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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER December 19, 2016 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


Film Connection student Marisa Merkl discovers a
hidden talent and a gateway to Hollywood!

From an early age, Film Connection student Marisa Merkl knew she was drawn to film.   “Something about just being in a dark theater,” she says, “I feel my brain literally relax and so much by watching film versus reading an article or a book even. I absorb so much information through film, not just features but documentaries. It’s just the way my brain learns…I’m a story person, and so film to me was a natural interest for that reason.”   Even so, for years after college, film and video played a side role in Marisa’s life, and she set up a side business shooting weddings around her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin while she worked full-time in graphic design. “I went to art school, graduated in 2000, and went right into the graphic design field,” she explains, “but I also had minored in videography knowing I was very interested in it, but discovered it too late to have a complete degree in it. So I bought equipment, and for the past 16 years I have been filming weddings primarily and also doing some online web promotional videos for companies in this area. But that’s all I’ve done on the side.”   Realizing that her true passion was in film, Marisa began looking for ways to expand into production and direction, which is what led her to the Film Connection. “I went in with the goal in mind of really honing some skills and learning to fill in some gaps in areas of film production that I didn’t understand or have experience in,” she says, “and really kind of gear myself closer and closer to either directing and/or producing a documentary…or a feature.”   When Marisa realized her job schedule made it difficult to fulfill her apprenticeship at the local film production company in Milwaukee, the Film Connection set up a customized solution to match her needs by pairing her with writer/director/producer Richard Brandes in Los Angeles and having her lessons via Skype.   [Richard] was interested in terms of my enthusiasm and that I wasn’t completely lacking knowledge in film, that I had this experience under my belt,” she says. “So he was pleased with the match-up, and I was excited about it.”   To help boost her experience and connections, it was decided that Marisa would take some time off work and fly to Los Angeles to fulfill her hands-on training component of the program. Richard pulled out the stops and arranged for her to work on-set at a shoot for a Lifetime Network film! Marisa describes the experience as something of a crash course that really helped show her the ropes.   Marisa Merkl, a Film Connection student based in Milwaukee, WI, recently had the opportunity to come out to L.A. and get into the nitty-gritty of work life on the set. “I was put in contact with a line producer,” Marisa recalls. “She gave me the details and invited me to come as…a production assistant on set. And literally from the moment I got there—it was 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, it was dark outside—I showed up at the first location, and within 10 minutes and I was connected with somebody, the key PA, and I started handing out walkie-talkies and just grabbing things and got going…   I was there for 10 days of the shoot,” she continues. “As the days went on I did, fortunately, get to spend time with the director, which I think I would say is fairly unusual for larger productions….So that gave me moments to just sit and discuss things with the director, who was very gracious and kind and easy to work with…I really truly got a taste of everything that was going-on on a set. And that’s something you can’t read in a book or watch a video about.”   That’s not all. Marisa had enrolled in the Film Connection to learn film production and direction, but she discovered a hidden passion and talent during the screenwriting component of the program. In fact, Richard was so pleased with her screenplay that Marisa says he is taking an active role to try and get it made!   “He was really pleased with how it came out,” she says, “and excited to show it to some people…He verbally optioned it for about six months, so he’s going to be shopping it around…It was extremely encouraging, not just his feedback and what he is doing with it now, but also the experience of it and how it kind flowed and came to me way more than I expected.”   This development has resulted in a shift in Marisa’s own personal goals. “What I really was thinking I was going to be doing is getting into developing financing and everything necessary to get a documentary going here in Milwaukee,” she says. “But now I am looking ahead to the next year, and I have writing projects. So I’m hoping to get some commissions to do some screenplay writing for others. And I also have a project that I started years ago.”   Now on a new career trajectory, Marisa credits the Film Connection and her mentor for opening her eyes to the opportunities. “Before I had any training, I tried to write a screenplay,” she says. “Just being in this program goes to show the night and day difference between trying to do it on your own without any help or assistance or structured knowledge, and then taking the program.   Marisa’s Film Connection experience, along with the discovery of a new talent, gives her a unique perspective to share with other students. “I think if I were to give somebody advice who’s just starting out,” she says, “The idea of starting a film apprenticeship sounds really exciting and glamorous in itself, but if you treat the program with due diligence and do the lessons and make sure that you keep your mind open, be a sponge…treating it like hard work and like a true school experience, it’s going to be all the better for you…You have to work really hard and complete all the lessons and really listen to who you’re matched with, because you’ll get twice as much out of it versus doing the parts that you’re most interested in and blowing off others.”   
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Recording Connection mentor Jeramy Roberts talks about the new music industry and creating your own job within it

