Amanda White at Ferndale Career Center talks to students this month about a film training course at Oakland Community College. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Sarah DeBoer didn't mind the 16-hour workdays, running errands across Metro Detroit for the assistant director or fetching water for the film's leading lady.
While her job as a set production assistant on Lifetime's "Prayers for Bobby" wasn't exactly filled with Hollywood glitz and glamour, the Michigan State University sophomore couldn't have asked for a better summer position.
"It's pretty surreal," the Milford native said of working with Sigourney Weaver on her first film job.
DeBoer represents a burgeoning career path in the movie industry as filmmakers are now flocking to Michigan and need local crews for behind-the-scenes work. To meet the growing demand, colleges and universities are clamoring to train students and line them up with much-needed jobs.
Since Michigan approved aggressive tax incentives last April to lure Hollywood filmmakers to the state, 71 projects have been approved, with 37 films already completed, said Tony Wenson, chief operating officer of the Michigan Film Office.
Nearly 3,000 direct jobs have been created, with total wages reaching $57 million, he said. More is on the way, and there's a real urgency to get Michigan workers trained for the jobs -- ranging from production assistants to lighting and grip work -- so filmmakers don't have to import workers.
"We could have been training for two years before the incentives came into place and we might have been ready," Wenson said of huge task of cultivating a local work force quickly.
To help Michigan catch up, some community colleges are offering short-term courses to get displaced workers onto sets immediately. Unemployed workers may be eligible for funding through the state's No Worker Left Behind program if they apply in advance.
Some universities have retooled their theater, media and communications programs to better align students with emerging jobs.
"We have tremendously capable people who are not trained yet, and we're going to do that," said the center's president, Mort Meisner, a three-time Emmy Award winner.
While the incentives lure filmmakers to the state, Michigan needs to develop a strong film infrastructure and work force to keep Hollywood coming back, said Jeff Spilman, co-founder and managing partner of S3 Entertainment Group, which teamed up with Oakland Community College to offer training in behind-the-scenes jobs.
"I can't stress the importance of sustaining the incentives to provide jobs for the people of the state of Michigan," Wenson said. "It's a true opportunity for us to diversify the economy."
As the state began offering incentives to filmmakers, OCC formed a film advisory board to identify training opportunities.
"After talking to people in the industry, we were convinced there were good career opportunities for people, whether they were recently laid off or were looking for a long-term career," said Rochelle Kaye, program manager at OCC for economic and work force development.
At Madonna University, Coppola teaches students to create movies by mixing "old school" filmmaking techniques with "new school" digital media technology. With the new studio, he envisions students producing six to seven low-budget "digi flicks" a year, building their experience and a "bullpen" of Michigan-based talent that Hollywood can tap, he said.
And while most of the new training courses involve off-screen work, students have found acting roles in Michigan-based films. Madonna senior Christy Derry, 20, worked as an extra in "High School," which filmed at Howell's vacant Parker High School. Her role as the "sporty student" didn't have lines, but she's optimistic she'll land a larger role in a Michigan-based film.
"Now we can get our feet wet without having to go out to L.A. and compete with people who have been in the industry for years," Derry said. "The industry is coming to us."