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Gavin's Underground

SpyHop Productions

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-02-06 -

For a lot of local youths looking to get into media and entertainment, there aren't a lot of options around outside playing in garage bands and making home movies. But for a good decade SpyHop Productions has been looking to change all that.

Providing the tools and teachers in areas of film, music, television and more while making their own impact on the local entertainment scene as a whole. I got a chance to chat with a number of the staff about the company, programs they have, thoughts on local entertainment and more. Along with some photos of the place which included KISS Pinball!

SpyHop Productions
best_staff_photo_ever.jpg
http://www.spyhop.org/

(Answering questions: John Boyack, Rick Wray, Jeremy Chatelain, Frank Feldman, Kofi Sessi, Chris Manfre)

Gavin: Hey guys. First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

John: I've been in Marketing & Events for Spy Hop since July of last year, and with the organization over a year.  I'm originally from Seattle but have lived off and on in Salt Lake since 2001.  I love hydroplane racing and bird watching.

Gavin: For those who don't know, what is Spy Hop Productions?

John: Spy Hop Productions is a not-for-profit youth media arts and education center whose purpose is to empower youth to express their voice and with it create positive change in their lives, their community, and the world.  Our mission is to encourage free expression, self-discovery, critical and inventive thinking, and skilled participation via the big screen, the airwaves, and the world-wide-web.  Spy Hop is committed to the following organizational objectives: Providing safe after-school and summer time mentoring programs for diverse youth (K-12) in emerging digital technologies and the media arts Developing 21st century skills in youth: community and global awareness, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and media literacy
Promoting positive youth development through individuality, leadership, creativity and intellectual curiosity Increasing higher education and/or vocational opportunities

Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up this kind of project?

Rick:
Ive been teaching for 18 years and searching for creative and alternative ways to teach. I hooked up with a film maker in 1997 and had some early initial success with kids who weren't responding to traditional textbook teaching. And based off that class we continued to build the ciriculum.


Gavin:
The program is a totally educational non-profit. How does the program itself stay funded and remain open? Is there anything people can do to help? 

John: Funding comes from a variety of sources.  It's interesting, these days a lot of non-profits are struggling to keep their doors open, but Spy Hop has been able to push forward with different kinds of revenue streams including tuition, foundation / corporation grants, government support, individual donors and through for-hire projects our Alumni Media Studio can handle.  Individuals can support by volunteering at our special events throughout the year (concerts, screenings, annual benefit), or by making a donation online at our website.  Our single fund raising event will be held this April 30th, from 6:30 - 9:30 PM at Rose Wagner, and usually helps us generate around $90,000 for Spy Hop's programs.  For more information, contact John Boyack.

Gavin: With all the stuff that's produced from Spy Hop, is there any work we would recognize over the years that came from you?

John: Huge question -- probably the most notable being the Peabody Award or the opportunity to present at the United Nations.  Please refer to the website for a full listing.


Gavin: When it finally opened up what was the public reaction to it, and what was that first year like?

Rick:
It takes a lot of time to get off the ground, but it was very well received. I think initially people stumbled upon the name, but we wanted to create a name kids could attached themselves to. We've had great success with the kids who have come out of the program.


Gavin:
You hire a number of professionals to help guide the program. Who are some of the staff you have on board? And do any former students come through to teach or volunteer?

John: Jeremy Chatelain, Koffi Sessi, Jeremy Nielsen, Jarrett Reich, Chris Manfre, Frank Feldman.  Colby Bryson is a former student now managing our Alumni Media Studio full time.  Spy Hop enjoys a heavy interest.  The general public, former filmmakers, recent college graduates, even retired professionals contact us for employment almost daily.  The individual mentors on staff have an undying commitment to youth media arts and education, and are professionals at their craft.

Gavin: How did you come to start Pitch-Nic, and how has that one done as well?

Rick:
That was born out of a staff collaboration, Chris started the film program here and he designed the dream course he was never able to take in college. We were looking for different way for kids to articulate their ideas. It was a quirky way to get kids to find a way to pitch their ideas.

Gavin: On a music front, you've got a lot of programs that run the gambit from DJ work creating full albums. Is it easier or more difficult working with an all-audio medium?

