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Issue #127

Weekly Newsletter

by L. Swift and Jeff McQ

Student Successes
‘What is a Grind Opp?,’ you ask? It is a job opportunity. A help wanted ad.

Film Connection student David Nance: In pursuit of “Plan A”

“Since I was 13 years old I knew I wanted to be in show business,” says Film Connection student David Nance. “My grandfather knew it right off the bat when he saw he told my mom, ‘Someone let the ham out of the fridge!’ and suggested I take acting lessons.”   From that time, David did everything he could find to do in pursuit of an acting career, from community theatre to voiceover work to landing whatever film/TV roles he could find. He even earned his SAG-AFTRA card. But living in Seattle, Washington, he couldn’t find enough work in acting to keep him full-time. “I was told to have a ‘Plan B,’” he says.   “Plan B” turned out to be a day job at Boeing, where he has worked as a scheduler for several years. But obviously, as a creative at heart, he wasn’t satisfied. “Why can’t I just stick to Plan A?” he says.   Still passionate about finding a way to have a full-time career in the entertainment industry, David began thinking about what he could do behind the camera, rather than just in front of it. “I did some research and I came across the position of a line producer,” he says. “A line producer has a lot of skills that I do on my day job. It’s essentially project management. And I thought, ‘That’s perfect.’”   That research also led David to the Film Connection, and the opportunity to learn on-the-job without having to move to L.A. or enroll in a traditional film school. “The one-on-one approach is definitely more how I learn,” he says. I learn hands-on. I have to actually see and touch and feel, but also kind of have that direction with someone who’s in the know rather than someone reading from a book or watching something online.”   David decided to enroll, and he was placed as an apprentice at Fireshoe Productions in Seattle, where he met with mentors Eric Colley and Hallie Shepherd. It didn’t take long for David to figure out where he wanted to concentrate.   “Eric Colley is the director,” he says. “And Hallie Shepherd is a producer. So talking with both of them, I gravitated more towards Hallie with the production side of things because she understood that I’m more interested in the organizing aspect, the gathering of the people, the various elements that are required to make it.”   What David didn’t know was how quickly he’d be thrown into the deep end of the pool. “Right off the bat, when I first met with them, they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a feature film [Last Scene in Idaho] and we want to have you involved in preproduction.’” He says, “I met with their UPM [unit production manager], we went over call sheets, time sheets, general arranging. I got to see how deal memos were crafted and then revised, and saying, ‘Oh, we’ve lost this person so now we’ve got to bring this person which means we need to craft another deal’…Things like that. So it was very eye opening just seeing the preproduction process.”   Since enrolling in the program, David has been working through his apprenticeship at his own pace, supporting himself with his day job while continuing to work on productions with Fireshoe. While he says the production side is a great fit for him, it’s not all he’s doing. He tells us he’s also working on a script as part of his training.   “It’s a post-apocalyptic western, as it were,” he says. “It takes place 2115, Northern Canada, after the world has been in drought for generations, and it’s about these homesteaders who are living off the land.”   David Nance David also mentions his script features a strong female lead, inspired in part by his mentor. “In Last Scene in Idaho, Hallie Shepherd played a strong female protagonist,” he says. “This is exactly why I love indie films because we don’t have to have the traditional, white male playing these traditional roles. We need that diversity.”   As for the future, David he’d eventually like to run his own production company. For now, though, he’s glad to be learning skills that enable him to play a diversity of roles, and not just as an actor.   “I have enjoyed being on both sides of the camera,” he says. “And it just happens to be that because there’s not a lot of acting work, that at least I can get behind the camera. There’s plenty of opportunities there, because there’s more demand behind the camera than there is in front of it.”   Even more importantly—this training is giving David the skills that can enable him to work full-time in the industry he loves. Once again, he’s pursuing his “Plan A.”   
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Apprentices in Action

A Day in the Life of Our Students

   jariel-canuel-pablo Congrats to Recording Connection to Jariel Canuel Pablo (La Mirada, CA) on his recent graduation! Mentor producer/engineer Asaf Fulks (Meghan Trainor, Young Keno, Dirty Heads) at OC Recording, gave the rising star an A+!    brian-e-sanders Film Connection student Brian E. Sanders (in black t-shirt and headphones) and crew on a recent shoot of The Alarm Clock. The short film is written, produced, and co-directed as a side-project by a number of FC apprentices with mentor Deen Olatunji of Rehoboth Pictures (Dallas, TX), offering input and direction as-needed. Speaking of Brian’s particular talents, mentor Deen says, “Brian analyzes movies a lot. I’ve been motivating him to start his own blog, come up with his own movie critiques, start his own YouTube channel, all things that are going to make him successful.” Being proactive is essential for those who want to make it and Brian and the team at Rehoboth Pictures are definitely on the go!   
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Mentor News

THE RRFC INTERVIEW: Mark Christensen of Engine Room Audio on making the most of opportunities and being prepared

Saying Recording Connection mentor Mark Christensen is a music industry veteran would be an understatement. From playing in successful bands and sharing the stage with major artists in the 90s, Mark always nurtured a love for the production side and eventually set up his own recording company, Engine Room Audio, in the heart of Manhattan. Today, Engine Room occupies the entire 22nd floor of a building in Manhattan’s prestigious financial district, recording and mastering projects for major pop and urban artists. A multi-Grammy winning engineer himself, Mark works with such clients as Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, The Killers and OK Go, and recently mastered Fergie’s hot new single “M.I.L.F.$.”   RRFC writer Jeff McQ recently had the opportunity to visit Engine Room Audio in New York and interview Mark in person. Mark naturally had many great insights to share about what he looks for in a student and how they can make the most of the program, as well as how students can best prepare for an industry career. Enjoy!  
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Darren Fewins and Mark Christensen (seated) at Engine Room Audio

