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WEEKLY NEWSLETTER September 11, 2017 by L. Swift and Jeff McQ


Film Connection student Juan Armijos gains a realistic perspective of the industry while honing his craft!

Rob Weston, Jason Mewes, and Juan Armijos on the set of A Madness in the Method

Rob Weston, Jason Mewes, and Juan Armijos on the
set of A Madness in the Method

When he first moved to Los Angeles, aspiring screenwriter and director Juan Armijos says he had several completed scripts ready to pitch. But when he became a Film Connection student, he had an interesting personal reaction: He put the scripts away for a while.   “I have three screenplays of mine that I wrote that I used to be marketing and pushing on people,” he says. “But right now, after living in L.A. for a little bit…I think the best course of action would just be to put those three babies in the drawer for a while until I know the rules of this game a little more and maybe I would direct them when I have more experience.”   It’s not that he’s discouraged. Juan is simply getting a deeper understanding of what goes into producing a movie, and it’s giving him a deeper respect for the process—in part because of the time spent with his Film Connection mentor, producer Rob Weston of Straight Wire Films.   “We got along great immediately,” says Juan. “It was very interesting and enlightening for me to get to talk to him because he has a lot of experience in it, and he kind of knew how to relate to my reality…he’s a producer with many different skill sets.”   One thing that’s helped Juan gain perspective is the time Rob has spent breaking down scripts with him. “He really likes bouncing opinions off of writers because he really takes the story very seriously,” says Juan. “He knows that it’s the most important thing in the production. So he really does take a lot of time in development, the time that is necessary, but he does also try to avoid getting stuck in development hell. I think that’s my favorite part of the whole process with Rob when we work together on a script, because I can be honest with him and tell him if I hate a script or love a script that he hands me that he’s thinking of producing.”   Juan says just being part of the process has already opened his eyes. “When we stay on a script for a whole day, his notes help me realize what sells, what is more attractive for financiers or producers or whatever,” he says. “I probably learn more from him without him knowing when he’s just going about his day, because he puts all his calls on speaker so I can hear what he talks about.   He talks about stuff to other producers, he talks to directors, he talks to the writers of the scripts. And the interconnection and the social component of the whole thing is very interesting to me…That to me is the magic about this program, Film Connection, is because you get to see someone who does it every day and all the time, and they are very willing to let you into everything, every single thing.”   One highlight of his apprenticeship was when Rob helped get Juan on the set of one of his upcoming films, A Madness in the Method. “It was a learning experience,” he says, “talk to everybody, talk to the director, talk to the actors, talk to the line producers on set, just absorb the whole thing. So I did. I talked to everybody, and he introduced me to a lot of very interesting people.”   Now getting better acquainted with the process of filmmaking, Juan says he is working on a project of his own—a script he just completed with a friend who wants to work on financing it. Meanwhile, Juan says perhaps his biggest personal takeaway from the Film Connection is how to be comfortable with his own passion while having patience with the process.   “I know a lot more than I did six months ago,” he says. “The main thing I learned is to not suffer from desperation…And it’s hard to say that because if you’re so passionate about something, how are you not nervous to not get it, right? But if you can somehow find a state of mind where you’re not heartbroken and paralyzed with anxiety if you don’t get what you want, then you’re perfect for this world. And if you can also appreciate it if you do get it and get happy and ecstatic, then that’s the best life you can probably get…Every word you say represents the vision that you have without coming across as needy. It’s just something that you have to live and breathe, comfortably though.”   As for those scripts he put away…they’re only put away for a while. “They’re very deeply emotional and complex human stories,” he says. “I would love to get the tone perfect. So my idea is to just get involved in film and production, so that I learn about directing enough so that one day I can direct my own scripts.”
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Recording Connection grad-turned-mentor Josh Denhardt partners with his former mentor to tap into Denver’s EDM scene!

When mentor Josh Denhardt first became a Recording Connection student, he recalls immediately bonding with his mentor—Ryan Conway of Conway Sound in Denver, Colorado.   “After meeting him I quickly knew that he was definitely going to be the person I wanted to learn from,” says Josh, “because of his background and personality and everything. Everything kind of clicked really fast, like that, and I kind of had a good feeling from the start…We basically just hit it off right away.”   From there, Josh says he spent so much time at the studio that he worked himself into a job. “Once I got there, I just kind of never left, and he just got tired of kicking me out of the studio,” he quips. “Eventually he said, ‘Well, you can just keep working here, I guess.’”   Today, that working relationship is developing into more. Now a Recording Connection mentor himself, Josh is partnering with Ryan on a huge studio expansion for Conway Sound, including a pilot EDM training program that Josh will ultimately oversee!   “It’s really exciting because it’s a brand-new location,” he says. “It’s going to be a bigger studio… There’s going to be extra control rooms. Multiple engineers can work, but there’s also going to be a wing with a large production suite for students and a live setup to practice DJ’ing live…[I want to] to take the excitement of classes and things to a whole other level.”  
Control Room in Conway Sound

