Exterior of the new building for Ringling College Studio Labs and post production facilities.
The main entrance to The Ringling College Studio Labs, Photo by Ryan Gamma

It’s no secret… the Film department at Ringling College of Art and Design is on a dynamic, upward trajectory. 

In the spring of 2017,Ringling College and Semkhor Productions opened Film Soundstages A and B on the east side of campus off Dr. Martin Luther King Way. These were the first two of three production facilities in the Ringling College Studio Labs complex, supporting both academic and commercial productions.

That same year, Film Department Head Brad Battersby was awarded Variety’s “Mentor of the Year” for his experimental, real-world approach to teaching film outside the four walls of a classroom. 

In May 2018, Film opened up two tracks of study in the areas of Narrative and Branded Entertainment.

In August 2018,the Film department took the #15 spot on The Hollywood Reporter’s list of Top 25 American Film Schools. 

And finally, on November 28, 2018, Ringling College and Semkhor Productions announced the opening of the third and final facility in the Ringling College Studio Labs complex, the post-production studio. 

This new 11,000-square-foot Post-production facility houses:
• three 2,000-square-foot soundstages
• a sizeable, 40-person screening and mixing room
• a Foley stage for creating sound effects 
• multiple AVID and Mac Pro edit bays
• a picture edit suite
• a color correction theater
• offices and common spaces

Acclaimed director Roman Coppola was integral to the design of the facility, expressing a vision for all spaces to be heavily networked. Live audio and video can be broadcast from the room where it’s being recorded to another room where it can be mixed, providing seamless functionality.

The complex has been designed to attract creative talent not only from the film and television industries, but also those who are developing breakthrough content for the digital age – brands, online storytellers, e-commerce, and virtual reality productions.

Stretching the length of a city block and spanning 36,000 square feet in total, these three buildings now comprise the largest film and visual entertainment facility on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Ribbon cutting ceremony
It takes a village to bring a dream as large as The Ringling College Studio Labs to life! Photo by Cliff Roles Photography

Ready Player One and The Avengers screenwriter Zak Penn attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony as part of the Studio Labs program, which brings Hollywood industry professionals on campus to work with the students. Penn also hosted a screenwriting master class and a Q&A with students and faculty on one of two previously opened soundstages. 

“Completing the post-production facility is the third jewel in our triple-content crown,” says Ringling College President Dr. Larry R. Thompson. “This is the culmination of our plan to attract commercial production and economic development to Sarasota while providing career-making experiences for our students, opportunities to retain talent and graduates in the Sarasota area, and state-of-the-art facilities for the long-term growth of both the regional economy and our academic programs.”

Rich Schineller, who coordinates opportunities between Ringling College and Semkhor Productions, says, “The post-production facility will soon be filled with talent. From local professional editors and color correctors, to Hollywood notables like Justin Long and Beau Bridges. And of course, they’ll all be working side-by-side with the students.” 

Semkhor Founder and CEO David Shapiro is excited about the potential to bring projects from all over the world into the region. “With the space just opening, we’ve already had one client shooting in Studios A and D for a national apparel brand, had two Walgreens commercials done in post, and inquiries are coming in at a furious rate.”

Students using the Foley stage
Foley stage in the post production facility, Photo by Rich Schineller

When asked how the new facility will help advance the Film curriculum, Department Head Brad Battersby said, “We already have a full curriculum in post-production, including hands-on intensive classes in editing, sound design, and advanced editing in our post-production and thesis classes. The new facility will give the students most interested in a career in post-production an opportunity to work directly with professionals to expand those skills.”

These types of collaborations between students and professionals are at the heart of Ringling College’s Collaboratory Commitment – a promise that every student will have the opportunity to take on professional client work during their studies as an undergraduate.

Hands-on projects where students crew on film productions that make their way to Netflix, Apple, and Amazon add major credibility to a student’s résumé and provide invaluable networking opportunities. 

When asked what all these developments mean for the future of the Film program, Battersby concluded, “They’re more bricks on the College’s path toward preeminence.”

The Low-Down on an Up-And-Coming Track: 
Branded Entertainment

Vivian Owen, former Advertising Design faculty, now Lead Facilitator of the Film: Branded Entertainment emphasis, fills us in on this exciting new program.

Q. What is Branded Entertainment?
A. First, let’s talk about what it’s not. It’s not about creating thirty-second commercials. We’re living in a world where many people avoid TV advertising at all costs. Those who still have traditional cable are using DVRs to time-shift viewing and fast-forward through commercials, while “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” have scrapped cable altogether in favor of ad-free, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Video. With this shift, many brands realize interruptive commercial breaks have lost their power as an effective way to communicate with their audiences.

Q. So, what will the Branded Entertainment track focus on?
A. Brand films that put story first. Students will develop two to four minute videos for brands that are creative, innovative, and engaging. They’re not designed to interrupt entertainment by pushing a product, but to BE the entertainment. It’s content you want to see and share, instead of skip.

Q. Can you give me some examples?
A. It’s everything from the Always Like a Girl social experi-ment that aimed to reverse the negative connotations of the phrase into an anthem of empowerment for young women to Intel and Toshiba’s web series, The Beauty Inside. This is a heartbreaking tale of a man who wakes up every day in a different body, despite remaining the same person on the inside. They’re videos people seek out. They spark conversations. They give brands deeper meaning and connect with people on a human level.

Q. What will students learn in the Branded Entertainment track?
A. Film at Ringling College is all about story. Story first. So, of course, story structure, plotting, and character development are huge parts of this track. Students will also learn branding, strategic thinking, and all aspects of film production.

Q. What career opportunities in Branded Entertainment can students look forward to?
A. It’s amazing how much the lines have blurred between the film and advertising industries. Clients and advertising agencies are hiring screenwriters and directors on staff because they understand how crucial a brand’s story is to developing relationships with their consumers. Production companies like Hungry Man and Anonymous Content continue to put out some of the best brand films in the industry each year. And digital publishers like Buzzfeed, The Onion, and Funny or Die all have branded content divisions. There will be no shortage of opportunities for talented, hard-working students who understand the business of branding and the art of storytelling.

By Vivian Owen
Vivian Owen has over 15 years of experience as a copywriter and blogger. She’s also the lead facilitator within the Film: Branded Entertainment emphasis at Ringling College.