Darren Fewins and Mark Christensen (seated)
at Engine Room Audio

RRFC: So I’m curious to know your back story—you how you got into this industry and got to where you are.   Mark Christensen: From a very young age, 13 or something, I was always in bands. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado…I think I was probably the first person in Colorado to buy a cassette 4-track when those came out. I was really into recording from a very early age. I actually thought that I invented the patch bay. I had this idea of like, “If I had this little, I can plug the pieces of gear into each other,” and actually built one. And then I didn’t realize until later, “Oh, this is something that somebody else had already thought of.” So in my basement, I was having a little recording setup. I was just really into that.   I was in a band in New York that was signed, and we toured opening for Radiohead way back in the mid ’90s…But during the course of that, because I always had studios, I had built a really good studio in my loft apartment here in Manhattan…So this company, believe it or not, started in my apartment, and one of our services was doing these super high quality cassettes. We got a reputation really quick and a lot of labels were using us to make their promotional copies…I built a little mastering lab next to my little recording rig in my loft apartment because I had so many clients that we were doing cassette copies for, and they wanted me to make their stuff “sound better.”…So I started to do mastering in that little environment…I got a little tired of the band thing…and decided that being on sort of the more production side of things was more what I was interested in. And that’s when we moved the business out of my apartment and we built our first kind of real facility.”   RRFC: So what made you want to be a mentor?   Mark: Someone from the Recording Connection…asked me if I would be interested in this kind of program…I like teaching, and the idea of having students who were in the studio environment and working with us here seemed like a good idea. So I tried it with a few students, and I was really happy with the results. I felt like they learn an awful lot being in a real studio environment. It’s a much more kind of concrete, hands-on sort of experience than trying to learn audio engineering from a textbook. So it’s become actually kind of a big part of what we do here. I teach every day, I have a couple of students that I teach. And so we have a number of students here all the time.   RRFC: What sorts of hands-on learning opportunities do apprentices receive here?   Mark: As you’ve seen, it’s a pretty big facility, 11,000 square feet here, and there’s lot of studios here. And we do a huge variety of things. We do mastering for a lot of big, popular, urban pop artists, but we also produce 15 different podcasts here, we do jazz records, we do recordings for a lot of the television networks. One of the things that students get is exposure to a huge variety of things. During the duration of their course, they’re going to end up seeing many different kinds of music recorded. And also we’re a facility that has that has an A-list mastering lab, as well as an A-list tracking room, and that also gives them the opportunity to get a look at all those various parts of the recording process.   RRFC: So when a student comes in to interview with you, what’s that spark you’re looking for that tells you, “This is somebody I can teach?”   Mark: One of the things I look for, is to make sure that they sort of have this in their blood, so to speak. So that’s one thing. The other thing, too, though, is the ability to kind of behave in a mature way…I look for people that can behave in the session as though they are already part of the production team. We’re looking for people that can behave like assistants. They have to be professional enough to not act like fans if their favorite artist walks through the front door, they can’t be asking for autographs, they can’t be asking for pictures. They have to just basically behave as though they are a part of the production team, which is what they are…What it comes down to is, “Can you be here and behave as though you’re part of the production environment?”   RRFC: Have there been students that you’ve hired or that you’ve recommended because of their skills? What do you do for some of your better students to help them find their place once they’re done?   Mark: I’ve actually hired a couple of Recording Connection students. There was a guy that was our operations manager here up until a year ago, who was one of my first Recording Connection students ever. He went through the whole program, did very, very well, did some engineering here as a freelance engineer, but then ultimately ended up becoming a full time employee as the operations manager. So yeah, we’re constantly on the lookout for good people…We definitely have referred people to other employment opportunities. There was a Recording Connection student that ended up becoming a full-time assistant to a famous DJ who will remain nameless…This DJ guy is a friend of our office manager, studio manager, and called asking if we had anybody who was qualified…so we were able to recommend this person.   RRFC: I talked with one of your current Recording Connection students, Darren Fewins. How is he doing, and what is he doing that impresses you?   Mark: He’s doing really well…In this business, you’re going to get out what you put in, and he is one of those guys who comes to every session we offer him…It’s normally two days a week when you are here, scheduled stuff, in terms of your lesson and your observation day. But we send out emails to all our students about the additional attendance or the sessions that are happening that are not necessarily on their calendar, that they’re still allowed to come to, and he comes to all of them. He’s very pro-active….I find that the people who put the energy in to it are the ones who tend get the most out of it, too.   RRFC: What do you think is the most important thing a student needs to know in order to break into the industry?   Mark: I think what it comes down to is, you make your own luck. You want to make sure that you are as prepared as you can possibly be for when that moment happens. You need to be sort of present and aware in all of your communications with all of the music industry people that you come into contact with. And you need to be ready for when that moment calls…You know that story of how Jimmy Iovine was an intern and ended up mixing part of John Lennon album. Those stories are actually real; that stuff actually happens. The best thing you can do for yourself is just to make sure that you’re very prepared and have your technical skills together so that when those moments arise, you can really show that you can shine.   
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