The Comcast Digital Media Studio at WESST Enterprise Center in Albuquerque is getting something of a rebranding, emerging in social media and online as The Studio at WESST—which is a smart path to take, given that very few in our city's business community are aware of its existence. But new studio manager Tom Ragan is on the job now and doing his best to raise the profile of his facility, bringing the full-service film and TV production green screen studio to light for members of our state's business and creative community.
WESST is a local, nonprofit organization that has been around since 1989. Headquartered in an roomy business park on Broadway just north of Downtown, WESST is a welcoming home to New Mexicans starting or growing a small business. According to their "Mission, Vision and Values" statement, the group provides a support system of consulting, training, lending and business incubation to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs "successfully strengthen and grow their businesses through sustainable sales, financial knowledge and job creation." Their focus is on women, people of color and low-wealth individuals. And over the last 33 years, they've impacted dozens of businesses around the state—from photographers to clothing manufacturers to jewelers to construction companies. But like the businesses they serve, WESST saw a strong ripple effect from the COVID epidemic. Several years ago, for example, the WESST Enterprise Center wrapped construction of its new, state-of-the-art Digital Media Studio—which came to life thanks, in part, to cable franchise fees paid to the city by Comcast. Unfortunately, just as the curtain was pulled back on the studio and the film and television industry was hitting Albuquerque in earnest, COVID shut down many businesses both new and old—including the Comcast Digital Media Studio.
WESST President Agnes Noonan says more than 30 percent of our state's businesses ended up shuttered thanks to the extended pandemic. Undaunted by the sobering statistic, and wanting to take full advantage of their new facilities to help jumpstart local business, WESST hired Tom Ragan as their new studio manager. "We haven't really had a full-time manager until Tom," admits Noonan.
Ragan is a native of Colorado. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver, and his background is in film and television production. He's got family in Las Cruces and Tularosa, however, so it wasn't all that hard for WESST to lure 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 get the word out," says Ragan, who took over the digital studio late last year. Right now he's busy "updating the SEOs" and trying to build the online presence of "The Studio" (as Ragan now promotes it). That's an important step, because the space isn't just available for WESST clients. It's open to the public for rental. Noonan says her organization now sees The Studio as "a revenue generation opportunity for the nonprofit."
The Studio has the technical side of things covered: a three-wall green screen cyclorama used for inserting special effects or digital backgrounds, an expansive tree-track lighting grid with a 100-amp electrical box, a control room with a full computerized lightboard and eight SDI (serial digital interface) ports in the studio (perfect for hooking up high-definition video cameras). If need be, those SDI ports can be hooked directly to YouTube, Zoom or any other streaming service. It's perfect for streaming video, live studio or hybrid events. (The Studio is also equipped with 42-seat retractable auditorium seating.) In the last year or two, The Studio has excelled in the area of "business education." Noonan explains that, "Hybrid learning before COVID was becoming a trend. We wanted to be part of that." During the COVID lockdown, The Studio hosted a number of "virtual" training events.
Under Noonan's new direction, WESST also took advantage of some CARES money to produce a statewide marketing campaign using The Studio's tech. The campaign produced promotional commercials for a number of WESST's incubator business clients currently housed at the Enterprise Center. (You can visit WESST's YouTube Channel to check out videos for NeoSan Systems, JBL Tech, Sonoma Acupuncture, Uncle T's Sangwiches, Bluehorse Realty NM and more.)
WESST is hoping that The Studio can do more than just produce videos for commercial business clients, however. The group wants to appeal to New Mexico's burgeoning Hollywood film community as well. Walt Disney Pictures, for example, rented out The Studio to shoot parts of its 2020 TV movie Stargirl. But WESST is betting on smaller, independent film productions looking for a medium-sized facility in which to shoot. Ragan sees the facilities at WESST as a sort of "middle ground" and "not the big studio stuff like Netflix," which maintains a death grip on more than 130,000 square feet of studio space out at the old Albuquerque Studios lot. At a mere 28’ x 18’ x 15’, The Studio at WESST's green screen facility is a bit more manageable.
"It's not just a studio space," points out Ragan. "We can run it as a full production studio. We can provide crew for small films." Since coming on board, Ragan has assembled a pool of camera operators, sound people, PAs, grip and electric techs—all of whom can be hired and put to work inside The Studio. "When I've given tours and I'm able to show off the space, people are, like, 'Wow. This is great. I had no idea this was here.' "
Ragan insists The Studio at WESST is important "not just for WESST, but for the film community in New Mexico." With big-name companies like Netflix and NBCUniversal eating up much of our state's resources, Ragan believes its crucial for local "independent filmmakers to create content." Segueing from advising the business community to servicing the creative community, it's still a mission in perfect harmony with WESST's mission to assist our state's underserved entrepreneurs.
To learn more about The Studio at WESST or to schedule a tour, go to wesst.org/digital-media-studio/.
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