BRADENTON — Lights. Camera. Action.
When classes begin at State College of Florida next week the digital department will have 500 students eager to learn the ins and outs of the film industry — with hopes of graduating into success.
They are likely to hear how former students like Rob Van Alkemade, now a director, or Mike Lee, a vice president of a production company in Los Angeles, have carved out a niche for themselves in Hollywood.
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While there’s no one-size-fits-all method to a thriving career in film, SCF’s growing film program will equip and challenge students to reach such lofty heights.
“Students will say, ‘Here I am at a college in Florida, what can I do? How far can I go?,’” said Del Jacobs, professor and SCF’s/film production technology program manager. “The answer is a loaded question — how far do you want to go and what are you willing to do to get there?”
Because in the film biz, hard work, passion and a little luck are needed. For some, a move to California is vital. But whether students stay in Florida’s TV and film world, move out West or head to New York, knowing how to tell and sell a story is key.
That’s where SCF comes in.
“It’s about learning to find your voice visually,” said Don Guy, a professor in the program.
At SCF, film students learn how to pitch film ideas, edit, write for the screen, story board, etc. That’s a big change from 40 years ago, when the only film class at the school was the history of motion pictures. But even then, the school was ahead of its time by being the first community college in Florida to offer such a class, Jacobs said. The course, already at capacity this semester, continues to be very popular today.
Since the 1990s, the school has added a host of other film classes to grow its program. By 2006, SCF’s program was ranked as one of the world’s top 25 best film schools at a two-year college by MovieMaker Magazine, according to SCF’s website. Its courses include controversial cinema and documentary films to horror and experimental films — many of which are needed to earn SCF’s two-year degree in film production technology, otherwise known as digital media.
“The intention is to give people two years of hands-on and academic training so that they can enter the job market,” said Jacobs.
The degree program offers credits that are transferable to other universities with extensive four-year film programs, Jacobs said.
But you don’t necessarily have to be a film major to enroll in some of the classes, he said.
Many students hit the ground running with film projects and internships in the community. Some of those internships go beyond a typical production company with area business tapping into film students, too. They use the students’ talents to help promote their companies, said Guy.
“Video-driven media is getting eyeballs on websites,” Guy said. “And (businesses) are starting to say ‘Wow, I need to have some sort of element on my website.’ There’s a tremendous amount of that work around. Students are ideal to nurture and groom in that process.”
Guy, who also is a commercial film director and executive producer, is pushing for the creation of a production assistant program through the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office. The program would function like an internship with students available for hire by TV and film production crews visiting the area to shoot a project. As for the future of film studies at SCF — it can only get bigger and brighter. The question is when and how.
“There’s been some talk that some other four-year schools in the area will be moving into either cinema studies or film production,” said Jacobs. “We have investigated some the opportunities to add additional courses. If they are production driven, it would mean a request for funds and that may be more difficult.”
What SCF has done in the interim is to make more of its film courses transferable to the other schools should those schools build a four-year film degree program, Jacobs said.
In the meantime, Jacobs said film students at SCF are getting a well-rounded education to the meet the needs of the entertainment world.
“Students have a choice among instructors and the type of backgrounds that they have — it’s as good as any four-year school,” he said.
January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow her on Twitter at @accentbradenton.