Past, Present and Future: a look at RVC’s Mass Communication

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Writer, director, editor, cinematographer, producer, sound engineer, production assistant – these are just a few of the titles one can prepare for in the Mass Communication program at Rock Valley College. Regardless of age, gender or experience, everyone is welcome with open arms by the staff and students. Whether you’re looking to edit your own home movies or produce feature films in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York City, Mass Com is a great place to start.

Alumni of the program have gone on to jobs in the industry in Chicago and Los Angeles as well as transferred to four year universities like Columbia and the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Others have started not-for-profits to help out directors with trailers for their films and produced documentaries on the Chicago Cubs historic season.

In the basic audio and video classes students learn how to shoot and edit audio and video, how to operate equipment and produce a live newscast. Classes range from the basic program to Advanced Post-Production, Documentary Production and Motion Picture Production where students shoot two short films, one as a class and one in a small group.

Currently, the Mass Com program offers a 31-credit hour Certificate in Media Production. This stand alone set of courses may be taken without pursuing a full degree in the interest of focusing solely on media production skill building and a quick move to the job market. Many of the Mass Com students however work on this certificate concurrently with their work towards completing a full A.A. Degree. Completing the certificate courses as well as the degree is a huge benefit when they prepare to transfer to a 4-year media production program.

Graduates of the certificate program are prepared to produce a wide range of media projects including multi-format television programs, commercials, public service announcements, short films, and high-quality audio products. Classes include: Introduction to Mass Communication, Writing for Multimedia, Audio/Video Production, Advanced Audio/Video Production, Film History and Appreciation, International History of Film, Advanced Post Production, Documentary Production, Motion Picture (MoPic) Production and an internship.

Michael Gallup in the Mass Com studio

“A friend of mine was working a bunch of events for famous people doing lighting and I was like, ‘hey, I kind of want to do that’ and he recommended I go to school because he hadn’t and if I did I would make more money. Well he makes a boatload of money so I looked up anything related to that at Rock Valley and I found the Mass Com program,” said Michael Gallup, who is currently taking the Documentary and Advanced Post Production courses.

After taking several of the Mass Com courses, Gallup has moved away from lighting and found that he would like to do more of the production side, possibly even post-production. “I did plan on going for the certificate but I just kind of want to get on and get my bachelors so I’m just going to bypass that and go straight to Columbia in the spring.”

Gallup is also taking a general education course, but prefers the Mass Com classes. “It’s not like, ‘here’s an assignment, here’s an assignment…’ we meet up (for Documentary class) and find out (sic) ‘are you guys doing alright? Do you need suggestions? Alright. Go out and film…’ The [gen ed] class isn’t bad but it is if you’re not interested in it. It sucks because I want to go do stuff not sit and be told stuff,” Gallup said.

Originally, Gallup was going to do his documentary on his hate of baby boomers but being an avid sports fan, the timing lined up with the Chicago Cubs playoff run. “Holy crap, the Cubs could win this year, it would be cool if I could document this well,” Gallup said.

Andrea Palmer and Josh Greve worked as student workers in their time with the department and both have gone on to transfer to universities. The USC School of Cinematic Arts is the best film school in the nation, and probably the world. “I was told it was too hard for me to get accepted to this particular major, and I had a point to prove,” says Palmer. “The transfer acceptance rate for production was less than two percent for fall of 2016, and we were told that it’s easier to get into Harvard Law than SCA’s production program.”

Andrea Palmer during her time as a student worker in the Mass Com department

“I got involved in Mass Com during my last semester of my associates degree. I had an opening in my schedule and a friend recommended I take the basic production courses. Mass Com is like a loving, dysfunctional family, and it really helped give me a sense of belonging that I had not felt before in my time at RVC,” said Palmer.

Palmer loved the production courses because of the freedom given to her by Professor Jerry LaBuy. “Jerry and Kevin (Cagnoletti) will always be my favorite duo #RIPKEVINCAGNOLETTI,” said Palmer.

Josh Greve transferred to Columbia College Chicago to focus on photography after his time with Mass Com. “I first joined the Mass Com program because I was interested in the basic audio production class because I was really into music production. At the time, I had no idea what kind of career field I wanted to get into. I enjoyed the people the most. I made so many lifelong friends during my year and a half in Mass Com. Being a student worker in the Mass Com department and helping dozens of students out also helped me overcome social anxiety issues that I had been struggling with before Mass Com,” Greve said.

Josh Greve; picture taken by Jasmine Rose

Greve hopes to attain a Bachelor’s Degree in Photography with a focus in Fine Art Photography at Columbia. His favorite class at RVC was the Advanced Video, “due to the wide variety of projects that we were able to work on coupled with the great group of friends I got to work with.”

