The Comcast digital media studio at the WESST Enterprise Center in Albuquerque is getting a facelift, emerging in social media and online as The Studio at WESST, which is a smart way to go, given that very few people in our city’s business community are aware of its existence. But new studio head Tom Ragan is now in place and doing his best to raise the profile of his facility, spotlighting the full-service film and television production green screen studio for members of the business community. and creativity of our state.
WESST is a local non-profit organization that has been around since 1989. Based in a sprawling business park on Broadway just north of downtown, WESST is a welcoming home for new Mexicans starting or growing a small business. According to their “Mission, Vision and Values” statement, the group provides a system of advisory, training, loan and business incubation support to help promising entrepreneurs “strengthen and successfully grow their businesses through sustainable sales, financial knowledge and employment opportunities”. creation.” They focus on women, people of color, and low-income people. And over the past 33 years, they’ve impacted dozens of businesses across the state, from photographers to manufacturers from clothing to jewelers to construction companies. But like the businesses they serve, WESST has seen a strong ripple effect from the COVID outbreak. Several years ago, for example, the WESST Enterprise Center has completed construction of its new state-of-the-art digital media studio, which came to life, in part, thanks to cable franchise fees paid to the city by Comcast.Unfortunately, just as the curtain was drawn to the studio and the film and TV industry was hitting Albuquerque in earnest, COVID shut down many businesses, new and old, including the Comcast Digital Media Studio.
WESST President Agnes Noonan said more than 30% of businesses in our state have been shut down thanks to the prolonged pandemic. Undaunted by the sobering statistic and keen to take full advantage of their new facilities to help revive local businesses, WESST has hired Tom Ragan as their new studio manager. “We didn’t really have a full-time manager before Tom,” admits Noonan.
Ragan is originally from Colorado. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver and has a background in film and television production. He has family in Las Cruces and Tularosa, however, it wasn’t that hard for WESST to bring him back out west after a few years working as an associate producer on the East Coast (for USA Today Sports, UN Women and others). “My goal here is to generate revenue, to spread the word,” says Ragan, who took over the digital studio late last year. Right now, he’s busy “updating the SEOs” and trying to build “The Studio’s” online presence (as Ragan now promotes). This is an important step, because the space is not only available for WESST customers. It is open to the public for rental. Noonan says his organization now sees The Studio as “a revenue-generating opportunity for nonprofits.”
The Studio takes care of the technical side of things: a three-wall green screen cyclorama used to insert special effects or digital backgrounds, a vast tree-shaped lighting grid with an electrical box of 100 amps, a control room with a fully computerized lighting board and eight SDI (serial digital interface) ports in the studio (perfect for hooking up high definition video cameras). If needed, these SDI ports can be connected directly to YouTube, Zoom or any other streaming service. It’s perfect for video streaming, live studios, or hybrid events. (The Studio is also equipped with a 42-seat retractable auditorium.) Over the past two years, the Studio has excelled in the area of ”business education.” Noonan explains that “blended learning before COVID was becoming a trend. We wanted to be part of it. During the COVID lockdown, The Studio has held a number of “virtual” training events.
Under Noonan’s new leadership, WESST also leveraged CARES money to produce a statewide marketing campaign using technology from The Studio. The campaign produced promotional advertisements for a number of WESST incubator client companies currently housed at the Enterprise Center. (You can visit WESST’s YouTube channel to view videos for NeoSan Systems, JBL Tech, Sonoma Acupuncture, Uncle T’s Sangwiches, Bluehorse Realty NM and more.)
However, WESST hopes The Studio can do more than just produce videos for commercial clients. The group also wants to appeal to New Mexico’s burgeoning Hollywood film community. Walt Disney Pictures, for example, rented The Studio to shoot parts of its 2020 TV movie star girl. But WESST is betting on smaller independent film productions looking for a medium-sized facility to shoot in. Ragan sees the WESST facilities as a kind of “middle ground” and “not the big studio stuff like Netflix”, which maintains a deadly grip on more than 130,000 square feet of studio space on the old lot. Albuquerque studios. At just 28′ x 18′ x 15′, WESST’s Green Screen Studio is a little more manageable.
“It’s not just a studio,” Ragan points out. “We can operate it as a full production studio. We can provide a team for small films. Since arriving on board, Ragan has assembled a group of cameramen, sound engineers, sound engineers, grip and electrical technicians, all of whom can be hired and put to work inside the studio. “When I’ve been giving tours and being able to show the space, people are, like, ‘Wow. This is good. I didn’t know this was here.'”
Ragan insists that The Studio at WESST is important “not just to WESST, but to the New Mexico film community.” With big-name companies like Netflix and NBCUniversal consuming so much of our state’s resources, Ragan thinks it’s crucial for “local independent filmmakers to create content.” Shifting from advising the business community to serving the creative community, it’s still a mission that’s perfectly aligned with WESST’s mission to help our state’s underserved entrepreneurs.
To learn more about The Studio at WESST or to schedule a visit, visit wesst.org/digital-media-studio/.