Students graduating from Boise State University’s theatre, film and creative writing program may witness a new stage in the film industry’s evolution when they step onto their first live set.
Ongoing negotiations between the International Alliance of Theatre Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) continue to threaten production schedules on major studio films and televisions shows.
IATSE is a labor union negotiating on behalf of members who want a living wage, a share of internet streaming revenues, health care benefits and safety assurances for film crews.
Most projects filmed in Idaho do not employ crew members affiliated with the IATSE, according to Blue Banner Films chief executive officer (CEO) Catrine McGregor.
“If you hear about a film in Idaho being a union production, typically they’re going through the Screen Actors Guild (SAG),” McGregor said. IATSE covers production crews employed by studios for big-budget films, according to McGregor.
The recent tragedy on the set of “Rust” emphasizes the IATSE’s concerns.
“There is never a reason to have a real gun on set,” McGregor said of the shooting.
For students preparing to work on film and television sets, McGregor stressed the importance of being proactive and notifying the production’s assistant director (AD) when they observe an unsafe act.
“The AD is ultimately the one who is in charge of safety,” McGregor said. “If the AD doesn’t react right away or change things, it’s your job to put it in writing.”
Documenting safety violations and related conversations can not only prevent injury or loss of life, it can also protect the reporter from liability, according to McGregor.
The IATSE-led strike is another example of the changing nature of the employer/employee relationship.
“Whether it’s a film or Starbucks or another restaurant or a construction site,” McGregor said, “the employee wants better pay … and the employer wants to spend as little money as possible.”
Boise State’s film and television arts program enjoys steady growth, with 2020 enrollment numbers more than double what was expected. McGregor attributes some of that growth to the program’s relocation to Pioneer Hall, a move spearheaded by College of Arts and Science Interim Dean Leslie Durham.
“Dean Durham and [Boise State President] Dr. Tromp are both very proactive in creating a film program that teaches you not only what camera to use, but what to do with that knowledge once you get out of school” McGregor said.
Growth for Boise State’s film and television program is symbiotic with the economic development of the film production community within Idaho, according to McGregor.
“Idaho doesn’t have tax incentives for film productions, but look at the bottom line,” McGregor said. “If you can come to Idaho and make a less expensive film, that can negate the benefit of any tax incentive.”
Some of the planned developments for the university’s film and television program include a series of practicum courses led by industry professionals who can instruct students about stunt work and the use of weapons and pyrotechnics on set.
“If you really want to be a filmmaker, these are some of the most important things there are to know,” McGregor said.
McGregor envisions a future where Boise State is known for a film department that can be mentioned in the same breath as the University of Southern California or the American Film Institute.
“I don’t think that the film and television program’s expansion is due to a growing film industry in Idaho,” McGregor said. “I think it’s the other way around, and the Idaho film industry’s growth will be due to programs like the one at Boise State.”
The success of film and television programs like Boise State’s Narrative Television Initiative suggests a positive trend for students interested in exploring their creative passions.
But the rest of us may have to wait longer than expected for the latest sequel or new seasons on television as Hollywood struggles to adapt to a new employment paradigm.