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Though rumors that Pulaski Tech might locate a film production school in the old M.M. Cohn building in downtown Little Rock seem to be mostly wishful thinking by Main Street revitalization boosters, the film production program at PTC is the real deal. The school recently finalized a proposed curriculum for a new degree program to educate off-camera film crew members like grips, gaffers and digital special effects technicians. They hope to fast-track the program for a fall 2012 debut.
The behind-the-scenes push to get PTC to locate its new program in the M.M. Cohn building at 510 Main St. is coming from some of the same civic leaders who tried unsuccessfully to get PTC to locate its culinary school at Sixth and Main streets. The school decided instead to create its culinary school at its campus in Southwest Little Rock, the former Little Rock Expo building.
Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane said that his office isn't pushing for any specific location, but has long been an advocate for a school in the state to train film crews.
"One of the things we've been trying to push is workforce development within the industry," Crane said. "We have good, qualified crew, but we don't have qualified crew across the board in crew, grip and gaffe." Grips are rigging technicians, who specialize in placing and moving the camera before and during shots. Gaffers help design a production's lighting plan.
Crane said the M.M. Cohn building would be a "sexy" location for the Pulaski Tech program, but added that recruiting good students and teaching the right courses while getting the program off the ground is more of a concern. "It's the quintessential chicken and egg," he said. "If we have a good quality workforce and more film production, then they're going to have more students who are interested in [film production] and who want to go to that program."
David Durr, dean for information technology at Pulaski Tech, will direct the new film production program if it is eventually approved by the state Department of Education.
Durr and others from Pulaski Tech recently toured the M.M. Cohn building as a possible location for the program. What they found doesn't bode well for Main Street's silver screen dreamers. "There are these large supporting columns all across the first floor," Durr said. "There is not any place, as the building stands, where we can get enough space to build a sound stage." Durr said a developer told them it would cost around $175,000 to replace the columns with structural steel, which must be done before any other renovations — money which Durr hinted could be better spent on equipment.
Durr said the team from the school has also toured the old Dempsey Film Group studio at 322 S. State St. and discussed locating the program on the PTC main campus in North Little Rock. (The school's campus near the Pulaski/Saline County line doesn't have enough room for the program.) Durr said the school doesn't need a new facility before starting the program. "We can start by repurposing some facilities on campus and continue to work to find an optimum facility," he said. "Early on in the program, the students will be going to a lot of general education courses, a lot of introductory courses, so that's going to give us some time to work on this."
Durr said the idea for a program to train film production workers grew out of PTC's plans to instruct web design students on basic animation, sound and video production skills, with a goal of helping graduates address the growing convergence of computers and film. "There's a demand for people who can produce digital artifacts, whether those are illustrations, animations, audio or video," Durr said. He said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 14 percent growth in the number of jobs in those areas between now and 2018, "so it's a high-demand area that extends far beyond film."
Once the digital ball was rolling, the school was approached by Crane, Little Rock Film Commissioner Gary Newton and Little Rock Film Festival founder Craig Renaud. "Essentially, they were pointing out to us that we could build on what we were already doing and meet a need that exists for people who are able to produce film," Durr said.
Durr said the school currently has two faculty members in the areas of design and illustration who'll teach in the new film production department. The school has hired a third faculty member who specializes in sound and video production to round out the teaching staff.
Durr said the curriculum for the program was completed before Pulaski Tech broke for the Christmas holiday. It will next go to the school's Academic Affairs Committee in early January for approval, and before the Pulaski Technical College Foundation Board of Directors at its Jan. 30 meeting. If the plan is approved by the Pulaski Tech Board, it will go before the Department of Higher Education Coordinating Board in April. Durr said he hopes the program can be launched in August 2012.
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