John: Similar challenges are faced approaching most types of media art, so hire the appropriate staff to head those programs is essential.  It seems like we have more audio production and music performance experience in the office than any other -- Jeremy Nielsen, Matt Matues, and Jeremy Chatelain are all seasoned musicians and performers, and Koffi Sessi has an extensive track record producing sound (he also specializes in hand drums!).  We hope we can face most of the challenges with new programs head on with our experience, and find the right kids to fill our classes and pass the torch to.

Gavin: With all the material that becomes produced but never pressed, has there ever been a thought to release a compilation on Spy Hop Records?

John: We actually produce and create compilations annually, in each discipline.  They're currently for sale and available on our website, but we haven't yet pushed hard to sell those.  We're looking to create more opportunities for distribution in the future, and to ramp up our online store and merchandise presence at events this year.  Stay tuned!

Gavin: You also have programs in interactive media. Is there a lot of interest in those areas, or a lack from new generations learning it from home?

Chris:
Sometimes it can be tough to get kids away from their computers at home when they have design and animation software. But I think a lot of kids get inspired by working with their peers and learning in a more creative atmosphere. Also in the interactive media program, kids have the opportunity to collaborate with the audio and video students which can be great if you create a Flash animation and have access to a sound studio and someone to create custom music and sound design. We have had a lot of interest in this program lately and we are constantly trying new things to keep it fresh.

Gavin: Spy Hop hits the ten year marker this year. How does it feel, and will you be doing anything to celebrate it?

John: April 30th, our Annual Benefit and Auction will be a huge celebration with alumni, former staffers and a look back at where Spy Hop originated and what it's become.  Without getting too nostalgic, we'll close the evening with a strong focus on our future, and the future of Salt Lake's creative economy as it pertains to youth here, and how we can continue to provide our younger community with cutting-edge programs and a leg up in the professional and academic worlds.

Gavin: Going local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our film scene, both good and bad?

Frank: I'm positive about our scene, I think there's a lot of talent here and its thriving well. I participate a little bit myself. I got a small film produced last year and that was largely due to networking and finding people who had equipment and could do it for cheap. So that's really positive to find other people locally who are into making film that way.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Frank: I think awareness outside of SLC would be the best for us. Being able to bring in money and have more investment in film production that's home grown. I suppose there's some money for more of the LDS film community and more interest there, but for those of us not making those films there's not a lot of awareness.

Gavin: Do you believe the many festivals that come through in the winter help or hinder local film makers?

Frank: Good question. I think that it helps in one way because it exposes us to films that for the large part aren't going to be seen outside that festival environment. So that helps because we're able to see whats going on in the rest of the world. But the flipside is that the local understanding of it is that Sundance is the big festival and we don't see a lot of showcasing of the local community and its hard to drum up interest for it.


Gavin: On music, do you have any thoughts on our local scene and the material coming out of it today?

Jeremy C.: I think its pretty thriving these days, lots of diverse bands, taken the initiative to take go on tours and make albums and make themselves known on a more national level. In a few more years we might be a force to be reckoned with.

Koffi: Although relatively small compared to other markets, the Salt Lake music scene is buzzing with life. There are a lot of bands working behind the scene and a lot of underground activity.  The size of the market makes the competition between bands fierce. That in turn, is positively influencing the quality of the work that is coming out. Not all the work is up to par but I do believe with the growth of the market, things are only gonna get better... and for all the Salt Lake music industry players.

Gavin: Touching on broadcasting, how did you get involved with the Loud & Clear program through KRCL?

Rick:
I'm pretty familiar with the other youth radio programs across the county and was disappointed SLC radio didn't have one. Its been four years now since we negotiated that deal. Kids who take part in it can play music they enjoy and some play their own material and toher local youth music.


Gavin:
What can we expect from Spy Hop and its staff the rest of the year?

John: More of the same!  Spy Hop will continue to build on its success and its long lasting impact, changing the lives of youth here, and helping prepare them for the road ahead.  You can expect more music, higher quality films, bigger events and a continual effort at providing youth cutting-edge programs throughout the calendar year.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

John: Our Annual Benefit & Auction is coming up April 30th, 2009 -- Tickets are only $60 and provide admission to a one-of-a-kind fund raising event, featuring food and wine from several fine-dining, downtown restaurants, beer and wine, live music and radio performances plus our unconventional auction where individuals can bid for Executive and Associate Producer rights to our Pitch-Nic films, as well as support our other programs.

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