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Digital film at Pulaski Tech

New production classes.


Pulaski Tech Digital Film Production profs (from left) Raymond Williams, Cynthia Fehrenback and Bryan Frazer image
  • THE FACULTY: Pulaski Tech profs (from left) Raymond Williams, Cynthia Fehrenback and Bryan Frazer.

Some day when you go to the movies, resist the urge to jump out of your seat and bolt for the lobby when the lights come up, and sit through the credits instead. What you'll soon learn, as you watch those lists of names in tiny type scroll, is that it takes a hell of a lot of people to make a movie — even a "little" movie, much less a summer blockbuster. That fact — that there are a lot of jobs to be had in the movie industry — is what Pulaski Tech had in mind when it decided to create its Digital Media Production program, which will officially launch when the fall semester begins Aug. 23.

The program isn't necessarily seeking to turn out the next Fellini or Scorsese. Instead, classes will focus on skills in the disciplines that make films work: cinematography, editing, computer graphics, audio engineering, lighting, computer animation and others. The college will offer both a 60-class-hour associate's degree and a 30-class-hour certificate in Digital Film Production, with the goal of readying students for work on a film set, in a production house, or as a "one-man shop" media business.

Tim Jones, spokesman for Pulaski Tech, said the program is the result of a statewide push for more "workforce development" in the film industry. Jones said that recent productions, like director Jeff Nichols' "Mud," which pretty much drained Arkansas's film production talent pool while the movie was being shot near Stuttgart last fall, prove that the state needs more able bodies who can do those jobs.   

"We've got a lot of folks — the film commissioner [Christopher Crane] and the Renaud brothers and a lot of others — who have been hounding for a long time to have more people available," Jones said. "We've seen the need in the limited number of [film productions] we've had in Arkansas, but in order to make it work consistently, we need a better pool of talent."

Bryan Frazer will help get the Digital Media Production program off the ground this semester. With 27 years in the business — including working more than 10 years for Little Rock's Dempsey Film Group until it closed last July — Frazer sees the need for a solid technical film education program in the state. Though Dempsey's closure was mostly due to the sagging economy, another big factor was the changing way commercials and other film media are produced, he said.

"It doesn't take a building full of people and millions of dollars in equipment to be a production company anymore," he said. "You can have a laptop and a DSL [camera] and a few thousand dollars worth of off the shelf equipment and you're a production company. That ended up being what we were competing with as a production company."

Frazer said he learned of the new Digital Media Production program at Pulaski Tech when he was still at Dempsey, finishing up already-sold work. Pulaski Tech officials came through the studio looking at the equipment and space.

"I've always felt that if you're good at something, you ought to be able to teach it," he said. "I thought: 'Well, maybe I ought to investigate this a little further.' I ended up getting an interview and ended up getting the slot. ... They're basically calling on my experience over my career, asking, 'How would you teach in order to prepare students either for entrepreneurship or employment with a production company?' "

Frazer said there are 96 students enrolled in the new DMP program for the fall semester, with enrollment in most of the program's classes already maxed out. Next semester, students will move on to more advanced courses like digital graphics and cinematography, but for now they'll be starting slow, taking basic core classes like Introduction to Digital Photography and Introduction to the Mac (Apple computers are the workhorses of the film industry, and Frazer said giving students a good grounding in Apple operating systems and programs will help them as they progress). The plan is to carry over that nuts-and-bolts approach in many of the intro classes — an idea that may require dusting off some equipment that students might think of as antique technology. 

"We're not going to start off immediately on computer editing," he said. "We're going to start with tape machines. We're going to learn the process of editing — from choosing your shots, to maintaining flow and continuity, and thinking about the edit when you're shooting. When you don't have the benefit of 'undo' like you do with a computer, you really start thinking about stuff a lot more thoroughly."

The goal is to give students a "ground-up" education in the program's various disciplines. "You not only have to know what this camera does or what this computer does, you have to understand how it works, and what to do when it doesn't work," he said. "If you're a one-man show, you're also your own engineer. You have to be able to troubleshoot. ... We're not going to be taking computers or cameras completely apart, but we're going to understand not only what cameras do but how, and what to do when they don't."

The program will be based at Pulaski Tech's main campus in North Little Rock, though as the classes become more hands-on — classes in lighting, audio engineering and cinematography, for example — the school will need dedicated space. "We're going to begin to repurpose a couple of our larger rooms in the [Information Technology] building as smaller studio spaces where we can start to learn lighting and camera techniques," he said.

A new fine arts building — which Jones said would be the largest building ever built on the Pulaski Tech campus — should be built in the next few years. Frazer hopes that the Digital Media Production program will show enough promise to be included in construction plans. He said interest in DMP at Pulaski Tech is already so high that the school is considering creating an internship program to place students with film shoots and production houses around the state. Administrators are also talking to UALR and other schools about partnerships.

"If this first semester is any indication," he said, "we're going to get a good response. If we get a good batch of students out there who are setting the world on fire, there's no telling what could happen. We're stoked."

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