Collins College's 14th Street Studio gives students a taste of the real world
Except for the classrooms, there are few differences between 14th Street Studio and a professional film studio. 14th Street Studio houses Collins College’s School of Film, Video, and Visual Effects, and two professional soundstages—one 2400 square feet, the other 2200 square feet—with dedicated control and sound booths, lighting grids, and large greenscreens.
There is also a 2000-square-foot, 150-seat theater offering surround sound and theater speakers, a custom-built theater screen, and a Panasonic full-HD DLP system projector with 10,000 lumens and 1920x1080 pixel capability.
“Since 14th Street Studio opened in October 2008, we have been able to provide our students with more hands-on learning opportunities,” says Duncan Harvey, department chair for Collins College’s media arts department. “Students have access to professional cameras, lighting equipment, and computer software. Our commercial-grade studios provide students with a unique, real-world education.”
The school has wireless Internet service throughout. Academic programs run between 15 and 30 months.
14th Street Studio’s fully loaded equipment room features props, miniature models, lights, cords, cameras (including two Arri Super 16mm, Sony CineAlta, and Panasonic VariCam offerings, as well as HDV camcorders), and a host of equipment to shoot scenes both on and off campus.
Harvey points out that Collins’ visual effects courses incorporate Hollywood-level software and, more important, instructors who have worked professionally in the film, video, and visual effects industry. “Many of our instructors have worked on movies, television, music videos, and documentaries, and have had the opportunity to work with frontline talent,” he says.
The school’s graphics, visual effects, and editing suites feature Autodesk’s Combustion, Smoke, and Flame, as well as Adobe’s After Effects, Avid’s Media Composer, and Apple’s Final Cut Pro. As for infrastructure, 14th Street Studio has wireless, fiber optics, and soundproofing throughout the building.
The studio, gear, and faculty help draw film, video, and visual effects students from across the country. Another appeal is Collins’ hands-on, job-centered approach to education. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in film and video production should be able to qualify for entry-level positions, including motion camera operator, television production assistant, video editor, visual effects artist, or TV, film, or video producer. The school also offers an associate’s degree in digital video production.
Classes include screenwriting, nonlinear editing, studio and location lighting, and audio for studio and field production. Students study the technical aspects of high-definition television and the formatting differences between HDTV, film, digital video, and television processes and equipment. Classes also prepare students to create videos from concept to final edited composition. Other classes include 2D animation, advanced audio production, and Super16mm film.
There are times, though, when the classrooms are turned into a professional facility. “When the occasion arises, we have leased 14th Street Studio to professional video and film enterprises for a limited time,” says Harvey. “When this happens, advanced students enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program have a chance to work and get paid.”
The Real World
Collins graduates have found work at Lucasfilm, ESPN, Croog Studios, and Electronic Arts. And the school reports that a recent graduate, Robert Conway, had his movie Redemption purchased following a screening at a recent film festival.
The school encourages students to work as interns while enrolled, so they can put that experience to use after graduation. Another opportunity for these students to get hands-on experience is on films or TV programs that are partially shot in Arizona. Students have worked on films such as The Kingdom, Twin Palms, and Kids in America. Recent visual effects grads were hired to work on Aliens vs. Predator Requiem, Live Free or Die Hard, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Jumper, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, Speed Racer, and the upcoming The Incredible Hulk and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
As a small, creative college with a total student population of approximately 2000, instructors are personally engaged in their students’ success. Unlike a traditional school, semesters are shorter albeit with longer class time, allowing individuals to immerse themselves in a project while receiving more one-on-one time with instructors.
Collins’ 14th Street Studio houses this 2000-square-foot theater featuring a Panasonic DLP projector and surround-sound monitoring.
For an associate’s degree, students attend school for 15 months; for a bachelor’s degree, they attend for 30 months.
Collins’ career services staff assists students with finding jobs and internships during school as well as after graduation. The department also helps students prepare resumes and cover letters, and sharpen their interviewing skills. Collins keeps in contact with a variety of would-be employers to steer individuals toward compatible job opportunities. Graduates can use career services to relocate for out-of-state jobs, and they can even return to audit a class previously taken—as a refresher and at no charge.
In addition, the college offers a BA in game design, visual arts with a major in game art, graphic design, and interior design, and a BS in information technology. Associate degrees also are offered in information technology, as well as in digital video production and graphic design.
