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Issue #256

Weekly Newsletter

by Liya Swift

Student Successes

Film Connection grad 
Angelica Smiley Gets On-Path & Turns Life Story into TV Pilot.


Film Connection graduate Angelica Smiley

When Angelica Smiley (Atlanta, GA) took the plunge and joined Film Connection she was hardly a stranger to working in the industry. In fact, she already had her Associate’s Degree in Entertainment Management from Bay State College in Boston, and had worked as a producer’s assistant on The Equalizer and a number of other television shows as well as commercial productions. Nevertheless, thanks to our one-on-one approach and the flexibility our curriculums provide, Angelica’s mentors were able to meet her at her level so that she could elevate her game in record time.   Over the past year, Angelica has enriched her perspective and grown her abilities as a filmmaker and creator who’s capable of writing, directing, and producing her own work and building a career she finds challenging, fulfilling, and anchored to her true sense of self and purpose.   Thanks to the program, Angelica also discovered she has a talent and love of screenwriting. Now, during the ample quiet time “shelter in place” affords, she’s using her newfound writing skills to fully develop a TV pilot based on challenges she faced growing up.   Prior to enrolling in Film Connection for Film Production & Editing, you already had a career in the industry as a producer’s assistant, so what led you to joining?   “I worked on The Equalizer and a few TV shows and commercials, and stuff like that. Then I decided to take a break….I felt like being a producer’s assistant was great….I loved staying busy and helping but I felt like it was somewhat doing a disservice to my creative ability….I just kind of felt like [I was] in a box, just another face, another number…so I decided to take a break. That’s when I started to travel.   So, I’ve seen 37 countries and I was like, ‘You know what? Let me film all of this. Let me actually learn how to film and produce and find stories while I’m traveling.’ And that’s how I started my YouTube channel. And then, that’s how I started getting into less of a travel vlog style, and more into a documentary style of my travels. So the last work I did was creating a short film on my visit to Ghana, and that was amazing. Like, that was life-changing…   And so, capturing those moments really made me feel comfortable holding a camera and having the ability to be like, ‘I can be a storyteller. I can produce. I can do it.’ [But] that title of being a producer was so scary to me because I was like, ‘I wouldn’t even know, where to go with producing. And, how do I come up with funding? How do I…’ You know, it was really intimidating. And then I was like, ‘Let me just start by producing my own story….And I started to get comfortable with it…[and] felt like…Why would I move backwards?’…So I enrolled…I paid straight out for my education. I was like, ‘This is how serious I am.’   What are some of the things you learned or further developed while training with your production mentor, Steve Carmichael?  

Film Connection grad Angelica Smiley makes the most of sheltering in place.

