A cohort of young professionals assured industry leaders that the future of Chicago production is in good hands at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on Monday afternoon. Highlighting the Wrap Party for the Mirkopoulos Internship Program, each member of the group had just finished working as temporary crew on Chicago Fire / PD / Med, and Empire, and they accepted their program completion certificates with an Oscar-worthy level of gratitude, grace, and confidence.
“We interviewed 45 people for these 13 spots,” said CineCares Foundation Executive Director Sheila Brown, who hosted the ceremony. “These were the crème de la crème, and it shows.”
Founded in 2017, MIP is an internship program that places residents of economically disadvantaged Chicago neighborhoods into paid temporary film industry jobs. Overseen by Brown, it partners with Fox, NBCUniversal, Wolf Films, IATSE Local 476, and IATSE Local 600 to maximize the impact of the Windy City production boom.
“This thing has really, really grown into something special,” Cinespace President Alex Pissios told the crowd. “I just got back from Los Angeles, and at most of these meetings with these studios, the first thing they said was, ‘let’s talk about your internship program.’”
The event took place at AbelCine’s theater on the Cinespace campus. Among those who arrived to offer congratulations was Illinois Film Office Director Peter Hawley, who echoed Pissios’ remarks after the ceremony.
“Everybody in Los Angeles talks about this internship program,” he said. “That’s how we build the industry, by having more and more young people seeing a pathway to getting a job.”
Chicago Film Office Director Kwame Amoaku was also there, and he agreed.
“CineCares plays a huge part in the workforce development here in the City of Chicago,” he said. “It’s necessary in order to keep up with the industry expansion. CineCares is vital. I need at least 20 more CineCares.”
Other speakers included Studio Mechanics Union President Brad Matthys and Independent Film Alliance Director Angie Gaffney
“You’ve made all of us and your families very proud,” said Matthys. “We can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.”
“You have a story to tell,” said Gaffney, who offered each member of the cohorts a yearlong membership to the organization. “My invitation to you is to use IFA, use me, and use our office space to tell those stories and create those businesses that will really fuel your soul.”
But perhaps the greatest praise came from Pissios, who closed his remarks by saying that Cinespace’s founder, “Uncle Nick” Mirkopoulos, who passed seven years ago, would be proud.
“You guys are carrying a lot of weight coming through this internship program with his name on it,” he said. “He believed in hard work, being honest, putting your time in, and you guys did, and you should be very proud of yourselves.”
Then he offered up a bit of good news for everybody.
“There’s a lot of good stuff coming,” he said. “You guys are coming in at the perfect time.”
At the start of the cohort, interns receive a day of orientation from the CineCares Foundation and two days of training at NBCUniversal and Fox. Then they begin working “about 60 hours a week,” according to Brown. Although most of them do not arrive with any considerable experience, they gain it through excellent attitudes and strong work ethics.
“If we identify people who are go-getters, who understand the magnitude of the opportunity, who really get in there and work hard,” Brown explained, “they can become working professionals in this business.”
Intimately familiar with the interns and their families, Brown set a joyful mood for the Intern Wrap Party. She provided a brief bio for each member of the cohort, who she introduced individually.
One by one, the interns rose to the occasion. Addressing the crowd while accepting their completion certificates — which came along with t-shirts and hats from the specific shows that hired them — they reinforced Brown’s contagious enthusiasm.
A Little Village resident who worked for the Chicago Fire Props Department said that he was inspired to pursue his dream career in the film industry by the sudden loss of a family member.
A Chicago PD intern who recently earned an accounting degree from Cornell University complimented “the value that this initiative brings.” An intern from the Art Department who is also raising a child expressed gratitude for the people who helped her achieve “balance.”
A Chicago Med intern recalled the wisdom of his grandfather, who introduced him to films like Scarface and Blues Brothers.
An Empire intern noted that his father was in the audience and then said, “I’m so glad to see that all of us made it … we’re grateful to have people in the department that want to see us succeed.” Another spoke directly to Sheila Brown, saying, “we just can’t thank you enough.”
After the presentation, Alex Pissios joked that MIP should be renamed “the Mirkopoulos-Brown Internship Program,” because, he said, Sheila Brown is “our Mama Bear.”
In Mama Bear fashion, she shared the credit with CineCares Resource Coordinator Michele Santiago, who helps the cohorts with resumes, job placement, and social media pages after they complete the program.
“Michele is truly my partner in crime,” Brown said. “She’s another Mama Bear.”
Keeping it Going
At the end of the program, Brown noticed a former intern in the crowd and immediately went into his bio.
The young man had gained an internship with the Chicago Med grip department through the Mirkopoulos Internship Program, she explained. Upon completion, he worked on Lovecraft County in the camera department. He eventually became a member of Local 600 and worked in the camera department at Proven Innocent and Utopia. Now he is part of the Fargo crew.
She invited him to step up and say a few words.
After thanking Brown for helping his film career and describing the incomparable value of his MIP experience, he told the interns, “just keep it going.”
Top photo: the most recent Mirkopoulos Internship Cohort, by Tito Garcia