BEYOND THE TOOLS
Wounded Marines learn filmmaking techniques
By Marc Loftus
For wounded servicemen and servicewomen returning to the San Diego area from war’s battlefields, adjusting to normal life is often challenging, both physically and emotionally. Husband and wife Kevin (“Kev”) Lombard and Judith Paixao are doing their best to make that transition easier.
The couple has spent more than two years setting up the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation (WMCF; www.woundedmarinecareers.org
), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping non-discharged, wounded Marines—and soon, those who have served in other branches of the armed forces—learn the craft of filmmaking while recovering from service injuries.
The program offers more than an education. Indeed, upon graduation, the participants walk away with the skills to enter into a new profession, one extending beyond the military. The program also serves a therapeutic role, allowing these war-hardened veterans to express themselves to the outside world, giving them a way to tell their own stories.
The inaugural class: 19 Marines spent 10 weeks in San Diego learning filmmaking fundamentals.
At press time, the WMCF had just graduated its first class, a group of 19 active service members who recently returned from the war. They spent 10 weeks in San Diego, working out of the organization’s new facility—a former warehouse donated by television and film production company Stu Segall Productions. There, they learned the fundamentals of screenwriting, production, sound recording and mixing, and editing.
According to Norman Smith, who assumes the role as dean at the WMCF and as one of the facility’s professors, the idea for the foundation grew out of an initial request by a retired, high-ranking general who asked Lombard to produce a documentary on returning servicemen. Smith, a longtime friend of Lombard, says a counteroffer was suggested, one in which Lombard—with help from veteran video professionals—would help teach these Marines how to tell their own stories through the art of filmmaking.
“It would be therapeutic,” Smith notes, “and on the other hand, it would be a craft and a chance to make a new beginning as they are getting back into mainstream life.”
Smith himself has no military background, but he has been friends with Lombard dating back to when he operated his own New York post house, The Loft, in the 1970s, and where he worked as an editor. Today, Smith lives in Miami, and says he was “deployed” to San Diego for the foundation’s inaugural semester earlier this year.
The WMCF’s faculty also includes James Egan, a professor at the USC Graduate School of Cinema in Los Angeles; still photographer Phil Caruso; Hollywood cinematographer Levie Isaacks; and Chat Gunter from NYU, who teaches sound recording. Smith created the “craft of editing” syllabus, which goes beyond strictly editing to touch on storytelling and directing.
Pete Abel, founding owner of Abel Cine Tech, supplied equipment for the training center, including more than a dozen Panasonic HVX200 cameras. Participants also receive a Mac Pro laptop loaded with Apple Final Cut Studio 2, Adobe Photoshop, and Final Draft’s screenwriting software, which they get to keep upon completion of the program.
While the Marine war vets are healing, they learn the craft of filmmaking at the WMCF, and in the process, develop the necessary skills to tell their own stories.
The initial class assembled for the 10-week course in the beginning of 2008 and graduated in March. “A lot of these guys are still going through medical treatments,” says Smith of the workload. “We are taking that into consideration.”
Students arrive at noon and have lunch in a mess hall. The building was totally transformed by Lombard, Paixao, the Marines, and Habitat for Humanity into an education facility with editing rooms, class rooms, and a library. “It turned out to be a wonderful building,” says Smith of the transformed storage space.
Stu Segall Productions is one of San Diego’s largest production facilities, residing on more than 22 acres. The surroundings include both working and abandoned film sets, including an Iraqi village, where active Marines visiting the area will sometimes train.
Classes run as late as 7:30 pm, with a dinner break toward the end of the day. Even with an intense schedule and medical appointments thrown in, Smith says it was rare when a student missed a session. “Even though these guys are still mentally and physically healing, it was good for them,” he says. “And because of their training as Marines, they were totally dedicated and focused. I think they were inspired.”
Graduates receive union membership in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), and job placement services are available for when the students leave the military. The foundation is currently trying to raise funds for its next class—a larger group of 25—that it plans to bring to session this September. The group is also hoping to set up a similar program on the East Coast for those in rehabilitation in the Washington, DC area.
“We are changing the duration of the course,” explains Smith. The next term will run 14 weeks and will more closely tie the different disciplines together. “We felt it should be a little bit longer. And with the change, we are in the process of fine-tuning it to make it more synchronous among all of the disciplines.”
Marc Loftus is a senior editor at Post magazine, CGW’s sister publication. He can be reached at