By Hanna Nielson

At Community Media of the Foothills (CMF), the holiday season already is in full swing. Our tight-knit staff and volunteers have been busy fulfilling our mission “to promote artistry, freedom of speech, and civic pride through the use of community media.” As many of you may know, we have been based in Monrovia since 1984, providing production equipment, studio facilities, and free basic training for members to make original programming that can be broadcast on our public, educational, and governmental access channels. We broadcast municipal meetings and provide live event coverage for our contracted cities; and, we also provide paid production services for private clients.

We are a small nonprofit media center that relies on franchise fees, city contracts, private donations, as well as volunteers to keep our operation up and running. Currently membership is open to anyone who lives, works, or attends school in our Monrovia-Duarte service area.

Newly promoted Executive Director David Palomares has taken the lead in expanding our reach and upgrading our facility. Recognizing the need to steer CMF in a new direction to keep pace with the community’s evolving media needs, David has been working closely with board members and our partners at Beacon Media News to raise awareness of our legacy and accomplishments.

With that in mind, we at CMF would like to share some highlights from October and November.

It has been a busy eight weeks and our team tackled a total of eight location shoots, three co-productions, and several studio bookings by active CMF producers creating their own original shows. The range of live-events we covered ran the gamut from Old Town Monrovia’s Halloween Parade, Veteran’s Day Ceremony, Foothill Unity’s Golden Plate Awards, parades and events in Baldwin Park, as well as finishing up a commissioned video project for the Monrovia Police Department. In addition we provided live coverage for 14 municipal meetings, including Monrovia City Council, the Monrovia Unified School District, and the Chamber of Commerce.

It was an all-hands-on-deck kind of month but I was able to sit down with a few staff, volunteers, and producers to get their views on the new developments at CMF.

When I asked David how he felt about what he’s been able to accomplish during his seven-month tenure, he said: “One of the things I like is the variety of things we’re accomplishing: the Route 66 parade, Beer and Wine Festival, Golden Plate Awards, and the Baldwin Park Boxing Champion interview. It’s given us more of an opportunity to showcase what we do, which is pretty much anything. We’re definitely in a re-building stage, stepping it up as far as the quality of the videos. But it’s not just the quality. How we tell the story matters. […] There are so many companies out there that can create professional video but having an edge on storytelling helps us create memorable and meaningful content.”

Our newly promoted operations manager, Chris Luiten, has blossomed as David’s right hand man in charge of studio operations, video shoots, and post-production. Back in 2017, Chris started at CMF as a volunteer and quickly rose through the ranks in part because of his keen technical skills and unflappable demeanor.

When I asked him what he would like to see happen at CMF in the future, he suggested: “More staff to help with projects, since we’re busier. Also that would help with being able to delegate [tasks]. I’d like it if we had more updated workstations. That would help us be more productive. Also new equipment for public use. People need to learn on the latest equipment and use the latest software.”

But it isn’t just staff members who have been stepping up their productivity. Long time CMF volunteer and producer Dirk Beecham has been busy creating comedy shows, mentoring newly joined producers, filming a skit for CMF’s upcoming holiday special, as well as editing projects for his long-time collaborator and CMF producer, Adam Papagan.

When I asked what his life would be like without CMF, he replied: “This place really has brought a lot of joy to my life. I can immerse myself in it and it’s something I want to do the rest of my life. My day job pays the bills but this is my love, my passion. I don’t know where I’d be without CMF. I think I’d be less happy and more searching for something to fill that emptiness.”

Our newest producer, Connie Mustang, joined just over a month ago. Starting as a volunteer on other producers, she quickly gained the confidence to produce not just one but three original new shows. While CMF provides members with basic training and access to the studio, producers are encouraged to find their own crew and talent for their productions. Connie has been a stellar example of a “showrunner,” from fearlessly networking with animators and songwriters for her upcoming children’s show to designing her own sets and booking interviews for her short films showcase, “A Shot in the Shorts.” Keep an eye out for her upcoming series, “Hello, Neighbor!” featuring interviews with local residents and organizations helping make the San Gabriel Valley a unique and inclusive place to live.

I asked Connie how she would be able to accomplish her projects if CMF did not exist. She got a little emotional as she said, “Without CMF, I would not be able to be here and ready to go on my own. I’m blessed to have help. Had I not had these folks [at CMF], I would not be able to do it myself. These guys have helped my passion become a reality.” She added: “CMF is a community you can be part of. Here, you can let your imagination fly.”

And finally I caught up with everyone’s favorite volunteer, Brian Gi. He has been a CMF volunteer/producer for just over a year. From getting his feet wet as a cameraman on live events to learning the basics of editing, he is now a master of multiple skills. Currently, he is producing his own show, “Ugly Pix,” featuring interviews with professional photographers. He books his own guests, designs his sets, rigs the lighting, conducts on-screen interviews, and handles all the post-production.

When I asked how he has been able to apply the skills learned at CMF in the real world, he explained, “I can get paid now and apply the skills I learned here to freelance jobs. Coming here has been an easy, low cost way to develop professional skills. So far this summer, I have done three freelance gigs and set up my own professional website.”

Brian looked a little dismayed when I asked how he would be able to accomplish his media goals without CMF. He answered: “I would be in major debt, stressed out, and probably would quit. I don’t have the equipment or the space at home to do what I need to do. YouTube videos might give me some tips but it wouldn’t give me hands-on experience, or the experience with real life problem solving.”

I asked him how he has benefited from learning at a community media center versus just watching YouTube tutorials. According to Brian: “In community learning, it’s easier to coordinate with others and discuss things as opposed to, like, a virtual lesson. It’s easier to stay motivated by having some place to come to and bounce off ideas face-to-face. Also there’s an accountability in completing your projects. I now have a better understanding of things like how Netflix shows are made and what’s involved in bringing it all together.”

He added: “Thanks to CMF, I would definitely be able to work at a professional studio and be ahead of the curve. It’s been a huge help coming here because I get professional feedback and I get to help others.”

As the holidays roll on, CMF will continue to keep up the good work of covering important community events, mentoring our volunteers and providing a home for the diversity of voices to be found among our neighbors.

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