On any given day, you’ll find Tony Glazer and Summer Crockett Moore on a sound stage, creating a TV show or movie that millions of people will watch. They’re the managing partners of Choice Films, a 22-year-old production company based in Newburgh. Although you may not be familiar with their business, you probably know some of the entertainment it’s helped to create, including the series “Pretty Little Liars” and the Oscar-winning 2022 film “The Whale.”
Yet Glazer and Crockett Moore’s sets aren’t staffed exclusively with industry veterans. There are novice production assistants on site, recruited from in and around Newburgh, doing everything from running errands to relaying messages between workers. For them, the job is a foot in the door to a potential career in the entertainment industry. They have Glazer and Crockett Moore’s 3-year-old, not-for-profit initiative, Below the Line Bootcamp, to thank for the opportunity.
For those unfamiliar with production industry lingo, “below the line” is a common term. “Above the line, you have your producers, directors, writers, and actors,” explains Crockett Moore. “Below the line would be everybody else—wardrobe, props, carpenters, electricians, grips—everyone that makes the engine of the machine work.” It’s in this part of the business that Below the Line Bootcamp’s participants begin.
As the program’s name hints, recruits undergo intensive training before they are put to work. “Basically, we give them a rundown of life on a set for a production assistant—what they do, what their job will be, and what it’s about,” says Glazer. Students master fundamentals such as how to read a call sheet and lock down a street for a shoot. While Glazer and Crockett Moore may teach some of the classes, “we have experts that come in—professional grips, electricians, and cinematographers. We also have our graduate boot campers, who are now in the field. Many of them are in unions and teach classes and talk to everybody.” After that, participants are assigned to projects and hit the ground running.
For residents of the Newburgh area, Below the Line, which is funded through state and city grants, provides an avenue of empowerment. Many boot campers come from the Newburgh Free Academy, a public school; others are referred by the Newburgh Police Department and the City. From the start, boot camp grads make $17.50 an hour, and from there it’s onward and upward. The turnarounds people experience can be stunning.
“One of our grads is now on our Choice Films staff. He’s 24 and supports his family in Newburgh working in the film industry,” says Glazer. Yet the aim is not solely to train young people. “We’ve got many older people in their thirties and forties, looking at career changes,” he adds.
Though Newburgh may not seem like a production hub, it happens to be the site of Umbra, a sound stage that Glazer and Crockett Moore manage. “There’s over 400,000 square feet of sound stage infrastructure. This is a huge piece of how the Hudson Valley is thriving, in my opinion,” notes Glazer. Thanks to generous tax credits, “Newburgh is central to so much of this [business],” he says. “We are part of a much larger community in the Hudson Valley that is striving to make it all work.”
Bootcampers find ample opportunities to progress in the field. Some 268 people have been trained so far, and then encouraged to discover which part of the industry they’d like to pursue. “What we tell everybody is ‘Do the job you’re there to do but watch and absorb everything and see what holds your interest,’” says Crockett Moore. As they become experienced, these novices may start to work on productions in other states, such as Connecticut and New Jersey. “It’s a feeder system for the industry no matter where it is.”
The program also feeds participants’ dreams and becomes integral to their lives. When one movie wrapped, Crockett Moore recalls, “We were all just standing on the stage—everybody always gets a little sad at the end of a job. One bootcamp grad took my hand and said, ‘I feel like I have a real family now. I’m part of something bigger.”