TV studio revives Fresno Met Museum building
Apr 12, 2012 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A new public-access TV station is bringing life to the former Metropolitan Museum building in downtown Fresno, which has been closed for more than two years and has served as a glaring reminder of downtown deterioration.
Fresno's new locally produced government, education and public access channels -- scheduled to launch on Comcast and AT&T U-verse Friday -- will originate in the space that was once the home for elaborate Christmas tree displays and dinosaur exhibits. The 7,000-square-foot second floor has been converted into a studio, editing stations, control room, learning center and offices for the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC).
"We are excited about this for a couple of reasons," city spokesman Michael Lukens said. "One, we have someone in the former Met who is using the space and making productive use of the facility. Secondly, CMAC itself will provide terrific opportunities for the community to spread the word about things going on here."
The idea behind the new channels is to give a voice to those who have not had an outlet before.
"Our motto is 'empowering the voices of our community,' " says Jerry Lee, CMAC executive director. "There are thousands of nonprofits here that have never been able to tell their stories. In the past, TV has been exclusive because of the cost. Now anyone with the desire can produce programming at no cost. This is unleashing a wave of empowerment.
"We have been working on this for a long time and now it is here."
The Fresno and Clovis city councils approved a plan in 2008 for CMAC to manage three channels that would be distributed to cable and video providers. The nearly $1 million cost of the studio was paid for with money provided through the local cable providers as part of the federal Digital Infrastructure & Video Competition Act of 2006.
The city of Fresno owns the building, taking it over in late 2009 after paying off the Met's $15 million city-guaranteed bank loan when the museum went out of business. The closure came after an ambitious renovation plan that created millions of dollars in cost overruns that forced The Met to get financial help from the city.
Neither the city of Fresno nor the city of Clovis provided funding for CMAC.
Nonprofit organizations have looked at office space on the fourth and fifth floors, which would give them immediate access to the TV studios. But only the area for the access channel is currently in use.
Once full operation starts, three channels -- Comcast channels 92, 93 and 94 and AT&T U-verse's public access tier -- will show programming created by local individuals and organizations. That could be anything from a musical performance to a debate.
All it takes to contribute programming is an annual membership fee -- $25 for students, $50 for adults and $250 for nonprofits -- plus a series of training sessions presented by former California State University, Fresno, mass communications instructor Don Priest. The sessions are mandatory.
"The classes are a way we can lay out all the rules. The producing class is the most important because it deals with all the pre-production such as locations, talent and getting the proper releases," Priest says. "We already have all of the classes booked into May."
There are very few ground rules as to what can be shown on the local stations, except that nothing can be sold and money can not be solicited.
One of those already excited about being part of the new channel is Ed Mertens. The former Marine and police officer has no background in TV or film production, but he has always been fascinated by the medium. He and Kina McFadden have already started producing their own talk show -- "Me and Ed" -- that spotlights local events.
"It gives people that are associated with different community events and activities a showcase for their programs and talk about all of the good things going on in the city," Mertens says. "All the TV stations want to do is talk about crime. This will be a place for what is truly going on and not just the violence."
The biggest portion of the new facility that Mertens and others will use is the studio, which looks out over the KVPT (Channel 18.1) offices, Lee's former employer before he left to work on the CMAC. Ceiling-to-floor curtains can be pulled completely around the studio and there is a moveable wall painted neon green, which can be used to make it look like those in the studio are anywhere from a grassy hill to a high-tech news studio through computer technology.
The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) in Clovis will have a remote studio where local government programs can be produced.
There are very few limitations on what can be shown on the channels because the programming is provided by cable providers that don't fall under the broadcast standards set up by the Federal Communication Commission for networks.
The CMAC must be informed of any use of adult language or material in advance. Should someone produce mature programming, it will be scheduled to air in early morning hours.
All three channels will broadcast around the clock. About 100 hours of local programming is ready to air on the public access channel -- from works by local filmmakers to educational programming from Fresno State -- but Lee expects that total to rise quickly. Several local churches want to produce programming.
Launch of the facility was delayed for months because of construction problems. Now that the doors are opening, Lee is already looking to expand. He would like to put together a mobile unit staffed by high school and college students who could travel the area to shoot everything from play productions to sporting events.
If you go
Community Media Access Collaborative is holding a ribbon-cutting grand opening at 11 a.m. Friday. Open house tours are planned from 1-5 p.m. that day.
Where: Fresno Met building, 1555 Van Ness Ave. (just north of Stanislaus Street)
What: Community Media Access Collaborative gives the public direct access to produce cable (not over-the-air) television at almost no cost. It differs from public television -- in the Valley, that's KVPT (Channel 18.1) -- which is a nonprofit business that is part of the Public Broadcasting System over-the-air network.
How CMAC works: Production work is supposed to be done by individuals or groups, but if help is needed -- from shooting to editing -- there is a small charge. Executive Director Jerry Lee is pulling together a list of volunteers to help.
Production plans: Programming doesn't have to be shot at the facility. Any member can provide a DVD of their program for the schedule. Those who want to shoot their own material do not have to own a camera or editing equipment. Lee has a locked closet where five cameras, multiple tripods and other equipment need for a shoot is kept. These items can be checked out for 72 hours. Everyone has to fill out a form that explains what they will do with the equipment to discourage someone checking out the equipment just to shoot pictures of their children, for instance.
Programming: For now, the educational and government channels will air the local programming already being produced by Comcast. Once there is a steady flow of material, locally produced programs will air at least two times at the discretion of the CMAC staff. Only under special circumstances will a request for a specific air time be honored.
More information: To become a member and sign up for classes, go to cmacfresno.org
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.
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