-winning Fresh Films show about kids who turn to science to uncover the truth behind their grandpa’s crazy stories. The Rock Island-Milan Community School District students learned about waterways and what affects them with the help of the Putnam Museum.
“This is checking off all the boxes I wanted from our workforce training program,” Hawley said. “You have young people getting trained by working professionals. This is their first rodeo … it’s only going to get better and better and better.”
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The Illinois Film Office awarded Fresh Films, whose goal is to build skills and confidence in underserved young people through the process of film-making, a grant to aid in workforce development for young people wanting to enter the Illinois film industry. Hawley said $500,000 was distributed among the seven grant recipients.
Fresh Films Managing Director Kelli Feigley said the grant funds paid students a stipend for their work. Funds were supposed to be distributed in spring 2020, Hawley said, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic funds were rescinded until early 2022.
When he entered his role at the Illinois Film Office in 2019, Hawley knew three things were needed to grow the state’s film industry — an expanded film tax credit, more studio space and a larger, more diverse workforce for entry-level positions with opportunities for growth.
An expanded Illinois Film Production Tax Credit program will go into effect July 1. According to the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunities, since the tax credit program began in 2004, the film industry has spent more than $1 billion in Illinois, roughly half of which went to Illinois residents working on film and TV projects.
“They have found as [the industry has] been growing, there aren’t enough diverse young people to take all these new entry-level jobs,” Feigley said. “So this training grant … is allowing us to deeply train college-age students who are basically about ready to go into the job market, or are ready to go in, for job openings in in Illinois.”
With the skills they’re learning, Feigley said any of these students would be able to step on a film or TV show set and feel comfortable. Now they’re showing them that they don’t need to head to Hollywood to work in the industry.
Jewel Baker, who worked on audio during the filming session, came to Rock Island from Chicago to work with Fresh Films. The 20-year-old said she’d be willing to stay in Illinois to run her film production business, which she plans to open by the time she turns 27.
The Jackson State University student has worked with Fresh Films since high school and said the children they were working with could be gaining inspiration from the organization to join the film industry someday.
“They love it. They think, ‘Oh, I could be on TV,’ ” Baker said. “So a lot of them might end up wanting to join the film industry.”