“I knew how to operate a camera but I didn’t know what affected what, like depth of field and all these other things….He was able to make me realize how each individual part of the camera is important and what it does.   He taught me a lot of things hands-on. How to set up lighting. I’d never learned how to do that before….How to take down lighting, and how to also make sure that the lighting is right and all the types of lighting…   And even when there were moments where I felt like I couldn’t do it, or I didn’t understand, or I was second-guessed myself, he was patient with me. He was like, ‘You got it. You got it.’ Even though I was like, ‘Oh G_d, here we go. I don’t really want do this. This seems boring.’ How to properly tie-up ropes and things like that, rigging…But it matters. Everything that he taught me that I never learned [before] that I felt to be boring or thought I would never do, mattered. And that made me feel even more comfortable with future work, you know, that if I was asked to be on-site and do this, I would know [how].   And he gave me a lot of tips and guidance, outside of the academia, with how to move forward. Telling him my background and how it fits into where I want to go now with my career, it really made me feel comfortable, you know, and not like a student but like someone that just works in the industry and can actually get some insight from other experienced mentors. So, it was cool. I really enjoyed myself.”   So, tell us about your TV pilot. What’s it about?   “My TV pilot is based on two sisters that are transitioning out of foster care and to live with their dad. So, the two sisters live in, like, this uptight neighborhood, the suburbs, with their foster parent who’s mean. And they’re soon to transition to live with their father who lives in the urban parts of the city. So they have to adjust to a lot of different things. They have to adjust to a new neighborhood. They have to adjust to living with their dad only, because their mother is not in the picture anymore.”   Was working with Rick Dahl, your screenwriting mentor, helpful to you?   “It was super helpful because I was able to express to him my concerns and he listened. And he made me feel not so intimidated by it. And he gave me the right resources and the right tools…[like] Celtx which I still use now. And he gave me the ability to well…question yourself like, ‘What about hero’s journey?’ And I’m like, I didn’t even know what hero’s journey was….There were so many things he taught me about screenwriting. In my head, I always thought it was, you just write. I didn’t know there was so much of a format of questioning your protagonist and your antagonist, and pushing yourself and being like, ‘Well, what’s the point of your story?’   He challenged me in ways that I don’t think I would have had the mental capacity to do outside of his help. And him being able to listen to my actual, real story and him sharing some of his life stories, it really gave me a boost and a great direction of how I should write. And, the fact that he gave me so many great compliments really boosted my self-esteem too in the process. And I was just like, ‘Wow, I guess I am strong. And I guess my writing ability can be strong too.’ So, he enforced a lot in me. I’m really appreciative of him.”   Have any other projects in the works?   “Yeah, I’m still [working on] ideas [for an] action film because I love action movies but that can be so many different things. You could do action comedy, you know. You could do action romance, you could do action thriller even. I don’t know which one I want to do, so I’ve just been making lists of ideas…[and] like just plotting…and I started a new podcast.”   Learn more about Film Connection for Film Production & Editing (including screenwriting), Cinematography, and more.  
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Mentor News

Recording Connection mentor Rene Reyes on The Creative,
Fluffy Land of Unicorns, Objectivity & What it Really Takes to Be a Professional Music Producer


Recording Connection mentor Rene Reyes at Rebel 11 Studios (Miami, FL)

Producer/Engineer Rene Reyes of Miami’s Rebel 11 Studios (Bad Bunny, Darrel, Karol G) isn’t one to varnish the truth. He’s passionate about making music, helping artists capture the sounds and sonic feel they’re after, and achieving a life/work balance that sets one on course for a productive, rewarding career. Naturally, we just had to download some of his wisdom to share with you, so read on!   So how did you get into producing music? What was your path into it?   “Even before I knew how to play any drums, I remember being the annoying kid that everybody would say like, ‘Stop!’ because I was always like [tapping on things]. My mom and aunts would be like, ‘Can you please stop, Rene?’   [So] I started as an artist playing drums. I was always drawn to music. Way back in elementary, I was playing in the symphonic band. And then in high school, marching band. I did drum corps in college, I did drum line.   So then I got into DJing. Then once you get into DJing, you’re constantly just analyzing the music, and then you want to get behind the scenes in that aspect. So then, that’s how I got into production…Once I was in production land, I started wondering, you know, more about the technical part of it, right? So I was very technically inquisitive the whole time as to how these sounds were being made.”   Tell us about Rebel 11 Studios. What can students expect to encounter there?   “We have a very tight knit team and we all wear different hats, according to what needs to get done to ensure that business runs smoothly and that the client is happy…. I started [here] when this studio behind me was just a big warehouse and I came in and said, ‘What do you guys need? Let’s do it.’ So I was hammering nails and screwing for a year in a half. I’d never built a studio from scratch. It was quite a humbling experience. Once the studio started taking shape, then I started wiring…   We have 3 different studios in the facility. All of them have a slightly different approach as to the workflow and what they’re designed for…A Room is our deluxe package. It can handle high occupancy sessions and is equipped for recording/mixing/mastering. B Room is our hybrid with high-end industry standard equipment for recording and mixing. C Room is our budget-friendly room used more often for pre-production, writing, and some preliminary recording. All three rooms are also designed for and regularly used for photoshoots. All RRFC students will have regular exposure to every room and piece of equipment in the building.”  

