Hands-On Learning – Educating the Next Generation of Production and Post Professionals
By Michael Fickes
For some high school and college students today, hitting the soundstage or manning an edit session is as much a part of the school day as cracking open a book. Whether it’s a county with the foresight to provide media education in its high schools, a charter school dedicated to a specialized curriculum or colleges that immerse students in real-world production and post, the next generation of film, video and digital professionals is gaining valuable hands-on experience.
Miami-Dade High Schools Prep Students for Further Studies
Florida is particularly rich in such institutions.
High school students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools regularly produce morning announcements and live television shows covering sporting events, pep rallies, proms, graduations and other events. Some schools even sponsor film festivals for student productions.
|Students get hands on with production at Alonzo
& Tracy Mourning Senior High School, Biscayne Bay,
via a Midtown Video installation.
The school district, the fourth largest in the U.S., has long been committed to providing students with opportunities to develop video and television production skills. It equipped many of its 59 high schools with analog television production studios years ago.
When digital video rendered analog studios obsolete, the School Board laid plans to go digital. That effort began in 2004 when they allocated funds to upgrade existing studios and install new ones in high schools that had been doing without.
“The Board considered High Definition equipment, but decided it would be too expensive,” says Debby Miller, executive vice president of Miami-based Midtown Video, a company that specializes in professional video equipment sales, rental and systems integration. Midtown has outfitted 18 high schools with renovated and new studios.
The local public television station, WLRN, developed specifications for the studios. The station works closely with Miami Dade schools, providing a multi-channel district-wide television network, Video On Demand, a video lending library and instructional media.
The new and upgraded studios each sport three Sony triax studio cameras, pedestal tripods, teleprompters and intercoms. Adjoining control rooms feature switchers, audio boards, camera control, video monitors and playback decks for pre-recorded video.
“We are also providing ENG packages and nonlinear editing systems,” says Fernando Iglesias, Midtown Video’s vice president for operations and senior sales engineer, “and we’re installing digital distribution systems that connect to WLRN.”
The rugged and flexible systems will last for years and allow for easy upgrades as budgets permit, he adds.
“These are professional-quality studios that provide excellent stepping stones for students aiming for careers in the industry,” Iglesias points out. “After learning production techniques in one of these high school studios, a Miami-Dade County graduate will feel comfortable in any professional television facility.”
G-Star Rockets to Head of the Class
Greg Hauptner founded a charter high school called the G-Star School of the Arts for Motion Pictures and Broadcasting in an old water utilities plant in West Palm Beach, Florida in 2003.
In the school’s first seven years, the student body has grown from 150 ninth graders to 885 students in grades 9-12, and G-Star has become the largest film, acting and television and motion picture production high school in the U.S. It now occupies a one-acre campus with 110,000 square feet of academic and production facilities.
|G-Star students worked with Digital Domain on a greenscreen commercial shoot on the school’s soundstage. The shoot was covered by The Today Show, which profiled G-Star last March.|
“We’ve hosted more than 50 feature film productions,” says Hauptner, the G-Star CEO. “They have been low budget, but the budgets are getting higher thanks to the new soundstage we opened last year.”
Commercial producers use G-Star facilities to produce spots for national brands such as Nike and Abercrombie & Fitch. The facility also has hosted television and music video productions and rehearsals by Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks and Radiohead.
G-Star offers its facilities free to producers in return for putting students on their crews as interns, giving them hands-on professional experience.
Production facilities consist of 13 buildings, including the new soundstage, one of the largest in Florida with a 20,000-square-foot studio with three staging areas, 2,500 square feet of production offices, a green room, set construction shop, prop shop and picture car paint shop. Production accessories include a 7-ton forklift, 25-foot scissor lift, 600-amp generator, 5-ton grip package and 40-foot Snorkel lift.
The 80x120-foot soundstage features 11 custom-built air-conditioning units designed to turn on and off hundreds of times a day on command. The drainage system accommodates water tanks as deep as 25 feet. The fire and smoke evacuation system makes it possible to shoot live fires.
The school’s recording studio offers film scoring, automated dialog replacement (ADR), dubbing and a Foley stage with students operating equipment for the performers.
Today, G-Star is forging relationships with industry stars such as Academy Award-winning Digital Domain Media Group. “Digital Domain has partnered with Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts to build an educational facility in West Palm Beach,” Hauptner says. “That facility will include the Digital Domain Institute. In association with that effort, we’re putting $400,000 into the creation of a curriculum for digital imaging, 3D animation and gaming.
“We’re helping to create Florida’s production industry. Our students – 97 percent of them go on to college – are coming back here to work on features and other kinds of productions.”
That’s a long way to come in seven years.
Full Sail University Offers Immersive Experience
UNleashed Magazine calls Orlando-based Full Sail University one of the top five film schools in the country.
What makes a top-five film school? Outstanding facilities is a big component, and Full Sail offers numerous soundstages for student productions and a unique back lot (see Markee 2.0, May/June 2010) featuring 19 outdoor facades from various cities in the U.S. and Europe.
In addition, “Due to our professionally-designed postproduction dubbing stage, we received the honor of being the first school named as a Dolby Digital print master facility in the state of Florida,” says Rick Ramsey, Full Sail’s director of visual arts. “That means our students can master 7.1 surround.”
