July 31--Robert Tinnell came to Monessen with plans of shooting a film in the city.
But he lost gap funding for the independent film version of his book, "Feast of the Seven Fishes."
At the same time, Douglas Education Center president Jeffrey D. Imbrescia had envisioned creating a digital filmmaking program at his growing education center.
Tinnell, of Fairmont, W.Va., was a perfect fit to direct The Factory Digital Filmmaking Program. Through his career in the filmmaking industry, Tinnell knew Tom Savini, program signature of the Tom Savini's Special Make-Up Effects Program and Jerry Gergely, technical director of the program. Imbrescia offered him the chance to direct the developing program.
"My wife said, 'Why don't you help them out for a while?'" Tinnell said. "But a week here, I discovered I liked it. They let me have my career."
Today, The Factory Digital Filmmaking Program at Douglas Education Center is marking its fifth anniversary with an open house and celebration at the Digital Film Building, located at 533 Schoonmaker Ave., Monessen.
Tinnell is a screenwriter and director. While guarded about his career, he acknowledged that one of his works is in production to become a television series and he has recently been retained to write the script for the reincarnation of a well-known horror project.
Tinnell said filmmaking can be a successful career, noting he has been "drawing a paycheck for this since I was 18 years old and doing films even before that."
"The biggest misconception about the program is that it's for dreamers," Tinnell said.
"The film industry added 20,000 jobs last year. We're going to be making more films, not less. It may be as simple as a 20-second film about how to change a tire," he said. "Someone has to replace all of the books that we're not reading."
Tinnell said the film industry is a hybrid of blue collar and white collar opportunities.
"We're trying to prepare them for entry-level positions in the industry," Tinnell said of the DEC program. "We try to expose them to every aspect of the process. We're turning out kids who are ready to fill in wherever they are needed in the industry. We have high expectations for the students. I'm more interested in them being able to hit deadlines and meet expectations than giving them a meaningless pat on the head and telling them they did a good job if they didn't meet expectations."
The program was a work in progress when Tinnell came onboard in 2007.
Students learn the most advanced techniques, such as sound ADR looping. When dialog in a filmed screen cannot be salvaged from production, tracks must be re-recorded in a process called looping, or ADR. The school has a sound studio for such work.
"We say the reason Hollywood films look so good is because of the sound," Tinnell said.
Kelley Baker, a sound designer known for his work on the film "Good Will Hunting," among others, is a consultant overseeing the sound classes.
The theater at Douglas Education Center is an interactive classroom. Each seat is also a desk. When guest speakers from Hollywood come to Monessen, the students can interact with them via the Skype board, which is the big screen.
The program has the advantages of a major film school with a personal, hands-on class setting.
"Most of our kids are going to technically driven jobs," Tinnell said. "It's such an intimate and demanding atmosphere (here). It gives them an edge."
Monessen is the perfect location to host such state-of-the-art programs generally thought as exclusive to Hollywood, Tinnell said.
"Hollywood is a virtual community," Tinnell said. "Films are made everywhere. Jeff was smart when he chose Monessen for these endeavors. He recognized that he could have the space here and not have to pass that cost onto the students' tuition."
Tinnell said he loves Monessen and the city's support.
"We receive solid support from the city, the police, the fire department and the businesses," Tinnell said. "I can pull out films where we were shooting and the police were involved. We receive solid support. That says we're good for the city and the city is good for us."
The five-year milestone is a vindication of the program started by Imbrescia with the support of people like Savini and Gergely, Tinnell said.
"It means you've turned the corner," Tinnell said. "I'm seeing it in the caliber of the students.
"At this point, it's got to be about results. I tell perspective students, 'Don't talk to us, talk to the other students, the alumni.'"
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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