Bridging the Gap to Opportunity: A Conversation with 3 First-Time NAB Show Attendees

Imagine this: you’re in your early twenties, at the start of your career in post production. You come from a working class family with no connections in the media industry, and you’ve had many challenges to overcome along the way. You’ve been working hard to maintain momentum by keeping your bosses happy at your day job — a day job that doesn’t pay you quite what it should — while taking on side projects and extracurriculars at night. You do all the right things, including networking and getting involved in your community.

One day you get a notification: a technical paper you wrote as one of those late night extracurriculars has been accepted at an enormous industry conference! You’re invited to present it to your peers at the conference. Well, not really your peers so much as the kind of established industry professionals who have been interviewing and hiring you at this early stage. But at this conference, they’d be your peers. This opportunity would open many doors and grant you incalculable credibility. It’s career-changing.

But wait, back to reality. The conference is on the opposite side of the country. You don’t get paid time off, and you’re in the middle of crunch time anyway. You work paycheck-to-paycheck, paying insanely high rent and endless student loans. You don’t have family to ask for a loan, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. You have to turn down the opportunity.

A situation not so different from this is what led Blue Collar Post Collective co-founder Katie Hinsen to spearhead the creation of the Professional Development Accessibility Program, or PDAP. The program is aimed at helping emerging talent in the film and television post production industry further develop their skills by providing financial assistance to attend valuable industry conferences, trade shows and development opportunities. The Professional Development Accessibility Program helps to create a bridge between the industry and the diverse membership of the Blue Collar Post Collective, breaking down the financial barriers to prevent people from taking their careers to the next level. Bringing new faces to major events helps remind the wider industry that all professionals, including low income earners, have voices that are of equal value and importance to the post community.

PDAP was originally announced by Hinsen while she attended NAB in 2016, and the first three NAB recipients attended in 2017: Nolan Jennings, Tara Pennington, and Eugene Vernikov. They were selected by a committee who sorted through the applications for BCPC and received airfare, hotel and passes to NAB, including additional passes donated by the National Association of Broadcasters and Future Media Concepts.

PDAP recipients (L-R) Eugene Vernikov, Nolan Jennings, and Tara Pennington at the BCPC meet-up.

Nolan Jennings is an Assistant Editor working in dramatic television in Los Angeles. He wants to continue to work toward editing drama. He came into post production through serving as an executive assistant on a game show and realized he wanted to have a more creative role. While writing didn’t work out the way he would have wanted, his role on the game show involved running notes from the producers to editors. This exposed him to a combination of writing and creativity that could become a career. During the day when the editing bays were empty, he spent all his down time learning Avid through recutting old episodes. From there, he was able to find a post PA position and continue moving forward. Interestingly, Nolan was homeschooled as a child, which led to an ability to learn independently more efficiently — well suited for post production.

Tara Pennington is an Editor at Studio71 where she works on many different projects simultaneously, including marketing promotions, a digital series or a trailer. She knew she wanted to be an editor and managed to get a start while she was still living in Orlando. She moved to Los Angeles seven years ago and found her way into being an Assistant Editor for a company producing sports programming. Her dream is to continue to work toward editing features and scripted television. In addition to film school, Tara also attended School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She’s also a single mom raising a five year old boy.

Eugene Vernivok is a New York based Flame Assistant at Black Hole VFX. He’d like to continue his path into Flame and also branch out into directing. Unlike many people in the VFX industry who focus on one aspect of their craft, Eugene is well-versed in lighting, camera, and compositing.

I talked to the three recipients about their first-time experience at NAB and how PDAP granted them an opportunity they never would have gotten otherwise.

Kylee: How did you find out about the Professional Development Accessibility Fund and opportunities BCPC was offering through it?

Nolan: I found out about BCPC through a co-worker, and through going to meet-ups and events, learned about PDAP. I did not hesitate to apply, I’d always wanted to go to NAB, and jumped at the chance.

Tara: I found out through Blue Collar Post Collective on Facebook. I was excited to apply! I wasn’t sure if my income would meet the requirements, but I knew I couldn’t afford to go on my own so I decided to go for it! I really wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to propel my career forward.

Eugene: I’ve been with BCPC since the beginning! I was super happy to see it develop enough to be able to have a program such as PDAP launch! The only thing that made me even slightly hesitant to apply was just the minuscule chance that I would be chosen. But it ended up happening and I’m eternally thankful for that!

A panel with the editorial team from Logan led by moderator Norman Hollyn.

What was your first impression of NAB when you arrived in Vegas?

Nolan: I thought the juxtaposition of tech nerds and gawking, half drunk Vegas gamblers was quite entertaining. Mind you, this was only in the hotel. Once I actually got to the convention center I was blown away by the scale of the place, the talent concentrated there, and how puny I felt in front of giant screens projecting the highest quality content on earth. I wish I was being hyperbolic, but NAB really is that impressive.