Rebel Flagship Studio A (recording/mixing/mastering)

Great. So how do you get the wheels spinning in the students you train? In other words, how do you instigate questions?   “They just kind of see my passion and it brings it out in them…I go to town on all of the things that are going through my head. Also at this point, I’ve learned when to stop and maybe move on to the next thing. What I really like about this school, the process we do, is that we use the test that the students do every week for their chapters as a guideline as to what the focus of that day is. And so, I try to stop myself and not go too deep because it might be something that we cover later on. And then, you know, I find some balance with that…I try to keep that engagement with them [and] to remember when I was in their shoes.”   How long have you been teaching for?   “Fifteen years, over 15 years now. I taught at Full Sail for 4 years, Los Angeles Recording School for about 8 years. I’ve been teaching with you guys for a while.”   What’s your advice for students on how they can make the most of their time in Recording Connection?   “Just practice, practice, practice. Make sure you have a good balance with the rest of your life too because it’s very easy to get pulled in….[I]t does have that kind of addictive element [like video games], so you can lose track of time really quickly. That took me awhile because for a long time, since I was teaching, I could afford getting lost in the studio for hours and days. But eventually, if you’re doing this for business and for money, then time will become a top priority. Being able to work fast but being able to work relaxed and able to provide that relaxed atmosphere [while] you’re working really fast is very important.”   Any advice for newbies on setting up their workflow within the Pro Tools environment?   “Make sure you develop a good working template and label everything. The routing is important. Color coding is very important. Make sure that you are using plugins that you’re going to be able to instantiate in other studios that might not have those plugins. If you’re not sure, just use the stock Pro Tools plugins so that you don’t find yourself opening up your template in a studio that doesn’t have those plugins, [if not] then that’s a can of worms that you will have to deal with.   Also, make sure that you think of it as concepts, right? So, you don’t have to use only the one delay that you know very well. Understand that most delays are going to work exactly the same: reverbs, compression, so that you’re not stuck and caught, you know, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, if you don’t have the one plugin that you’ve mastered. So it’s very important to think of it in the sense of [understanding] these concepts….That’s going to save you a lot of time.”   So why do you choose to mentor with us?

Rebel Writing Studio C (pre-production/songwriting)

  “I think the concept is genius. It’s essentially like the Uber of schools. It puts you directly in the end result of what you think you might want to do. So it serves several purposes. It doesn’t educate on what you think you might want to do but it also exposes you to maybe what you thought you might want to do and now you realize there’s this other avenue that looks more appealing, just based on being around the professional aspect [of it]. That’s something that I found missing in the schools that I would work with before. You know, kids would go for years, digging into the books. I find nothing necessarily wrong with that. Knowledge is knowledge and you get out of it what you put into it but the exposure aspect of it is different; what this program does is flipped it. It puts you right at the end result and at least allows you to see, you know, in some cases, [that] this is not for everybody.”   So what, in your opinion, does it take for someone to be a professional music producer?   “Production has a way of getting in your head in a way that can be detrimental if you don’t understand the mental discipline you need. There’s a lot of technical parts to it, there’s a lot of boring parts to it that you just can’t get around. Nowadays with technology, that gap is shrinking, you know? It’s becoming easier and easier to create a dope beat. But what does it take to create something that’s special, that’s maybe, you know, [what] I like to call timeless music, right? Something that you’re going to hear fifty years from now and you’ll be like ‘Wow, it still holds its own!’ I think to be able to tap into that, it definitely takes some level of maturity that needs to happen inside you….You need to understand the balance between the right side of your brain and the left side of your brain and the creative, fluffy land of unicorns and the ‘I need to be done by the end of this week. I can’t be playing on this song that makes me feel great for the next 4 months.’   You can play with it for 4 months, if you want, and it can make you feel great but if you never finish it and you never get it out to the record label or playable in the club and get it out to DJs, it never sees the light of day, then it’s more something that you’re doing for yourself, which [there’s] nothing wrong with that but as far as being a producer, a professional producer, you have to learn that objectivity aspect of it, and when you have to turn off the heart and just kind of just deal with the numbers and the math and the physics. And finding a good balance between the two, I think, is really important.”   Want to learn how you can train with Rene Reyes or any of the other talented Recording Connection mentors? Get started here.  
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