//BY JIMMY SHERFEY
Valencia College expands its legacy of affordable education with a premium quality Film and Sound Technology building that modernizes East Campus’ arts and entertainment education while doubling program capacity.
hen Lyndon Johnson signed the National Endowment for the Arts into law in 1965, he remarked that “art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
With the spirit of that law in mind and the arts and entertainment industry representing a major piece of the regional economy, a deficit of accessible arts education at the postsecondary level could be detrimental to both Central Florida’s soul and its economy.
That is precisely why Valencia College leadership sought to expand the burgeoning arts technology programs in a substantial way, by opening the door for more students to enter the talent pipeline for Central Florida’s arts, entertainment and media industries. Valencia’s East Campus President Dr. Stacey Johnson notes that this will generate 34,711 registered jobs and approximately $264 million in direct economic impact to the community.
“Eighty-seven percent of Americans believe that arts are important for a better quality of life,” says Johnson, citing a recent Americans for the Arts study. “But only 45 percent of Americans stated that all Americans have equal opportunity to the arts.”
On August 28, 2017, the dreams for affordable arts education became a reality when film and sound students entered an arts and media technology learning facility rivaling any in the nation. But long before the School of Arts and Entertainment’s new sign graced the $13.5 million building, the film and sound project would undergo an evolution in the planning stages.
By 2013, the existing film and sound facilities, located in building 1, had been described in varying terms—from cozy to dungeon-like—but the humble size did not deter an increasing number of students from enrolling in the program. Meetings began that year, says East Campus operations manager Roger Corriveau, to renovate the facilities in response to the need for skilled labor in the arts and entertainment industries, which were growing fast on both a local and global scale.
“It was long overdue,” says Corriveau. Film production and sound technology “were two successful programs living in relative squalor. So we began the process to get students into spaces that would prepare them for the jobs they were ultimately seeking.”
Outfitting classrooms with the appropriate equipment and space to prepare them for the real world industry would not be a cheap and easy solution, so Valencia faculty and staff began workshopping
the expansion, measuring needs and industry standards against financial reality.
With help from Valencia’s foundation and a $922,000 Perkins grant (federal dollars earmarked for the development of career and technical education), the college went above and beyond the initial aspirations. The plans evolved from adding a wing to an existing building, to a shared building, to a much bigger project: A new building in which students could create and showcase original work.
Longtime film program chair Ralph Clemente had long championed the expansion of the film program. Clemente was a key to the punchy film program’s success. A widely-revered filmmaker—who had collaborated with early film legends such as George Romero and mentored a new school of artists, including Game of Thrones director David Nutter—he was poised to usher the film program to a new era. Sadly, Clemente passed away very suddenly in the spring of 2015, just weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When his successor, Eric Fleming, joined Valencia in August 2015, the plans had been set and construction on the building would start in less than a year. But the resulting learning space, Fleming says, would be one that Clemente would have been proud of—and one the students had long deserved.
“I look back on what the film program had, and I’m amazed what Ralph [Clemente] and the students were able to achieve,” says Fleming, “It was just a couple of trucks with grip and lighting gear and that was the program.”
When the new building opened for fall classes, students entered a 30,705 square foot building featuring a 125-seat screening theater, a high resolution digital projector, an immersive dub and foley room, a professional soundstage, and a green screen room—and that’s just on the first floor, which is dominated by film production labs and classrooms.
50th Anniversary Tribute
Fleming says that in the new building, the film department can complete a film from start to finish putting students on equipment they’re more likely to encounter in the film industry. The new building also brings added post-production capabilities, which will prepare students for an expanding market in the arts and entertainment world.
“There’s been an explosion of original content with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, so there is plenty demand for post-production skills,” Fleming says, adding that there are plans to introduce a post-production certificate, that will integrate course work across the film and sound programs.
Both the screening theater and the immersive mixing and dubbing room come equipped with Dolby Atmos®-certified technology, boasting a total of 79 loudspeakers capable of producing 128 sounds simultaneously. The result is a living lab where students can create projects designed for a premium cinematic experience.
As far as colleges and trade schools go, there are fewer equipped with chest-rattling Dolby Atmos®-certified sound systems than there are movie houses boasting the same technology in the metro Orlando area.
“When I tell people back in L.A., they’re floored that our students are going to be working on Dolby
Atmos equipment,” says Fleming. A virtually unheard of feature for educational institutions in 2017, Valencia chose, in the planning stages, to become early adopters of technology that is now gaining prevalence in the industry.
“Raul [Valery, head of the sound program] really put all his chips in on Dolby-Atmos for the sound portion of the film program, and it paid off,” says Fleming.
