CineCares intern program helps Chicago youth break into TV, film industry

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC 7 is celebrating Black History Month with a special edition of "Heart and Soul."

We spotlight mentors honoring Chicagoans whose efforts are changing lives and shaping future leaders.

One of those mentors is Sheila Brown. Her innovative work as executive director of the CineCares Foundation is helping young adults break into the TV and film industry.

"Growing up, I always knew TV and movies would call to me," said Daniel Barrios, a prop intern. "Coming from a working class family, unfortunately, that was never really a viable option for me."

The Mirkopoulos Internship Program, called MIP, is named for CineSpace studio founder Nick Mirkopoulos. His nephew, Alex Pissios, now runs the studio.

"When we brought in Sheila Brown to run CineCares, she is the one that came to us and said, 'you need to have a focus and jobs are something that really needs to be done in this neighborhood,'" Pissios said.

Sheila Brown was born and raised on the West Side of Chicago. She broke into the sports production business from the administrative side, becoming a sought-after production manager for professional sports broadcasts.

After more than 20 years of running her own company and producing multi-media events around the world, Brown brings her intelligence, passion and leadership skills to CineCares.

"She is from the neighborhood," Pissios said. "She understands the neighborhood. She understands more than you or me or anybody could really understand because she lived it."

"I would not be where I am right now without her," said Immane Mondane, a props department intern on "Empire." "For people like me to see a black woman, who looks like me, in that kind of position, who has taken the platform that she had and is bringing people up with her. Like, we are all her babies, she takes us under her wing."

"They get paid to do these internships and then when they move off and become professionals in the industry and they're eventually offered a membership in the union, CineCares pays their initiation fee. It is important to us to remove all hindrance and just say go in, do well, succeed. Over 90% of the participants successfully finish the program and over 60% of them are working full seasons on the shows that film here on our campus. To be able to come back to the West Side of Chicago and to be able to provide access for people just like me to get into this industry is the dream," Brown said.

"Sheila has completely changed my life," Barrios said. "She was the one person who opened the door for me. She has told me time and time again, 'I can get you into the door, but it is your job to stay in the room.'"

"I love the people who put this together here for us," said Anthony J. Lullo, a gaffer and DP on "Chicago Fire." "Being a union member in Chicago that struggled, she is a breath of fresh air for me because she understands that you have to have the kids out there to do the work."

"She is amazing," Mondane added. "I think she is a superhero. In six weeks, I got a call from my boss and he was like, you are going to be getting a call from our union reps and you will be in the union as an apprentice," Mondane said.

"It has been great to be a part of this growth in North Lawndale and the best part is seeing that the neighborhood is starting to emulate this workforce and the workforce is starting to look like the neighborhood," Pissios said.

"I think there is always a better life waiting for anybody out there," Barrios said. "You just have to look for it. And for me, CineSpace and CineCares was that better life that I found."

You can watch Sheila's full story on "Heart and Soul" Saturday night at 6 p.m. on ABC7. It will air again on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.