A Life in Movies

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By: Matt Hansen

When Taiece “Tai” Geiger was young, she had three favorite movies: Forrest Gump, A Raisin in the Sun, and “anything with Barbra Streisand.”

For a young girl growing up with her great-aunt and uncle in Jamaica, Queens, all three had an important lesson.

“They were about people overcoming oppression and challenges,” she remembered. “They were more realistic and not so happy-ever-after. I liked that.”

Just like her favorite movies, Tai has had to work hard to overcome oppression and challenges from a young age.

Her mother passed away from AIDS when she was just a teen so she kept herself busy at school, channeling her energy into exploring her passion for film. She became the president of her junior high drama club and took classes in cinematography.

Meanwhile, as a young queer woman of color, she struggled to find a nurturing environment that supported her for who she was.

“My uncle always said that are two different kinds of people, the ones who always complain about everything and the ones who take action,” she said.

So when it came time to enter the working world, she took action as an advocate for social justice.

From trips to Albany to lobby for juvenile justice reform to helping establish safe spaces for queer youth with the LGBTQ group FIERCE, Tai was motivated and forceful. She led workshops on safe sex, police stops, and how other societies had dealt with exclusion and conflict.

Many of the organizations she worked with would ask her to bring her love of performance and the arts to help promote their work. She spoke with the media, led town hall discussions, and produced documentaries.

Eventually, her activism took her to California where she worked as an employment advocate for low-income residents.

Yet despite fighting on behalf of others, she struggled to take care of herself. After returning to New York, she had trouble finding a full-time job and ended up in a homeless shelter before she eventually landed at the True Colors residence, supportive housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

It was a subway ad that brought her full circle, opening a path to a career and an opportunity to pursue her life’s passion.

The ad was for the Robin Hood-funded Brooklyn Workforce Innovations’ Made in New York program, which trains unemployed New Yorkers for careers in media and television.

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For a lifelong movie fan, the Made in New York program was a perfect fit and she leapt at the opportunity.

“I just felt like it was a sign,” she recalled.

The program was hands-on and fast-paced, ideal for Tai.

“I feel like it’s a great alternative to a traditional 4-year college. It just gives you what you need to know,” she said. “And it was quick.”

She learned the practical skills she would need to be a production assistant, like how to communicate via walkie-talkie, how to handle paperwork, and how to cope with bad weather on set. And, she said, “it prepared you both emotionally and physically” for an often grueling job.

Since graduating last April, Tai has gone straight to work on independent films, television shows like Elementary and Daredevil, and big-budget movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She’s also quickly moved up the ranks, climbing from a certified traffic flagger to production assistant to a set dressing and props assistant. Her ultimate goal is to become a production designer.

“I love period pieces,” she said. “I’m a very visual person. I love to read a book or a script and help bring that vision to life.”

And there are days where she’s still amazed that she’s working on a movie set. While working on the TV show Shades of Blue, she was struck by the fact that she was living out a childhood dream.

“I’m a native New Yorker, so the idea of going up and seeing Law and Order — I always said, I want to do that, whether it’s in front of the camera or behind the camera,” she said. “Every time I go to work it always amazes me — whether I’m on the stage, in the studio, on location, or even in the shop, just cutting boxes — everything is rewarding.”

She now gives back to the program by mentoring current students, like she was mentored, and telling everyone she meets about the program.

And though the work isn’t easy, she realizes she’s found the safety and stability of a career, not just a job — and she did it herself, with a little help from her instructors.

“I really admire how they just give people the opportunity to get their foot in the door. From there, you just pick the ball up and keep on going wherever you want to go,” she said.

For now, she’s pushing ahead, eyes wide open, just like that young girl growing up in Queens who loved movies about the real world.


Brooklyn Workforce Innovations (BWI), a Robin Hood-funded nonprofit, helps unemployed New Yorkers work their way out of poverty by providing them with the skills they need to launch successful careers in a variety of fields. BWI operates four highly successful job training programs that prepare New Yorkers to become skilled woodworkers, production assistants in film and television, unionized commercial drivers, and telecommunications technicians.

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