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Coming to a College Near You

University Business, Jun 2008

You may have heard that the most popular show in the world during the 1990s was the bathing-beauty vehicle "Baywatch," but the current leader may come as a surprise. One study of ratings put "CSI: Miami" ahead of all other shows on the planet, beating telenovelas in Spanish and other shows that are more popular in the United States. Perhaps "CSI: Miami" does the best job of meeting an international demand for sunshine, suspense, and escapism (with a dash of bathing beauties). For whatever reason, it directs a lot of attention to our hometown, or at least Hollywood's depiction of it.

The show brings some revenue and expertise to our area for shots on location, although it remains primarily a fabrication of the Hollywood studio system. Still, it highlights a major growth industry that thrives in areas of sunny weather: television production. According to the Miami-Dade County Office of Film and Entertainment, teleproduction crews spent more than $62 million in 2007, a figure fives times higher than the amount spent here on motion pictures. After teleproduction, the most lucrative medium was still photography at $36 million and commercials at $23 million. Come to think of it, sunny weather, water, and models are a natural, profitable fit.

Beyond the glamor, however, is a serious market. One of the fastest growing sectors in Miami is Spanish-language production, drawing talent from across the Spanish-speaking world. One goal of our college is to become an educational hub for television production across the Caribbean and Latin America, and a major step in that direction comes from this year's announcement of the Televisa Centre for Film and Television Production at <b>Miami Dade College</b>. The world's largest Hispanic media company, Televisa, donated seed money to establish this partnership that will enable students and instructors to rub elbows with the talent of Televisa executives, directors, producers, and artists. The Centre also anticipates valuable study abroad and work exchange opportunities, a Teacher Training Institute, trade shows and forums, and an archive and repository for Latin American film.

Our college made the leap into Latin American film a few years ago when local leaders urged us to take over the struggling Miami International Film Festival from a neighboring university. Despite the financial hurdles, the payoff has been huge. We can brag that: we have the only major film festival hosted by an institution of higher learning; our students have unrivaled, affordable access to the world's best cinema and its talent; and that we welcome the likes of Demi Moore, Helen Hunt, and celebrities from across the world of Ibero-American film.

Although the celebrity element may get the most attention, our festival's mission centers squarely on education. Students attend master classes with industry experts; they experience the thrill of shooting film on location with renowned cinematographers; they spend a few dollars to see films unavailable elsewhere and can oftentimes question the director afterwards. Budding filmmakers in our program begin their undergraduate studies exposed to the best, most progressive talent in the world.

Although the next Steven Spielberg could arise from our student body, our college primarily serves working students who need practical skills that are in demand locally. In our area, television and other commercial work create a higher demand than film, and our programs reflect those needs. The curriculum is workforce driven and as contemporary as possible. A respectable group of professionals serves as an advisory board that keeps an eye on the industry's movements and helps to update our curriculum as needed.

Our School of Entertainment and Design Technology was established in the late 1990s as one of 12 academic schools that serve to organize our "mega" college of eight campuses and 165,000 students. This School functions on four campuses and combines the expertise of faculty in entertainment-related fields such as music business, computer animation, and television production. The faculty members have years of experience in the field, and they continue to make inroads among their peers, such as the two-time Grammy nominee and Professor of Music Business Ed Calle.

What initially tend to impress visitors to this academic division are the television studios. They truly are state-of-the-art, allowing students to experience the same equipment and technology being used by the networks. The main studio was donated in 2007 to the college by Univision Television Inc., which owns the leading local station in our market. This partnership has also allowed many students to have internships at the local station as floor managers, camera operators, writers, and audio operators. Students can gain similar experience on campus through MDC-TV, a local cable station owned and operated by the college. At another campus, MDC Radio transforms inexperienced DJs into microphone-ready professionals.

Technology drives much of our program as it does in the real world of commerce. Like the music revolution that spawned CDs and iPods, the television and film industry is going digital. By February 2009, all television stations must broadcast a digital signal instead of the current analog standard. Like CDs, this new format is crisper and more reliable.

Education itself is going digital, too. From online classes to podcasts to student presentations, the clarity of digital production is expected, and we intend to deliver that kind of quality.

In response to this shift, our college has proposed a new major and only our fourth baccalaureate degree (until 2003, our college offered only two-year degrees). The B.A.S. in Film, Television, and Digital Production is designed to meet the need for producers versed in the new universe of digital technology. Moreover, the School of Entertainment and Design Technology is encouraging our current graduates to seek additional education through the development of specialized articulation agreements with relevant university programs.

A great demand exists for the "whole package" of produced materials, from the conception stage to the CD release party. Our students can gain that experience and create their own portfolio of produced work that will make them highly desirable to employers. The potential for success outside the classroom is what drives activities within our classes.

Miami Dade College's School of Entertainment and Design Technology serves as a pipeline to a growing industry. What we provide is an affordable, hands-on education that meets or exceeds the industry's standards. We also provide an incubator that might just give rise to the world's next big thing.

Instead of equating Miami with crime, we want to change the "c" in "CSI: Miami" to stand for "College."

<em>Eduardo J. Padrón is president of Miami Dade College.</em>

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