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Issue #139

Weekly Newsletter

by L. Swift and Jeff McQ

Student Successes

A layer at a time: Recording Connection
grad Uriel Soto builds his career

Uriel Soto Recording Connection graduate Uriel Soto—who now works as a staff engineer at his former mentor’s studio—has an interesting analogy to describe the process of recording and producing music.   “Making music, especially recording, is kind of like when you build a cake,” he says. “When you make a cake, you mix the ingredients together, which is kind of like when you sit down and you pre-produce some music, or you pre-produce a song. And it just takes very different phases for you to actually record a song…and then you produce it. Many times you don’t have the lyrics there, so you have to sit down and actually record the lyrics. After you’ve done recording, you go into editing. After you edit, you go into mixing. After mixing, you go to mastering, which is the final stage, or if you think of a cake, it would be the frosting on the cake. That’s what you present to the people. That’s what gets released….When you’re in the studio, it’s kind of thinking like that. There’s many layers, many different things that you go through to actually make a song or a record.”   Uriel should know; music has been part of his life for almost as long as he can remember. From growing up in a musical family to playing multiple instruments at church, then becoming a studio session player in his late teens, it seems natural that Uriel would seek out the Recording Connection to hone his baking…er, recording, skills.   “One of the things that I really loved about Recording Connection was that Recording Connection is…I guess probably the only [school] that I know of where my classroom was going to be the studio. The classroom wasn’t going to be just out of a textbook, of a teacher just teaching me and telling me how to move faders, but I actually had to move a fader, move a knob, make mistakes. And that’s the way I’ve always learned in life…I really wanted to get my hands dirty on the mixing console, cable wrappings, patch bays, and learning through hands-on experiences.”   As soon as he met his mentor, Donny Baker at ES Audio in Los Angeles, Uriel says they hit it off immediately. “We connected right from the get-go,” he says. “What I like about Donny is because he came from the live stage…his experiences in that field, and the fact that he had analog stuff, analog toys to play with, the analog board, the tape machine. If I had to learn from somebody, it had to be somebody like Donny because I wanted to learn the analog stuff… So when I went into the studio, I saw that Donny had all that, I was like, ‘I’m there. I’m sold. I want to learn here with Donny.’”   Uriel dedicated himself to his studies with Donny, not only completing the basic program, but staying on for the advanced master’s program, during which he brought his cousin’s band into the studio to record. “It was a great experience, because you’re basically thrown into the mix,” he says of the advanced audio program. “You’re basically thrown into, ‘All right, now you’ve learned it. Now you have to do it.’”   Just as it was a natural progression for Uriel to pursue recording as a career—in the process of apprenticing with Donny, Uriel made himself such an asset that it was a natural progression for Donny to hire him.   “I had already been helping as much as I could as a student,” he says, “So when it was time for me to graduate, and when I was almost done, he came to me and he just basically told me, ‘You know what? Why don’t you just stay here?’…So I just said, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Let’s keep on working.’ It was that easy.”   Uriel’s been working at ES full-time as an audio engineer for a while now and couldn’t be happier with his training, even with his prior studio experience. “When I came into the program, I kind of already knew probably 50% of the stuff that I came to learn,” he says. “But what somebody told me at Recording Connection, and it made sense to me is, go into the Recording Connection program as if you don’t know anything. And what you’re doing is, you’re opening the doors for your brain to…you’re just going to absorb everything…you’re really going to learn how people do it in the real world. Recording Connection is not just textbooks, it’s actually real world people with their experiences telling you, mentoring you how they’ve gone through it.   “I have to be thankful to Recording Connection, to Donny, to ES Audio,” Uriel continues. “It’s the best thing I ever did for myself. I’m enjoying life, I’m working with so many great talented people, doing what I love, and every day is just a new…every day is different. It’s not the same nine to five job. It’s not the same sitting in a cubicle. I get up and do what I love to do.”   
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Mentor News

Film Connection mentor Zac Adams to premiere “Iron Will” documentary filmed with help from his students!