Control Room in Conway Sound

As the program develops, Josh says he envisions the new wing as an incubator of sorts for up-and-coming electronic musicians. “People could have little, mini pre-concerts to practice playing live with a group of friends in the live area, and have all the equipment to use, Ableton or DJ controllers of their choice,” he says.   It’s a timely move for Conway Sound and for Josh, as Denver is experiencing a huge boon in its EDM scene. “The EDM industry is huge in Denver,” he explains. “It is becoming the place that the big artists want to come through because there are multiple venues where they can set up two to three day raves and basically have, you know, the places they can sell out are selling out…There are just a whole bunch of different smaller companies that are fully on board with the EDM scene…especially in the past 10 years it’s exploded out here.”   Josh’s personal journey into music, and eventually to the Recording Connection, is success story all its own. After dropping out of college at age 19 due to lack of direction and high expenses, he eventually became a self-described “ski bum,” tending bar and guiding snowmobile expeditions along the Continental Divide in the Rockies. When he received news that he was going to have a son, he says it was a wake-up call, and he decided to figure out a longer-term career for himself.   “I had looked at all the traditional [route], like well, I could go back and finish my business degree and sit in a cubicle,” he says, “but I had never fit in a cubicle my entire life…I read some books on some people that were very successful, and a lot of the things pointed to, if you do what you love, the money will come in time…Looking at the things I was most passionate about, [it was] music. I had DJ’d for a long time doing the local ladies’ night thing and just very involved and loving music.”   From his prior knowledge of recording schools, however, Josh wasn’t impressed with the results for the high tuition rates. “The people that I met that went to school…none of them were using that degree,” he says. “They were all working in different fields, and sure, they had home studios and things they learned knowledge-wise, but not one of them was directly in the field that they paid all that money for. So I thought there was something kind of wrong with that system right off the bat. That’s why I started looking at other options besides going that route. That’s how I found the Recording Connection.”   Not only did the one-on-one training in the studio pay off for him personally—Josh’s own passion for his new career is paying off in huge ways. He’s carved out a bit of a niche for himself at Conway Sound, focusing on using and teaching Ableton while his former mentor focuses on Pro Tools. Now teaching multiple apprentices of his own—particularly those interested in EDM and electronic music production—Josh has developed a unique approach to teaching them, as well.   “I am going to be treating them like they’re an artist on my recording label,” he says. “I ask all my students to get them on deadlines that they’re going to finish an album as their graduation present, which is something that I do. For free, I help them mix and master their songs so their graduation is not only the completion and certification of Ableton, but it is their graduation CD of three to 10 tracks that is their expression and demonstration of everything they’ve learned, and I help put the professional polish on at the end so they can have something to show.”   Josh says this process also gives his students a before-and-after picture so they can see how far they’ve come. “I consider a student that goes from not being able to produce, [to] finish a song, start to finish that they enjoy in a month, to being able to produce three songs from start to finish in a week,” he says. “Everybody that starts, I have their first song that’s called ‘Day One.’ And when everyone graduates we go back and open up their very first song that they tried to write, ‘Day One,’ and then we have a little chuckle about it, and then we go ahead and master their graduation album.   “To really appreciate things you need to give yourself credit,” he adds. “Really take a step back and see where the journey began and where it ended. It gives you better perspective, honestly.”   
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A Day in the Life of Our Students

   Weeks into the program, Recording Connection student Ezekiel Aguilar (San Diego, CA), who is apprenticing with Patrick Heaney at Phaser Control Recording, is learning what it takes to transform a simple loop into a full-fledged song. Ezekiel says, “When I got to the studio for my second lesson I had a four bar loop I was working on. I had all the parts to a song but I had no idea how to arrange it. So my mentor Patrick showed me arrangement. While he was helping me arrange the beat I was him watching and learning how he used Logic and the functions it has. When we got it to three minutes, I started adding fills to add different sounds and textures to make it sound fuller and less repetitive. At the end of the lesson, I had a basic idea how to arrange a beat. I was very happy to hear the difference between the track I walked with and the one I left with.”    Film Connection student Jessica Wise (Lexington, KY) who apprentices with David Cottingham at Post Time Studios has been in the throes of writing not one but two screenplays. When she isn’t writing, Jessica has discovered there’s a demand for her in front of the camera: “Acting-wise, I finally got to see myself in The Running Girl! Post-production on the short film finished up in July and I got to see it in all its glory. I was very surprised by my own performance. I was certain it was cringe-worthy and that I’d hate the sound of my own voice on camera but both of those assumptions proved false. Editing-wise, I was very impressed with how Rusty was able to put this together. When you’re filming a scene for a story that you didn’t write, it is sometimes hard to imagine what the director is envisioning. So seeing how the scenes (some of which I was confused by or skeptical of) actually played out in a way that made sense was eye-opening…i.e. trust the director! There are a few things that need to be done before this film is published but hopefully I’ll be able to share it soon! I’ve also gotten to be an extra in a couple more commercials for Post Time. Who knew going into this that I would be on the camera so much?!”  
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