On the second floor, the sound program enjoys an upgrade of its own: two audio recording studios, each with comprehensive sound isolation construction, separate booths for vocal recording, and control rooms with mixing consoles and monitors. More than 4,600 analog audio patches connect the studio’s mixing controls to pre-amps and recording rooms. Perhaps the most prized piece of equipment now available to sound technology students is the Neve Console. Audiophiles will recognize the console’s namesake—It was Rupert Neve that first installed the mixing equipment used in London’s Abbey Road studios, which captured the signature golden-toned sound of the Beatles’ beloved 1969 farewell album.
So with Valencia College’s 50th anniversary set to coincide with the opening of the new building, Sound chair, Valery began making plans to record a throwback album, covering songs that were popular in Valencia’s inaugural academic year, 1967-68. The resulting album—which will be adorned with the 60s-inspired work of graphic design chair Kristy Pennino—will be released on vinyl in the spring of 2018.
While the new Film and Sound Building comes outfitted with all of the best equipment to revive the sounds of the late ‘60s, there was no guarantee that the songs of 50 years ago would resonate with the students. Drawing from his own experience, Valery recalls being enamored by the culture that blossomed in the “Summer of Love,” but not exactly with poring through the sounds of the jazz age of the 1920s.
To record hit songs like “Soul Man,” “Happy Together,” and “I’m a Believer,” Valery enlisted Valencia students and faculty from inside the sound technology program and elsewhere in the School of Arts and Entertainment.
“The funny thing is that our students knew every single one of these songs, 50 years later—I’m amazed,” says Valery. “They know these songs, they sing them! Sometimes they know the song, even if they have never heard of the artist.”
To further capture the mellow sound that typified the late ‘60s, students recorded the anniversary album on tape, just as the iconic songs were first recorded 50 years ago. The decision to record to tape might not be as ambitious as it sounds, though, given that it’s already a standard part of Valery’s curriculum.
“Learning to record to tape gives you a better foundation for audio than going straight to digital, because in tape you have to make decisions,” Valery says. “You really need to be able to route the signal. With digital, it’s all virtual. So when our graduates go get jobs in the real world, they will need to route signals physically and interconnect the equipment. Learning on analog gets them up and running a lot faster.”
Once the tracks have been recorded to tape, the Neve console really shines, delivering a richer composition, says Valery. “Consoles aren’t really powerful during recording. They become powerful during the mixing phase.”
Standing in front of the Neve console after assisting students with the board, John Q. Pearce (known as “Q” to his peers) notes the transformation the program has undergone with the opening of the new building. Pearce, who earned his A.S. in Sound and Music Technology in the fall of 2016, was hired as a lab assistant last year.
“Before, we didn’t have the opportunity to work on a Neve console, and we had to wait until our scheduled sessions to really get our hands on the mixer board,” Pearce says. “Now, the studio is the classroom, and we’re interacting with the controls constantly.”
In addition to helping students become better acquainted with complex sound equipment, Pearce manages Valencia’s radio station, which he re-launched the day the new building opened.
Now using the live broadcast app, Mixlr, Valencia College Radio produces regularly scheduled programming, currently collaborating with 20 students and faculty including the college newspaper, the Valencia Voice, to stream music and news via internet around the clock.
Valencia music students showcase their talents in the new Film and Sound Building on East Campus.
Pearce encourages listeners to download the streaming application in order to listen in and interact with the college’s station on social media. He also invites students to participate in Valencia’s radio club, where they can assist with production and programming, which includes interviews with successful grads speaking on their experiences in the real world.
In advance of the Film and Sound Building’s Oct. 28 grand opening celebration, rising star and sound tech grad Palmer Reed joined Pearce’s show, John Q and Friends, to talk about his work with a producer who collaborates regularly with Lady Gaga.
After graduating from Valencia, Reed spent several years paying his musical dues in the clubs and venues of Orlando before moving to Los Angeles in early 2017. It turned out to be a serendipitous move; by October, Reed had an original song on the motion picture soundtrack for “My Little Pony.”
During his interview on Valencia College Radio, Reed’s mother, Diane, who is a nursing professor at West campus, waves at her son mid-interview from the other side of the studio window. Palmer waves back to his mom; just steps behind her is the outdoor stage where he would perform at the opening celebration a few days later. Like so many things about the new Film and Sound Building, it’s a setting and circumstance that the students may not have expected just five years ago. But it’s a building that ultimately proves the value we place on the “heritage” and “inner vision” President Johnson first spoke of more than 50 years ago. With Valencia’s film and sound programs expected to double, the legacy of affordable education lives on in a growing body of arts and entertainment students, all of whom carry their own unique vision of what tomorrow holds for Central Florida.