If you had told Rachel Yeager, when she graduated Verona High School, that one day she would one day return to H.B. Whitehorne to film a TV show, she probably would have laughed. Yeager, who graduated VHS with the class of 2009, loved her creative writing class, but a career in television? With one of the biggest names in reality TV? No, that would have just seemed too fanciful.
And yet, there she was in mid-November, pacing the middle school’s gym with a camera crew in tow, trying to get everything just right before the arrival of the one and only Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. “I’m there to make sure it is going the way it should be,” Yeager says. “It usually isn’t. There are always surprises. You have to be prepared if something goes off differently.”
One thing that might be surprising to the middle schoolers who were watching Yeager do her job that day: Just how much opportunity there is in world of TV and video production. There are reality shows, talk shows and variety shows, sports, dramas, comedies, and documentaries. Not just at the Hollywood production giants that our parents and grandparents knew, but at new media companies like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and more. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. motion picture and TV industry is a $40 billion business that employs 1.9 million workers. And while lots of filming is done all over the country, California and New York remain its two biggest hubs. There are nearly 95,000 movie and TV jobs in New York, for more than $9.8 billion in wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of jobs for film and video editors and camera operators, just two parts of a multi-faceted industry, to grow at 12% a year between now and 2026.
Yeager caught the TV bug during her junior year at Penn State, when she took a TV studio class that taught her how to write, direct and produce. “In the studio space it really clicked for me,” Yeager says. Penn State’s Innovation Park is home to the university’s CommMedia newsroom and multimedia production facility, with professional quality equipment for both capturing and editing video. “That’s where they do a lot of their student-run TV shows,” Yeager says. “Whether you want to be in front of the camera or behind the camera, there’s a ton of opportunities.”
Those opportunities meant that there were several options for Yeager when she graduated from Penn State in 2013. She says she applied to “a million different production companies” in our area, and got an internship with one in Hoboken that was working on several different shows.
Once there, she got to try her hand at everything from casting to writing show pitches, as she traveled around the country for its production. On set, she was responsible for keeping an eye on the people who had been cast, helping the producers with notes and taking stills that were sent to the network. “I remember running around with all this stuff hanging from my fanny pack,” Yeager says, “from tape to a clipboard with releases. It was a lot of fun and there was never a dull moment.”
When the internship ended, she landed a paid position in development, creating ideas for new shows. It didn’t really suit her. “You go through a lot of ideas and nothing gets picked up, and I took that really hard,” Yeager says. “After a year in development, I realized that I missed being on set.”
Lucky for her, Hoboken is also home to Cakehouse Media, the production company that Valastro created to produce Cake Boss, as well as Cooks vs. Cons and Bakers vs. Fakers. Her work centers on Cake Boss, and that’s a good thing. While many shows are one- or two-month production gigs, Cake Boss films from April to January or February. She pitches show ideas, works on their casting and coordinates with the bakers. “What will the cake look like, do we need props,” she says, “what will it take to get the cake to the location.” What Yeager calls the “cake path” is pretty important since Valastro’s cakes are often taller, wider and more complicated than anything you’d find in a regular bakery box. During filming, it’s also Yeager’s job to do the interviews with the people making the cakes and the people eating them, getting all the sound bites they’ll need in the episode.
If there’s a hazard to her job, it’s the potential for extra calories. “There is cake everywhere,” she laughs. “You just have to draw the line.”
Yeager says that HBW and VHS students who want to follow in her path should do as much creative writing as they can and participate in video and creative clubs. And one other thing: Get organized. “Being organized,” she says, “is such a key to succeeding in this type of field.”