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New at VCU, IYE

Training Tomorrow’s Jack of All Trades

The moment of this particular revelation isn’t exact, but it happened several years ago: It occurred when Carlos Chafin, then new in his role as adjunct faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University, could see that the gears of evolution were in motion in the audio post-production industry.

Chafin, longtime president of In Your Ear Music & Video Production of Richmond, Va., and adjunct faculty at VCU’s School of the Arts, recalls the days of the specialist, when post professionals simply honed and applied their finest skill. Those days are gone.

In response, at the behest of Chafin and a host of others, VCU is set to debut its Advanced Media Production Technology post-baccalaureate undergraduate certificate program. The program, which will operate out of IYE’s Broad Street studio in the city’s Shockoe Bottom area, will offer college grads the opportunity to learn a specialty, while providing the varied background needed to meet the emerging market’s demands. In essence, it’s the best of four-year-degree-meets-hands-on-training.

Return on Investment

The 24-credit AMPT certificate is targeted toward students with a bachelor’s degree who are pursuing the study of advanced digital media production and post-production techniques; the aim is to blend creative skills with the technical expertise required to compete for employment. The program costs $14,500 for two semesters, with VCU’s aim being to educate the students in one year—and prevent them from having to dig out of debt for years (and maybe more years).

“VCU has been the number one–ranked public arts school in the country for many years [according to U.S. News & World Report], with 17 arts schools under roof,” Chafin says, “and we’ve come up with a unique solution. This new program is a great add that will offer our students the option to learn all of Adobe CS, Avid, Steinberg and other standard industry-specific software platforms, as well. And if they can creatively drive those programs, they can get a job.”

He believes that aspiring audio/video production and post professionals “need a college degree first,” he said, and that the AMPT program will prevent them from “pigeonholing themselves after making a huge investment.”

And, too often, huge investments are just what students are making today, and the payoff is too often absent. For example, Chafin pointed to a music student who was studying the harp at Oberlin College & Conservatory, in Ohio, which charges $65,000 per year for tuition and fees. Digging out from a $260,000 (plus other college expenses) hole is a rather daunting start of what should be a promising career. “How can she make that money back? She quit after one year,” he said. “Most students and people of modest means can’t even apply, let alone make the equation work.”

Real-World View

In addition, Chafin feels that what’s being offered on the market today can leave job candidates somewhat lacking in one discipline or another.

“Students who come out of virtually any art college will know the creative side of the equation, but will be lean on the business side. And students who go to a technical school or a community college know the mechanics of Photoshop, for instance,” he said, “but lack the art background that they would gain at a [four-year] college, learning about painting, sculpting or sound design.”

That four-year degree often equates to “a much better-rounded person,” Chafin says. “When you’re in school, you need to learn other things. Some business skills are obviously very important. And we don’t want the students to just know them, we want them to apply them. There’s a big difference.”

While the AMPT program has been in the works for years and was just recently approved by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, VCU “has essentially been piloting some of the courses during the past several years,” says Matt Woolman, executive director of entrepreneurship for VCU’s School of the Arts. “The classes have been filled primarily by music students, but when we open it up to all students this winter, we think the classes will fill up with students from a range of majors.”

The university is “expecting more entrepreneurial types, like one guy who wants to start a record label” to enroll in the program, Woolman says. He added that, while there “are a number of vocationally oriented programs at trade schools and at community colleges,” he hasn’t heard of any similar programs at other four-year colleges and universities around the country.

“We want to present well-rounded graduates from the AMPT program to the market,” he says, noting that while it grew out of VCU’s music program, “we designed it so anyone from any major could enroll and heighten their skill set.”

In the Creative Village

Woolman said that VCU is accepting applications for the programs’ January kickoff, which will be held at IYE—a multimillion-dollar facility that “would cost VCU too much money to replicate on campus”—while capacity questions are addressed. “We’re hoping for at least 10 students in our first class and plan to have a cap of 20.”

While the foundation of the AMPT program was laid many years ago, crafting it into a polished product took a village-type effort, as Chafin started gathering several stakeholders from around Richmond “about two years ago,” says Steve Humble, director of production and development at The Martin Agency, also of Richmond.

The first step was to determine what kinds of skills were needed in the new work place. “It’s very important that young people coming out of school understand the various editing tools in Final Cut Pro, Avid,” etc., says Humble. “Some of these kids were coming out of school without having much hands-on experience. So we’d usually have to take six months to a year to get them acquainted with them before they could become a high-value employee.”

And at a large agency, like TMA, Humble is looking for producers who know a little more. “They don’t have to turn the knobs, but they have to understand how Final Cut Pro, for instance, works and occasionally get up on the box and handle it,” he said, adding, “We don’t have audio mixing now, but we will in the future.”

Both Sides Now

Frank Scheuring, co-owner of Capital Post Production in Merrifield, Va., and a graduate of Full Sail University, said he’s seeing job listings online “all the time” for video editors, but “the people who post the jobs also dictate that they want applicants who are able to not only video edit, but also know motion graphics, audio and color grading,” he says. “Sometimes they want someone who can shoot, too.”

Unfortunately, says Scheuring, the pay is “not equivalent to those five jobs and is often less than what one of them should be getting.” Still, he sees what is transpiring in the industry. “During the last six-to-eight years, there has been a consistent decline in the budgets [of] the majority of cable TV shows and corporate work, and the turnaround is faster.”

On the other side of the coin is the specialist’s perspective. “It’s also tough for people who have been concentrating on shooting, color correction or another single discipline throughout their career,” Scheuring says. “They’ll do a better job than someone who does four different things. I prefer the old way, because I think it leads to better quality. But it’s not that way anymore. Many companies are hiring one or two people to handle all media—including shooting, graphics, audio—instead of an advertising company, a marketing firm or a post house. It’s a smart business move for the companies, but not always a great one for the talent,” who can be spread too thin.

But he also offered that he, as co-owner of a post-production firm, is among those who have worn multiple hats. Scheuring’s focus has always been sound—but says that he’s also “been doing some video editing lately. And enjoying it.”