The Ringling College Studio Labs

Film students on set at Soundstage A on a production with Justin Long. Some of our recent guests and collaborators.

Just a short walk east of the Ringling College Art and Design campus on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way is the new 30,000 square-foot soundstage complex that’s now part of The Ringling College Studio Labs. Let’s be clear: it’s big. So big, in fact, that it spans the entire length of the block between Central and Cocoanut Avenues.

This facility quite literally sets the stage for Ringling College students to work side-by-side with Hollywood luminaries—something they’ve been doing in smaller ways for years thanks to a collaboration with Semkhor Productions that brought working filmmakers to campus to collaborate directly with students in a variety of ways. For example, Ethan Hawke brought in Ringling College students to work on his recently-released movie Blaze, and students served as writers, cinematographers, and production designers for Dylan McDermott’s webisode series, Sugar. Now that The Ringling College Studio Labs encompasses both a visiting filmmaker series and an industry-approved venue to work on world-class films, people from Hollywood, Florida to Hollywood, California are taking notice.

“The great thing about the soundstage post production complex is that it serves the College in two main ways,” explains President Larry R. Thompson. “One, it’s a major enhancement to our film major which continues to grow not only in terms of student enrollment but also in stature and reputation. Two, it’s a huge boon for the community since one of the soundstages and the post production facility are commercial/academic operations. Taken together, it’s a beacon for the creative ethos of this community and it represents how we’re on the leading edge of digital media production. We the College and we the community are fast becoming a new media haven for the southeastern United States.”

David Shapiro, owner of Semkhor Productions, completely agrees. “The artists are responding to this enthusiasm,” he says. “Artists are experimental. They’re creative. They feel that same energy from Ringling College. They see that we’re trying to build something special here.” That’s why Training Day director Antoine Fuqua was on hand last year at the ribbon cutting for the first of the pair of 8,000 square-foot soundstages.

It’s why Kevin Smith shot the second section of a new film here in January. It’s also why the list of Hollywood writers, actors, and directors that have come through Ringling in recent years is impressive. Anna Paquin. Helen Hunt. Andy Garcia. Forrest Whitaker. Mark Ruffalo. Justin Long. And thanks to this new facility, that list is going to grow as more and more come to Sarasota to make movies and work with Ringling College’s pool of talented students.

The complex has two main soundstages—one solely for the academic program, and one for commercial/ academic use. The post production complex has three smaller soundstages that are also earmarked for commercial/academic use. Most important, the complex is already in great demand because it’s designed to meet the needs of the media creators of today and tomorrow.

“We built this from the ground up with digital content in mind,” says Shapiro. “Films. Digital music. AR. VR. Few places exist that were built top-to-bottom with that kind of workflow in mind.” To that end, they sought advice from Roman Coppola of “Mozart in the Jungle” fame to ensure the soundstage met industry needs, and Emmywinner Tom Paul was enlisted to design the mixing rooms and editing bays in the post production facility.

As appealing as the soundstages are, though, content producers are equally interested in the opportunity to partner with current students and alumni who bring passion and a creative sensibility to their work. “More so than in other industries,” adds Shapiro, “this is an apprentice-based craft. It’s an unparalleled opportunity for students to network and learn in a hands-on way. They’re getting a real advantage here in this relationshipdriven industry.”

Brad Battersby, Chair of the Film department and VARIETY’s 2017 Mentor of the Year, is ecstatic about what this facility means for his already-booming major. “A post production facility that houses a state-of-the-art dubbing stage is an essential component of any serious filmmaking program. It’s been said that editing is the last rewrite of a film, but I’d say that the final polish is the post production sound design, culminating with the final sound mix where the music, sound effects, and dialogue all come together. With the addition of the post production facility, The Ringling College Studio Labs will offer students and professionals alike a full-on, soup-tonuts production facility.”

“We are a college on the move,” says President Thompson. “As we open new majors like Virtual Reality Development, celebrate new facilities like The Ringling College Studio Labs, and create more community partnerships, we will continue to look ahead and be at the forefront of art and design higher education. Right now we are among the very top of art and design colleges but we are not satisfied with being among the top. Our vision is for Ringling College to be THE preeminent art and design college in the world and we are on a very fast track to get there.” Thanks to all that The Ringling College Studio Labs represent, we’re closer than ever before to President Thompson’s lofty goal.

Battersby sums up its immediate impact, saying that “Ringling Film finally has a home—and it truly is a sweet, sweet home.”


By Ryan G. Van Cleave
Ryan is the author of 20 books as well as a writing coach and freelance writer. He also runs the new Creative Writing major at Ringling College of Art and Design.