The Student Production Office returns to provide students real-world experience
By Phoenix Clouden
Following a leadership change in Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Creative Arts department in 2011, Student Production Office (SPO) supervisor, Bob Bryan was brought in as temporary associate dean. While taking stock of the program and witnessing students’ projects, Bryan noticed there was one key element missing: real-world experience. He knows that students must have not just the technical skills, but also the soft skills necessary, to gain and maintain employment in their chosen fields.
Bryan also recognized that even though there was a crop of film opportunities coming up in Cleveland, there wasn’t enough to sustain the graduates and this could force many to move out of town for work. He determined that there was a need to involve students in commercial and television production as this could open up potential local job opportunities for students that they would need to stay in the city and support themselves.
After years of working up the finances and talking to the right people, Bryan and Lee Will, program manager for the Creative Arts Department formed the SPO.
“We decided we were gonna run SPO just like every other company out there,” Will said.
To help with this effort, Will reached out to Mike Pella, a friend who is a 30-year veteran of commercial and video production. Pella had been in video production and was the creative director for Impact Communications in Ohio for eight years. Will figured Pella would be the perfect person to lead the SPO.
Right away, the goal was to run SPO like any other business out there. Armed with Pella’s experience and Will’s connections, they set out to make quality work for real clients. “When SPO started, the first thing we did was give them real work,” Bryan said.
The main thing SPO was created to accomplish was to give students practical, real-world experience in commercial production. This meant adhering to a client’s specific brand and image, and meeting crucial deadlines. Giving students the opportunity to present their work to clients who would then use it in their campaigns was a way of getting students immediately committed to taking it seriously and putting forth quality work.
One of the first projects SPO received was to produce a series of educational videos for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s K-12 program. The videos were a success and this led to the Rock Hall requesting to have more work done through the SPO program.
“If you come to me as a client and I give you a product that you like, you’re gonna come back,” Bryan said.
From there, the projects kept coming in. The students were contacted by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s office to conduct interviews with World War II veterans for the Library of Congress. The project took a full year to complete and was the first SPO project to be used for a national campaign.
During that same time, SPO completed other projects which included PlateUp and a series of videos for Cleveland natives and chef Brant Evans, a Tri-C graduate. The SPO team also recorded a jazz music video in Evans’ restaurant in collaboration with Tri-C’s Creative Arts and Hospitality Management programs.
It was also around this time when Tri-C’s annual jazz fest was looking for video marketing material and turned to SPO. With the success of SPO and more Hollywood studios filming in Ohio, it only made sense to add another branch of the video production program by starting the Film Crew Intensive Training. Each of these programs give students the chance to work with a-list professionals, get real-world, hands-on experience, and be better prepared for their first job in the industry.
“There’s a ton of soft skills required to be in this business,” Pella said.
On top of the training and hands-on experience that SPO provides, there’s also the professionalism and other key skills that’s needed like working on a team, meeting client expectations, and being reliable and dependable. These traits and skills will take you even further than just the practical skills you learn.
SPO was riding high right up until the beginning of 2020. “When the pandemic hit, the student production office completely dissolved,” Will said.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down SPO entirely for nearly two years. Projects that were scheduled to be completed were abandoned altogether and all the staff and students had to pack up and go home.
With no projects coming in and no one to do them, Will took the opportunity to officially retire, Bryan became the associate vice president of television production, and Pella returned to freelancing while waiting for the day that SPO would return.
“My hope is to grow things back to where they were,” Pella said.
Finally, in November of 2021, Pella got the call that SPO was coming back with a great new program manager, Catherine Lamb and a whole slew of projects just waiting to be done by somebody.
The team immediately went to work and produced quality content once again. Now with fewer students, a little less funding, and a quieter momentum that has to be rebuilt, SPO is back and what it has to offer cannot be denied.