On the set of Sweet Tooth, FC apprentice Corey Pitts, Zac Adams, Mark Alan Peters, Mike Stryker

On the set of Sweet Tooth, FC apprentice Corey Pitts, Zac Adams,
Mark Alan Peters, Mike Stryker

As the owner of Skydive Films in Nashville, Tennessee, Emmy-winning Film Connection mentor Zac Adams is arguably one of the busiest filmmakers outside of the Hollywood scene. When we caught up with him recently, he was putting the finishing touches on his latest full-length documentary Iron Will, a project two and a half years in the making, now set for its world premiere on October 22nd at the Twin Cities Film Festival in Minneapolis.   “It’s a film about veterans battling their PTSD, how to help overcome it,” Zac explains. “Billy Bob Thornton’s the narrator—we finished about two weeks ago with all his narration. And Charlie Daniels is in it, he’s a big supporter of the troops, country music singer. Randy Couture, who starred with Stallone in the ‘Expendables‘ films, he’s a UFC fighting legend, really. He was also a veteran, so he was on camera. Then Big Kenny, from the band Big and Rich, they’re a really big country band. We have got some great people involved.”   One of the reasons Zac is one of our most noted Film Connection mentors is the reputation he has for getting his students integrally involved in his projects. Iron Will was no exception.   “We had several Film Connection students work on it,” he says. “We had Jamie Reed, who graduated and since moved to Los Angeles. Had Corey Pitts, who recently graduated, he’s doing well.  Jamie Reed worked on some of the interviews…Reid Harris worked on them a lot and worked on some of the trailer editing. Corey Pitts worked on it quite a bit and helped with some of the trailer, he helped on set. My brand new guy, Brandon Russell, helped a lot on it…He worked on our reenacting scenes. We put him to work, they’re long days—ten, twelve-hour days. He handled it like a pro.”   Zac’s success in film, as well as the high quality content he produces, is owing in part to his meticulous process, which also helps his students receive well-rounded training while studying with him.   “I’m a big fan of pre-production, planning everything out,” he says. “The reason I am, when I was younger, especially in film school, I didn’t do that. I would make it up on set—‘Shot list! Ah, we don’t need that!’—and then you don’t get the cover that you need, you have to go out and re-shoot. So I’m a big fan of doing everything the right way because then it saves you time and money.”   This attention to detail and excellence is also something Zac tries to impart to his students because he understands firsthand the competitive nature of the business. “You’ve got to give it 150 percent,” he says. “100 percent is not going to cut it. It’s just too competitive. That’s what I try to tell my apprentices, that’s why I make them go above and beyond…Before they graduate, [they] either have to direct a music video, a narrative short film or a short documentary. They have to do that, and that way they have something on the reel…they have contacts, they have a great resume with all these projects that they’ve been working on, but they have something that they’ve done as well.”   It’s no surprise that Zac is in high demand as a Film Connection mentor. So what does he look for in a potential student? What impresses him?   “Say your call time is 7 a.m., you get there at 6:45,” says Zac. “Don’t show up late, always have a good attitude, and work ethic goes so far in this business. I’ve met people that are so super talented, but their attitude sucks, I won’t hire them. I don’t care how great they are. If their attitude’s bad, it brings down the attitude of a lot of other people on set and you can’t have that, especially when you’re working sometimes 12 to 18 hour days on set. You’ve got to be motivated, you’ve got to have high energy, you’ve got to be positive.”   Any other advice for up-and-coming filmmakers?   “If you want to be a filmmaker, be a filmmaker,” he says. “Simple as that: make movies. There’s nothing stopping you. There’s no excuses nowadays.”   
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Apprentices in Action

A Day in the Life of Our Students

   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 given a unique and educational experience thanks to my mentor, Richard Brandes, to fly to Los Angeles and spend six days on the set of a film being produced for the Lifetime network. Shadowland films took me under their wing, thanks to Marianne Wunch, and did their best to let me dive in and learn in a ‘trial by fire’ environment that is constantly on the go, while also being kind in answering all my questions.   I took on the role of Production Assistant along with three others on a crew of about 40. I was unloading equipment and handing out walkies for checks within 10 minutes of my first day, which started at 6:00am. Within the span of six days I handled garbage duty, removed and setup coco mats for scenes more times than I can count, did umpteen fire watches and lock ups, stood in for the leads so shots could be blocked, stepped in to be background, observed rolling scenes and had opportunities for one on one conversations with the director, Douglas Campbell.   The experience was invaluable for those conversations, not to mention the hands-on, time on-set, learning set lingo and observing the pace at which all the players orchestrated their roles around each other. Understanding the hierarchy of positions was key, as well, in order to recognize the flow of the script from director to 1st AD in conjunction with the producers, 2nd AD, 2nd 2nd AD, and so on…All in all, living the RRF program on a set was extremely helpful!”   
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or call (800) 755-7597