Recording Connection students Grainger Weston, Zach Kattawar and mentor Jeramy Roberts

Recording Connection students Grainger Weston, Zach Kattawar and mentor Jeramy Roberts

At the Recording Connection, one of the best advantages of learning from a seasoned pro in the recording studio is that you don’t just learn from a curriculum; you often also get to learn the mentor’s “tricks of the trade,” their own little secrets and shortcuts—the stuff you won’t find in the books. As a 20-year veteran of the electronic music scene, Recording Connection mentor Jeramy Roberts of Austin, TX has amassed a wealth of knowledge about producing music and getting it out there. As the founder of the Electronic Musicians Guild and owner of E.M.G. Recordings, Jeramy has a hand in producing and releasing music in dozens of countries worldwide—and he has no misgivings about sharing his trade “secrets” with his students.   A fairly new mentor with the Recording Connection, Jeramy says his interest in the Recording Connection was piqued in particular by our electronic music program. “I started mentoring and taking on apprentices about two and a half months ago and when I first saw the Ableton curriculum,” he says. “It’s a first-class program.”   But not content simply to walk his students through the curriculum, Jeramy says he actively works to help his students think entrepreneurially in order to get their music out there. In fact, he says two of his Recording Connection students, Zach Kattawar and Grainger Weston, have had music released within two months of starting their apprenticeships with him!   “A lot of these kids, they want to make music, they want to get music out there,” he says. “They come to RRFC so that they can get a job in the industry with job training. And that’s great, but I don’t want them to just go out and get a job: I want them to create their own job. And they’re actually already starting to do that.”   Part of “creating their own job” begins with breaking down some of the old mindsets about the music industry, and re-thinking it in a new way. “All artists have misconceptions,” he says. “Then you start breaking down the process…and they very quickly find out that it’s nothing like they thought it was going to be… So once they start to get all this information, then their minds start to pick it apart and go their own way.”   For Jeramy, tapping into the new music industry centers largely around leveraging the power of the Internet in general, and digital distribution in particular. “It’s just wrapping your mind around the network,” says Jeramy, “because what we’re talking about here is worldwide connectivity. For the first time in human history everybody is connected to each other. So you really have to have access to all that information… So basically what happens is if you want to release a record, you have to go through a digital distributor. And that digital distributor is going to take your music and they are going to send it to all of the stores worldwide.”   Another huge component of the modern industry, Jeramy says, is sync placements—that is, having one’s music placed in film, TV and media. On this topic, he offers a helpful suggestion to students to help narrow the search to the right outlets.   “Let’s say you have a track,” he says, “and you want to go out and you want to get a TV film placement. Well, how do you go about doing that? Because if you search that on the internet to try to find a publisher or digital distributor…there’s at least hundreds of them. How do you know which publisher is getting it done?”   Jeramy’s answer: “Just watch a movie,” he says. “And at the end, when the credits are rolling, you can write down the track titles and the artists’ names, and look it up in BMI [or ASCAP]. It’s public record and right there, tells you which publishers are actually getting it done.”   Why does Jeramy go the extra mile to help his students? For him, it’s not simply about teaching a curriculum—it’s about enabling success.   “After 20 years, I’ve developed hundreds of these tactics,” says Jeramy. “The more of them you learn, the more effective you can be. And if you have the mindset that you want to help yourself to help other people, then it just enriches the scene.   “Each one of these little milestones is a very important learning step,” he adds. “By the time I’m done with these kids, they will have done pretty much everything that there is to do.”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

   We’re happy to announce Film Connection student Susan Berger (Washington, D.C.) just got hired by her mentor Christian Galdabini at Z Force Productions! The team just finished a super private project in Silver Spring, MA and is enroute to continue another big project at Johns Hopkins University.  A recent conversation with Susan reveals just how on-point and committed she is do doing great work: Susan says, “I’m sixty years old with MS and I just want to encourage people don’t let age, disability or your gender be a deterrant to achieving your goals. I have my good days and my bad days but I work hard. The people I just worked with told me ‘you were impeccable and a valuable part of the process.’ Hearing that was inspiring. It’s great to know others see how focused, punctual, and committed I am to realizing the goals of the job. It really was encouraging to me and makes me want to press on, setting goals and surpassing them and to pave the way for other RRFC students!”       We recently heard Recording Connection student Raquel Castro, apprentice at Engine Room Audio (New York, NY), give an impromptu performance during a mic test. Talk about vocal chops! We can’t wait to hear more Raquel!   More about both of these amazing, trailblazing women in an upcoming issue of our newsletter. Be sure to !  
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