Last year, when Jimmy Lifton established Lifton Institute of Media Arts and Sciences on a four-acre movie ranch in Castaic, he set out to use his movie and sound production experience to help others, especially military veterans, get a leg up in the television, movie and music industries.
Since then, he and the LIMS staff have trained 200 veterans and non-veterans in a variety of in-demand skills. The institute gives students hands-on training while they work on independent films that are shot on LIMS sound stages.
The program aims to help students use their work experience and develop abilities that they can transfer to related jobs in the media industry.
Prior to launching the institute last year, Lifton sold off his interests in a post-production sound company, Oracle Post, of which he was part owner. He embarked on a short stint trying to launch a movie studio in Michigan where he worked with a number of people, including veterans, and came away with a new perspective.
He became convinced that what the industry really needs are qualified production people who are prepared to work on a consistent basis. Lifton realized that veterans are often ideal candidates for movie and television industry production jobs, and that’s what inspired him to launch a training style facility.
He noted that veterans are remarkably well-suited for doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Soldiers are routinely called on to accomplish whatever objectives are assigned to them and to work well with others, and are good at working with other teams on a common project – all attributes that are needed for movie and television crews.
“If something breaks, they don’t sit around and cry about it,” said Lifton, noting that the program has trained veterans of all ages, from those whom served in Vietnam up through veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I have nothing but phenomenal things to say about how well these groups do. And we train other people besides veterans, but primarily we are a veteran organization.”
Spreading the word
The program doesn’t do a lot of advertising, so veterans usually learn about it through word-of-mouth or from some of the veterans’ organizations that LIMS works with, including Volunteers of America, AmVets, the Salvation Army and Goodwill. A number of the trainees are homeless veterans, and LIMS works closely with each of those organizations to accommodate them.
The program provides the veteran trainees with transportation and meals every day. It runs for 10 to 12 weeks, five days a week, about 10 hours a day, and Lifton described the training as “very, very intense.”
“When someone goes into a department, we find what skills they have, but more important, what passions they have and what they want to do with their life,” said Lifton. “We’re really focused on jobs and careers.”
Construction experience can lead to doing construction on a movie set. If they were doing logistics or warehousing on a managerial level, and they like that kind of work, then they are ideal for the production management department.
Almost all of the people who come into the program have never had any experience in the entertainment industry, but they can get a total immersion experience in production management, set construction, camera operation, grip and electric departments, wardrobe, makeup and hair, as well as other departments.
There are no books or classrooms. From day one to the end. they’re working on real feature films.
“We give them enough time in the production schedule to screw things up and fix it, and screw it up again and fix it, and screw it up a third time and fix it,” said Lifton. “That’s how you learn. By the time they walk out, they’re really skilled at it.”
They walk away with a real Internet Movie Database (IMDB) credit for a legitimate feature film.
But the relationship between trainees and LIMS doesn’t end when the 10 or 12 weeks are up. Lifton said the program works to get them jobs and find contacts for jobs while they’re still in training.
Many times LIMS has jobs waiting for them when they leave. The program maintains an open-door policy with every graduate for two years, providing them with work assistance and work guidance.
“It’s all about jobs,” said Lifton.“We’re a trade school, we’re not a liberal arts style program. We’re all about getting them into a career.”
Lifton said the placement rate for graduates is between 80 and 90 percent. The numbers are good, he said, because students are trained for specific below-the-line jobs, not to be interns or production assistants.
Recently, LIMS launched a program called Vet 50, aimed at teaching job skills to 50 homeless veterans. Lifton said LIMS will pursue that agenda more aggressively in coming days – the next project is Vet 200.
“We’re hell-bent on taking 200 veterans, homeless and non-homeless, and getting them into careers and having a good life.”
Above all else, the training program’s purpose is to fulfill some specific needs among those who served the country in the military.
“A lot of the vets I come across know they’re missing something in their lives,” said Lifton. “This is an opportunity to have the skill set for an industry that not only pays well, but is very fun and creative.”