Cinespace community outreach gets Congressional nod

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi greets "Chicago Fire" star Eamonn Walker

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi greets “Chicago Fire” star Eamonn Walker

The studio’s
Internship Program
grows stronger with
legislation backed by
Raja Krishnamoorthi


A roomful of esteemed film industry leaders spent their lunch hours paying tribute to less than a dozen entry-level employees at Cinespace Studios last Friday afternoon. They came for a press conference hosted by Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who spoke in support of the CineCares Mirkopoulos Internship Program (MIP).

Described as “a twelve-week job-training program that helps Chicago area residents ages 18-26 from under-served communities,” the MIP offers access to career opportunities in Cinespace’s thriving film and television business.

After touring the North Lawndale campus, the Representative of the state’s 8th District stepped up to a podium in the film incubator Stage 18 and declared that his office is actively “trying to put programs like (MIP) on steroids.”

CineCares Executive Director Sheila Brown and Congressman Krishnamoorthi with some of this year's interns
CineCares Executive Director Sheila Brown and Congressman Krishnamoorthi with some of this year’s interns

“There’s 7.1 million unfilled jobs in the workforce because employers can’t locate the skills or experience necessary to fill them,” he continued. “We have an abundance of excellent lawyers in this country, but we have a shortage of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, grips, (and) crewmembers at Cinespace.”

To help strengthen the effort, the Congressman joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers last year to update the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

Describing the legislation as, “the primary federal funding vehicle for these types of post-secondary educational programs at community colleges and high schools across the country,” he noted that it had not been updated “since the iPhone was invented.”

“Working with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” he said, “we got a bill to modernize the system passed through the house one year ago, through the Senate four months ago, and signed into law by the President two months ago. It’s a big deal.”

While increasing funding for programs like MIP, the law works with educational institutions and private employers to “help validate the skills that are taught” and “empower you to do more of what you’re doing already.”

Rep. Krishnamoorthi is a uniquely qualified advocate for this kind of governmental and private sector cooperation. Born into a family of Indian immigrants who relied on public housing and food stamps when he was a child, the Congressman earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Princeton University and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School before entering politics.

The Mirkopoulos Internship Program
Now in its second year, the Mirkopoulos Internship Program is part of CineCares Foundation, an organization that places young adults from neighborhoods surrounding Cinespace into internships with the studio.

Alex Pissios
Alex Pissios

NBC Universal, Wolf Films, and Local 476 were among the program’s inaugural partners. Fox got in on the action this year.

MIP is run by Executive Director Sheila Brown and chaired by Cinespace President Alex Pissios, who insisted that the program is “not just about training,” before he introduced Rep. Krishnamoorthi at the start of the conference.

“What we’ve seen too many times is training and then not a job,” Pissios explained. “What we’re trying to do here at Cinespace is train, and after you’re done training, you have a job.”

Executive Director Brown reinforced the impact with stats at the conclusion of the event.

“During the first year in the program, we had 90% of our interns successfully complete their training in the 12-week period,” she said. “After that, over 50% of them went on to work on this campus, and some are in New York. We even heard one was even working for Spike Lee, so we’re getting around.”

Then she invited several of the newly hired film pros to join her at the podium and personally introduced each one.

Eamonn Walker
Eamonn Walker

The crowd was loaded with important people like Studio Mechanics Local 476 President Bradley Matthys, Director of the Illinois Film Office Christine Dudley, and Director of the Chicago Film Office Rich Moskal. But no one else got up to speak because the moment, it seemed, belonged to the young cohorts.

That is, until Sheila Brown noticed that Chicago Fire star Eamonn Walker had taken a break from filming to be there. She asked the actor who plays Wallace Boden to say a few words, and people shouted “Chief! Chief!”

Wearing firefighter boots and a battalion chief windbreaker, Walker delivered an eloquent message of approval and encouragement.

“I’m just really, really proud that Chicago and Sheila Brown, Cinespace Studios and CineCares Foundation is doing the work that it’s doing,” he said. “It’s leading the way forward for the rest of the industry to follow.”