Film School Debuts in Ventura


With sprawling sound stages, elaborate movie sets and a hands-on curriculum, the Brooks Institute of Photography officially opened its new film school in Ventura on Thursday, attracting more than 300 officials and industry professionals to its west side campus.

The 70,000-square-foot facility, which will serve 200 students from all over the world, offers everything from screenwriting to movie production to digital animation, school officials said.

“The philosophy here is can-do,” said Glynn Beard, the school’s program director for film and video production. “You roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, and then you do it all over again. We take students through every aspect of filmmaking.”


Local officials and artists say the school--10 times larger than the Brooks Institute’s old film school in Santa Barbara--may not generate huge economic dividends for Ventura, but it will help revitalize Ventura Avenue.

At the same time, they say, it will garner national prestige and artistic recognition for the city.

“I think it is very catalytic,” Ventura Mayor Ray Di Guilio said. “Schools themselves don’t generate a lot of money, but they create an environment of economic stimulation. We heard loud and clear today that they want to weave this school into our community. I am very excited about the possibilities over the next five years or so.”

Donna Granata, who runs an art education program called Focus on the Masters, is a graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography.

“We will have people imported into our community, businesses will have to serve the student population,” she said. “It will revitalize the area and make our community more visually recognizable--especially when you have a bunch of film students photographing a community.”

School President John Calman said the new facility dwarfs the school’s former, 7,000-square-foot film studios. He hopes to expand Brooks’ film student population to at least 500.


“Brooks is redefining its mission,” he told the crowd gathered inside a cavernous sound stage. “It has always been known as a photography institute, but the film school has been its best-kept secret.”

The new campus occupies the former Santa Ventura Studios, near oil fields and vacant lots along an industrial patch of North Ventura Avenue.

In 1875, the site was home to Canada Larga school, which later became Mill School. Santa Ventura Studios opened in 1997 and shot television shows, including “Mike Hammer” and the short-lived “Air America.” Parts of “Erin Brockovich” were also filmed at the studios.

Those sets remain, along with a 28,000-square-foot sound stage, billed as one of the largest in Southern California. The previous owners also left behind a bonanza of equipment--thousands of cameras, lights, cables, cords, props and outlets.

One room is stacked to the ceiling with odds and ends from various movies and television shows. There are barstools, Mayan head carvings, African walking sticks, plastic flowers and an old crate of liquor bottles.

In another room are boxes of small video cameras, old-style hand-cranked cameras and 16-millimeter cameras.


“We quadrupled our holdings, and now we can offer opportunities for students that are rare for any film school,” said David Litschel, academic dean of the institute.

He said there are bigger and better-known film schools, such as USC’s, but all students at Brooks get to make a movie and all begin using equipment the first year of their three-year course of study. Tuition is $17,000 a year.

Students come from as far as Indonesia, Japan and Korea. Only a few hail from Ventura County, Litschel said, in part because the school has not yet been marketed locally.

At Thursday’s grand opening, Jeff Perry, an actor and co-founder of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company, pronounced the facilities “the best studios outside of Hollywood.”

“Brooks is taking a bold and visionary step,” Perry said. “It is making a commitment it can back up with the facilities to join the ranks of top film schools here and around the world.”

Students also praised the curriculum.

“Most film schools keep you off the equipment until your junior year, but this place gets you going right away,” said 23-year-old Seamus Phillips of Northampton, Mass., sitting in an editing room finishing up a documentary project.


There are no student dormitories, but the school works with local real estate agents to help students find housing.

The Brooks Institute is well known for its school of photography, which has four campuses in Santa Barbara and Montecito. It opened the film school on State Street in Santa Barbara in the 1950s.

Alumni of the institute include Robert Legato, whose special-effects team won an Oscar for its work on “Titanic.”

He was also visual-effects supervisor for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

The campus is a collection of low-slung, cream-colored buildings with red tiled roofs. There are classrooms, recording studios, animation facilities and a swimming pool.

Although the grand opening was Thursday, students have been attending classes for two weeks.

During the opening ceremonies, Calman stressed how much he wants the school to become part of life in Ventura County. He urged residents to drop by and see what the film institute is all about.


Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett said Calman was likely to get his wish.

“You will find that the citizens here will bend over backward to welcome you and to welcome you to become part of the community,” Bennett said.