Tara: It was so huge! It was the day before the show floor opened, so it was frenetic but still contained. My first thought was that I wished I could be there for the whole week so I could experience everything.

Eugene: “This is Massive! That was the first thought. But I remember thinking I really like that it’s so big you can be there for the full three days and not get bored! Great experience! You can learn from the sessions. See the talented industry giants talk about their work and how they went about using technology and techniques to get the project done right. Its immersive and super eye opening.

PDAPers attended Blackmagic Design’s Monday morning press conference.

What made the NAB experience valuable to you personally?

Nolan: NAB made me realize that there are thousands of people with very similar interests to mine and there are thousands of people who are much more talented, more intelligent, and more passionate than me out there. It was incredibly humbling in the best way possible. It was not intimidating because all of those people were incredibly open and willing to talk to me, as if they’d known me for years. It was absolutely inspiring, like drinking one massive coffee that will sustain your professional curiosities for an entire year. Until the next NAB comes.

Tara: It was valuable for so many reasons. Some of it was the classes, the panels, but a lot of it was being able to meet people, talk with people. It was great to have Nolan and Eugene there, it made it easier to plan my day knowing we could do some things together or meet up for lunch. BCPC and Twitter were invaluable tools to know where to find people to talk to, and to be in on conversations happening around the conference on various subjects. I made some lasting connections and friendships that I know will follow me through my career. I was able to shake hands with people who have mentored me without knowing it through online tutorials and blogs.

Eugene: It helped me understand the technology that will be prevalent in the industry for tomorrow and the days beyond. It was a great help in meeting key industry people. It also allows you to share and discuss what we see with fellow BCPC members on the trip.

Tara and Nolan looking at the Post Production World grid.

What classes in Post Production World did you attend that will have an impact on your career?

Nolan: I spent a lot of time in the Motion Graphics and HTML animations classes because I felt those could augment my existing skill sets. Which was a great idea. I came away with so many ideas on how to change my current workflows or how to implement new tools. I would recommend reaching outside your comfort zone and knowledge base, but only to the extent that it will have a tangible effect on your current skill set. There’s no point in spending tons of time in the VR/AR classes if you’re not going to be able to implement any of those lessons in a real world setting.

Tara: The Documentary Editing course for sure, as well as the panels giving a glimpse behind the scenes of the creation or post process.

Eugene: I attended them for After Effects. It was really great to see how some of the most successful commercial productions were able to masterfully embellish their spots with graphics. That was really great to see. I also attended the Autodesk Master Classes that were somewhat separate from the main show. Those were great. We learned about brand new SMPTE standards for HDR workflows, prototypical architecture being built into the Flame and 360 environment workflows. Really Impressive stuff.

Getting some knowledge with Jason Levine today! #TeamAdobe #NABShow #bcpcnab

— Tara Pennington (@tarapenn83) April 25, 2017

Twitter was a vital tool at NAB!

What other kinds of valuable experiences did NAB have to offer, between classes and the show floor?

Nolan: I loved the Jungle Book presentation, hosted by Rob Legato. The way that movie was shot was incredible, and points to some fascinating implications for the future of movie production. I did not spend as much time on the show floor as the other PDAP recipients did. However, I did love the Adobe products and Blackmagic Resolve presentations.

Tara: The panel on Inclusiveness and Diversity was amazing, with wonderful powerful women who are part of shifting our industry into a hopeful new direction, advocating powerfully for change. Meeting the post team for Logan was pretty amazing as well. I love it when the layers of mystery are taken away and the process is revealed. It really makes me feel energized knowing that I could do what they do with just a bit more knowledge and experience of a particular workflow. It humanizes the process.

Tara hanging out with editors Monica Daniel and Adam Bedford at Adobe’s party.

Eugene: Anything with Virtual Environment was my favorite. They’ve figured out a way to use Real-Time Rendering as a tool for interaction with the virtual environment. That, along with some new news coming from the people at Lytro Camera, was most exciting. Lytro has made a camera that records light fields instead of light particles. It is essentially a camera that collects enough data that, when manipulated via software, the footage can be altered to have different focus lengths, different shaped bokeh, not to mention a way to make an alpha out of 2D footage which eliminates the need for green screen keying. They cleverly named it Depth Screen.

Tara: And I loved the show floor. It was a crazy, confusing mess sometimes, but it was really great to see future tech revealed and knowing what’s next for our industry. It was valuable to remind myself to stay on top of each of the new things. Any edge possible, knowing new technology or software, is something that will help me move my career forward. I also was able to meet some of the reps and people behind software or plugins that I use all of the time, and see some live demos too!

Eugene: The show floor is huge! You get to see the technology that you’ve both heard about and also never heard about demonstrated for you. Not to mention product releases, new product applications and you get to meet the professionals that help design, manufacture, and distribute these products. You also get to chat with them about the issues of the industry and that provides very helpful insights into where the industry might be in the future.