“The Mass Com department at Rock Valley College is the best part of RVC, no questions asked. I loved my time at RVC, but the look, feel, and companionship in the Mass Com department is something you won’t see in any other part of the campus,” Greve said.

Alumnus Myke Wilson has moved to Los Angeles since his time in the department. Wilson graduated with a degree in Media Studies with a certificate in digital production after spending a few semesters at RVC and then transferring to NIU, a decision he later regretted because “RVC has a far better Mass Com program than NIU.”

Myke Wilson

“I always wanted to work in film. Originally I wanted to be an actor but then discovered I enjoyed being behind the camera more,” said Wilson. While in college Wilson worked PA gigs on films in Chicago that he found through friends.

“It really is all about who you know. About three days into living in LA a supervisor of mine from Batman vs. Superman called me and asked if I’d be interested in a one-day PA gig at a production office for a reality television show called ‘Home Free” on FOX. I did the PA gig which was essentially packing up their office supplies and paperwork into boxes and preparing it to ship to Atlanta… Another one of my tasks was to take a few tables and chairs to their post-production office… There I met a post production supervisor and just out of the blue asked for a job and I was hired on the spot. No resume exchange. No interview. I’ve been with this company ever since. I started as a Post PA and got promoted to an Executive Assistant to an Executive Assistant to my company’s two CEO’s.”

“My number one tidbit of advice for Mass Com students is if you’re going to move to LA, YOU NEED TO HAVE A CAR. I’ll say it again… YOU. NEED. TO. HAVE. A. CAR!,” Wilson said.

Robert J. Williams originally wanted to follow his father’s footsteps and become a power plant diesel mechanic. He spent a lot of time in high school building cars, motorcycles, and working on lawnmower engines but the school he chose for diesel mechanics ended up being way too expensive. Because of this he stayed in the Rockford area, joined a few terrible punk bands, and enrolled at RVC.

“My goal at the school was to get all my gen ed credits out of the way, but I also started to think about recording records for bands. I saw that RVC had a basic audio program with Pro Tools. Funny enough, to enroll in the audio program I also had to enroll into the video/film program and I hated that but I’m super glad they forced me into it,” Williams said.

Robert J. Williams with Bill Kurtis from Anchorman and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me

“I earned my Associates of Arts degree and the Mass Communication Certificate. I’m currently a senior producer working in Chicago for the diginet Decades TV Network, hosted by Bill Kurtis. It’s a broadcasting partnership between Weigel Broadcasting and CBS Television Stations.

“I serve as the day-to-day point person for the brand, manage the team of writers and producers, create compelling on-air promotion, produce digital ads for increased web traffic, and direct live studio shoots,” said Williams. “You can’t find a better cost/education ratio for filmmaking, sound, and broadcast [than the RVC Mass Com Department]. Go for it. There’s really nothing to lose. If you seek employment in a creative medium you’ve got to put in your time. Don’t get beatdown if that first resume submission doesn’t workout. Your time will come. Just keep practicing your craft and keep updating your reel. There was a time when I was sending out fifty to sixty resumes a month.”

The Mass Com department’s vibes are exceptionally similar to the environments Williams has worked professionally. “Every creative department I’ve worked in has a very similar vibe to what I found at Mass Com. Once I realized this, I was less nervous about interviews. If you carry an interesting conversation about a film you saw last weekend and get your work done before a deadline… you’ve got a job”.

Williams has started a not-for-profit to help filmmakers in which creatives will donate a fully produced trailer for free. For more information on this initiative you can visit: http://indiebooster.wixsite.com/indiebooster

Jerry LaBuy

Jerry LaBuy, department head of the Mass Communication program (and adviser to The Valley Forge) also heads the Mosaic World Film Festival. The MWFF is held once a year at the Nordlof Center in Rockford, IL during the last weekend in August. The festival screens a variety of films including documentaries, experimental, narrative, music videos, and many more. There are also opportunities at the fest for Mass Com students.

“The fest attracts films from around the world, but we also hold a special screening on the Saturday night of the fest for local filmmakers. Many of those films are from our Mass Com students and alums, which I love. It’s a great chance for some of the newer filmmakers to see their work in a large theater with a crowd. Others will volunteer to usher or help in the box office and see what goes into running a fest. It’s all a great learning experience for them and it’s local.”

The Mass Communication department is where friends are made and opportunities set you up for life. At the end of the semester, every basic student gets to participate in the string ceremony. It symbolizes the connection and bond made during their time in the department that will last a lifetime.

Michael Gallup adds, “I feel like Mass Com is going to be the biggest part of Rock Valley, or at least it should be because everybody I know loves Mass Com. I feel like we should be growing more than other departments (at the college) because we’re getting people better jobs and better opportunities than any of the other departments.”

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