2 New Orleans schools training students for burgeoning digital media field

At least two local colleges are preparing students to enter the digital media field as Louisiana draws more businesses that perform post-production work for the film and entertainment industry. Delgado Community College launched a Digital Media Education Center in June to help train people in the growing industry. And the University of New Orleans Department of Film, Theater and Communication Arts says enrollment in its program has grown during the past decade.

This fall, Delgado’s center will be fully launched with more classes. Classes are geared toward adults and professionals continuing their education and aren’t offered for credit, said Rachelle Matherne, the interim assistant director for the center. Classes focus on learning the software necessary in video game design, post-production work on films and much more to train people for jobs. “Training like this isn’t available in the New Orleans area,” Matherne said. “You won’t find classes in a lot of these softwares.”

Training a local workforce

The center opened in hopes of training a local workforce to fill positions in the digital media industry, which has grown since tax incentives supporting the sector were put in place by state government. The incentives give software companies a 25 percent tax credit for qualified digital media expenditures and a 35 percent credit for payroll expenditures for Louisiana residents.

Growth in the industry has sparked the need for a better-trained, local workforce, Matherne said. “We want to meet the skills gap in the workforce,” she said. “We want to grow our local workforce pool. Companies need to know there is a skilled workforce here.”

Need for skilled instructors

She added that as more digital media companies move to the state or start in the state, the need for workers will only increase. Right now, the challenge facing the center is finding skilled teachers. Matherne has reached out to local companies to find instructors.

“We want people with the knowledge and industry experience,” she said. “Digital media is the future. Down the line we hope to be a destination training facility.”

Fastest-growing sector

Michael Hecht, president of Greater New Orleans Inc., said digital media is the fastest-growing sector in New Orleans and the state. GNO Inc. is an economic development alliance that helps bring businesses to the area as well as local entrepreneurs. Companies are coming here because of the incentives and culture, he said. Right now, there is a greater demand for skilled workers.

“The demand is outstripping the ability to get skilled workers,” Hecht said. “We need to develop our own indigenous workforce.” He said strong programs need to be built and supported at two-year and four-year education institutions as well as in high schools.

“Delgado digital is a great example of the nuts and bolts strategy we’re taking to building the industry,” Hecht said. “New Orleans will be recognized as a digital hub.”

Technical proficiency

Ben Balser is the only Apple-certified master trainer in Louisiana. He believes that students need more than just a classroom to be successful in the industry.

Technical proficiency is step one,” Balser said. “That’s your foundation. If you don’t understand the technology behind it, you’ll be lost.”

Students need to study, practice and learn. Not only do they need a strong foundation, they also have to understand the artistic side of it as well, he said.

‘Deadlines are everything’

Students also need to learn how to work with deadlines. “Deadlines are everything in this industry,” Balser said. “The industry is demanding, with shorter and shorter deadlines.”

After about 20 years of information technology experience, Balser decided he wanted to do media production full time. The transition seemed like a natural progression, and he now teaches classes at Delgado’s media center.

He said there is a growing demand here, especially in the digital media side of the entertainment industry.
“Post-production is the weak point in Louisiana’s entertainment industry,” he added. “The majority of the industry (in Louisiana) is independent film makers and independent production facilities. Louisiana has a huge collection of independent filmmakers.”

Special effects

Trained people with knowledge about video and the software needed to edit it and make special effects are needed in the state.

Robert Racine teaches at the University of New Orleans Department of Film, Theatre and Communications Arts. The film program, which includes several digital media classes, has grown over the past 10 years, he said.
The university focuses on teaching students Avid, a post-production editing system. Students have access to high-definition cameras and the latest technology, Racine said.

“The film program focuses heavily on practicability,” he added. “It has flourished with a large number of students.”

Before hurricane Katrina, around 400 students were enrolled in the program. Racine said that current numbers are now about the same.

The university searches for faculty nationwide and demands that teachers have real-world experience. Current professors have come from Hollywood and Los Angeles with backgrounds at major companies in the film hub.

Local film projects

The program also places students as interns working on local film projects to get hands-on experience.
“Our students are getting into these opportunities with the skills they learn,” he added. “The most useful skill is determination and a strong work ethic.”

Racine said that there’s not a lot of post-production work being done in the state because producers typically want to finish films near them. However, he does see this trend changing.
“There is a demand for it,” he added. “Louisiana will see more people getting employed and less coming from the outside to do the work.”