The show floor also grants the opportunity to see BCPC members up close while they demo their work, like Mae Manning showing her stuff at BorisFX.

You mentioned the social aspect of NAB, of meeting people and building relationships. Did you attend any events that were strictly social?

Nolan: Yes, I had a lot of fun at the Adobe Party, where I and the other PDAP recipients had the chance to meet the editing team from Logan, which was a real treat.

Tara: I went to our BCPC meet up of course, then the Adobe Party the next night which was my favorite. Also attended the Supermeet! It was great to relax after a full day, and even see panelists/presenters and get to talk with them in a more relaxed setting.

Eugene: I attended the Supermeet, The Adobe party and the BCPC meetup. The Adobe party and BCPC meet-up were casual social events that allowed the social wiggle room to be able to talk to influential industry pros.

Tara hanging out at O’Shea’s in Vegas during NAB.

What tangible things did you get out of NAB that you wouldn’t have if you never attended?

Nolan: I would point to the lessons I learned in Post Production World. I applied those mograph and animation lessons the day I got back to Los Angeles and my work improved immediately.

Tara: I think it gave me confidence and perspective. Also knowledge. I learned so much! Oh, and a lot of new contacts that I know will help me, whether with knowledge or a job, or just someone to talk shop with and run ideas by.

Eugene: As a Flame assistant it allowed me to discuss the future of hardware and how companies are trying to make their products more professional and pro-friendly. This will shape how I use Flame in the future. It helps me decide whether to stay on the path I’m at or whether another choice is better based on the future of the software or hardware. Still going down the Flame path for now.

Eugene relaxing between networking opportunities at Senor Frogs.

Why is it important for conferences like NAB to be accessible to all kinds of people?

Nolan: These experiences, if properly taken advantage of, can skyrocket an individual’s knowledge base and awareness of the industry in which they’re working. It’s important that people who can stand to benefit the most from that sort of leg up can actually attend.

Tara: NAB is a melting pot of knowledge and experience. Money shouldn’t have to separate the ability of some over others to attain that advantage.

Eugene: That way, everyone has a chance to progress and align their goals. The things you learn at  NAB are eye opening. So especially if you’re not sure where you wanna be you might see a new technology being presented, or an amazing filmmaker give an inspiring presentation on how they achieved their film, or an industry pro talk about the state of the industry and that can easily be transformative and inspiring for young professionals in the industry and make choices based on the information they can get at NAB. It’s an inspiring place in general.

What would you tell someone who is considering applying for a PDAP opportunity in the future, especially if they’re hesitant to apply?

Nolan: I would remind them that the only way to grow is by pushing yourself into unknown territories, and also that you have friends and mentors in your life, you just haven’t met them yet.

Tara: I would say go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Eugene: The application takes literally a minute and if you’ve made your rounds at the BCPC meet ups and people know you’re genuinely interested in the industry then its totally worth it for a fun. informational opportunity to represent this amazing organization. Not to mention help your fellow BCPC peeps gain some knowledge as well. The giving back is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve experienced at BCPC.

The first Red Epic Camera back from Space! @GoingPostalShow #NASA #NABShow

— Monica Daniel (@Monica_Edits) April 26, 2017

Community mentors like editor Monica Daniel helped give NAB some perspective through posting on social media and helping out PDAP recipients on the ground.

What’s the next step for you?

Nolan: I plan to start cutting independent projects in my spare time, and begin to build a resume and a reel that will allow me to go after editing jobs on the sort of shows I’m working on now.

Tara: I look forward to applying my experience to the job I have now, and I will continue to build on that base in order to achieve my goals. I look forward to meeting with the people I got to know while I was there, and I hope to be an advocate for diversity and change for the better in the world of post production.

Dody Dorn speaking at the Supermeet.

Eugene: Funny enough I had a phone interview on my way to Vegas and when I came back I had an offer to be a flame assistant for a company that was better suited to me and I work there now! With Felix, a fellow BCPC Member! I would really like to take the time and master Flame. And If I can work on weekends and shoot some films with close friends of mine.

Did you have any unique experiences in Vegas that you wouldn’t find elsewhere?

Nolan: NAB itself is one big unique experience. I have not seen that sort of environment replicated anywhere else. Also slot machines in the airport terminal. Had not seen that before.

Tara: I definitely don’t think I could attend a class on VR, attend a press conference for Blackmagic Design, and go to a party where I could mingle and talk with company executives and the editing team of Logan. Oh, and I also was able to attend a live interview at the Supermeet with Dody Dorn, one of my editing heroes!

Eugene: Just the amount of people you can meet and the caliber of professionals is unique to NAB. I’ve never seen so many important people in one place. And you’ll be able to find someone somewhere there!

The BCPC crowd at NAB.