The campus also houses the Full Sail Sports Lab powered by ESPN, the product of a formal collaboration between ESPN and Full Sail (see March/April 2011 issue), which enables the cable sportsnet to experiment with concepts and produce shows. “We collaborate in our facility with ESPN and they, in turn, mentor our students, who get to work on professional projects – and earn professional credits – while still in school,” Ramsey says.
The very comprehensive facilities give students real-world experience and help channel them to disciplines where they will excel.
“We give students the ability to learn what they are good at,” says Ramsey. “We immerse them in productions.”
Students begin with video productions, rotating through positions to learn directing, camera work, lighting and other tasks. Camera operators use Sony EX1 and Panasonic AG-HVX200 cameras for acquisition.
Students in the Full Sail University film program get hands-on experience working each position on set for a variety of different assignments.
Photo: Full Sail University
Then the curriculum turns to film. Students continue to rotate positions through 16mm shoots, but by the time they get to the 35mm curriculum they stop rotating positions and choose a discipline. They also learn to cut productions editing their first short and documentary on Apple’s Final Cut Pro, their 16mm short on Avid Media Composer and their 35mm short on Avid Nitris/Adrenaline.
Full Sail University offers four film-related degree programs: the film Bachelor of Science (offered on campus); a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing for entertainment (available on campus and online); a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing (available online); and a digital cinematography Bachelor of Science (offered online), which was developed for digital entrepreneurs and focuses on “creating visual digital assets for all kinds of clients,” Ramsey reports.
During their final project, on-campus students in the film program must demonstrate all the skills they have gained working on smaller projects to create their own 35mm movie. Online students in the digital cinematography program use the skills they have acquired to write, produce, edit and output a final video project to cap their studies.
Full Sail has tried to make its online programs as intense and immersive as its on-campus offerings. According to the U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA), it is succeeding. USDLA gave Full Sail its 21st Century Best Practice in Distance Learning Award for 2011, which recognizes new and innovative solutions for distance learning.
Which is what you would expect of a top-five film school.
Ringling College Students Learn Alongside Top Filmmakers
Jason Letkiewicz had a busy spring semester. As a senior in the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida he was part of the school’s first Digital Film program graduating class earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Last February, he used his new filmmaking skills to direct the music video “Mindset” for Every Avenue, the band he played with in high school and left to attend college. The video debuted in the number one slot on MTV.com.
|Ringling College Digital Film students shooting a project on campus.|
In mid-March, Letkiewicz and two other top Digital Film Program students earned slots on the team that Werner Herzog, a charter advisor to the program, assembled to edit Death Row, his new documentary examining the lives of condemned inmates.
Herzog and his editing partner Joe Bini screened the film’s raw footage for classes in Ringling’s year-old Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab. The screening included a look at Herzog’s editing and postproduction processes. (Herzog isn’t the only headline name to visit the campus: Guest lecturers this year included Martha Stewart, Bill Paxton, Andy Garcia and Paul Schiff, who produced My Cousin Vinny.)
After the Death Row screening, Herzog, Bini, Letkiewicz and the other Digital Film students went to work.
“We have a dedicated editing classroom with 16 computer stations and 15 editing suites equipped with the latest editing, sound and effects software,” says Bradley Battersby, Ringling’s Digital Film department head. “We’re bringing the same focus to building the Digital Film program that made our Computer Animation program the top-ranked program in North America,” according to 3DWorld.
With the support of a $1.75-million grant from Sarasota County, Ringling is currently building a 3,000 square-foot professional film and television postproduction facility. Scheduled to come on line this October, the facility will include a private screening room, dubbing bays, two feature film editing suites and a Foley stage.
For production Ringling boasts several RED MX cameras, a Zaxcom Deva V 10-channel digital audio recorder and wireless units, a dolly, Steadicam and a 25-foot remote-controlled crane. The school also owns a fully-equipped, 5-ton Peterbilt diesel lighting and grip truck.
“We make these state-of-the-art facilities available to industry professionals for reduced fees,” Battersby says. “In return, the professionals allow our students to work side-by-side with them and earn professional credits while still in school.”
That’s the kind of experience that enables a student like Jason Letkiewicz to make his first music video and see it debut at the top of MTV.com.
|MediaTech Oceanside Opens Newest MediaTech Institute Campus|
MediaTech Oceanside, southern California’s newest multimedia production facility, began enrolling students for the first day of classes June 27 in MediaTech Institute’s Oceanside campus.
MediaTech Institute (www.mediatech.edu) is a post-secondary school that has been dedicated to training new professionals for more than a decade on campuses in Dallas, Austin and Houston. The school has accreditation from the Accreditation Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and participates in federal Title IV funding and Stafford loans.
In Oceanside, the multi-studio facility for audio, video and film production offers one-year comprehensive programs in digital film and recording arts. The Digital Film & Video Arts program encompasses all aspects of production from script to screen, including camera operation, directing, producing, lighting, editing and VFX. The Recording Arts program consists of audio engineering and studio techniques, mixing mastering and postproduction, producing and songwriting, live sound reinforcement and the business of music.
The MediaTech facilities and MediaTech Institute were founded by 30-year entertainment industry veteran Russell Whitaker. “Today it’s almost impossible to create most audio, video and print media without having both creative and technical skills,” he says. “No longer is someone’s job title just an artist or just a technician; their job has really become what I like to call a ‘MediaTech.’”
Tracy Terrell, vice president of MediaTech Oceanside, agrees. “It’s a multimedia world. There is a consistent, growing demand for those with the multimedia skills to create this content, and we will offer training for all of it.