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Hell’s Kitchen’s own Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) today opens a brand new media center where you can stay up to date on the latest production technology or learn the ropes from scratch — and W42ST got an exclusive first look at the future-forward facility on the site of the former Legacy Recording Studios.
If you’re dreaming of joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, looking for a career in broadcast television or ready to make your own independent film, TV or podcast but don’t know where to start, this new, 23,651 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on W38th Street is the place to be. The new studios offer cutting-edge audio, visual, lighting and editing systems with everything from green-screen motion-capture technology to a full television production control center, as well as a full roster of classes where novices and experts can learn to use the latest equipment.
They’re housed on the third and fourth floors of the mixed-use Henry Hall building which also features studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. The property has a rich history as former home to Legacy Recording Studios, the only film-scoring studio on the East Coast and creator of various motion picture soundtracks and Broadway scores.
MNN, which has a second location in East Harlem, has moved their Midtown operation from W59th Street to the Hudson Yards-adjacent outpost as part of a large-scale overhaul of their production technology, accessibility design and eco-sustainability measures.
“It’s long past time that MNN’s main studios upgraded to a 21st century media facility with better equipment and services for our community of digital media makers and learners as well as increased broadband accessibility,” said Dan Coughlin, MNN President and CEO. Founded in 1992, the network runs the borough’s public access TV channels — reaching approximately 500,000 subscribers — as well as the city’s largest media education non-profit. MNN prides itself not only on providing affordable, extensive media and production education to New York City residents but also on hosting a large portfolio of independent LGBTQIA+ and immigrant-produced programming reflective of the city’s diverse population.
“Our 59th Street location had outlived its usefulness,” said Emily Miller, Director of Marketing & Development for MNN, who showed W42ST around ahead of this morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Technology changes, and we’ve built this space with sustainability and the ability to upgrade in mind.” The new MNN facility is fully outfitted with LED production and building lighting, allowing for more energy-efficient studio and production spaces.
When the opportunity to build a new hub appeared, MNN was fully committed to staying in Hell’s Kitchen, because the area’s closeness to many of the city’s transit hubs made it easily accessible for Manhattanites and New Yorkers as a whole. “There are five local access hubs around the city (BRIC in Brooklyn, BronxNet, QPTV in Queens, Staten Island Community Television and MNN),” said Miller. “We want them to complement each other, and in addition to having our firehouse location on E104th, it made sense to keep our other studio in a centrally accessible place.” She added that it was important to MNN to “leave the area better than they had found it.” In February of last year the organization sold its longtime W59th Street home for $19,300,000 to Project Renewal, a New York-based social services non-profit which will use the facility to support female entrepreneurs experiencing homelessness.
Back on W38th Street, the team worked with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to “build our dream facility,” said Miller. In addition to sustainable, energy-efficient equipment, the build out allowed MNN to custom design multipurpose screening rooms that double as studios, studios that double as editing rooms, and a central control system that allows users to operate any of the production hub’s individual facilities from other rooms. “If you want to make this your career, you’ll be ready on day one, because you’ll be using the same level of equipment that’s currently in newsrooms at ABC, NBC, CBS and other networks,” she added.
And if the idea of sitting down to an editing portal or working with a green screening sounds intimidating, MNN is here to change that. Classes are suited to all skill levels — from total beginner to seasoned creative — and feature personalized, in-depth “bricks and mortar, in-person” training from experienced professionals at affordable rates. “There are a tremendous amount of people in this community for whom film school is not an option,” said Miller, adding that a data analysis of previous student zipcodes revealed that half came from areas where the area median income was less than $75,000 a household. “There are lots of people interested in making their own films or TV shows, in producing their own podcasts — people can come here and get that same level of education as film school.”
DaShawn Pretlow, Media Education Coordinator for MNN’s New York City Center for Media Education, agreed. “If you’ve always wondered what a camera person or a floor manager or technical director does, we’ll teach you,” said Pretlow. “If you want to change careers or enhance your career, our goal is to get you to be able to not just understand and embrace media but to join its inner workings.”
He recalled an alumni of the program who made a later-in-life transition to television production as just one example of the program’s success. “He was one of our ‘seasoned’ adults, and I remember that he looked a bit intimidated by all of the younger students in the room,” said Pretlow. “I told him, ‘You have a right to be here like anyone else — your brain is still working and so your age is irrelevant.’ He later called us to say, ‘Thanks to you guys at MNN, I booked a weekend gig at ESPN where I get to go out and shoot.”
Alumni stories like that are a driving factor in MNN’s outreach mission, which includes over 100 non-profit partnerships with organizations like Second Chance Studios, a digital media training center for formerly incarcerated people, and a dedication to hosting events like the Winter Media Summit, a free week-long networking and educational opportunity for local creatives to further their projects. “Our hope is that this space really becomes a networking space for the creative community,” said Miller, “Not everyone can rent out Silvercup Studios. We want to provide a place for people who don’t otherwise have access to facilities like this.”
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In addition to the wide roster of public classes and facilities available to community partners who produce shows through the MNN, the organization is working on developing a future model for other space and production rentals, with a focus on reaching the widest swath of New York City independent creatives, explained Miller. “MNN is all about community,” said Leon B Taylor, MNN’s Manager of Production and Facilitation as we stopped by one of the space’s brand-new green screen studios. He’s looking forward to giving creatives “new toys to play with — their energy helps us push forward in how we work with new producers coming in.”
Understanding that media production and New York’s community of independent producers are always evolving is an essential core value and inextricably tied to MNN’s success, said Miller, something echoed by MNN Board Chair Damian Benders. “We are committed to ensuring that MNN programming and media education remains relevant,” said Benders. “It has never been more important to provide world-class resources that empower and support independent media.”
And as the organization looks forward to welcoming its first classes of artists and technicians to the new facility, Miller stressed that New Yorkers can expect access to nothing less than the industry’s newest technological and educational offerings.
“It makes a difference when the community sees that our community is invested in them,” said Miller. “It’s important to us that our students and our community members here on the West Side or in East Harlem have access to the current-day modern technology, and they’re not just getting hand-me-downs or last year’s tech just because they may not be in a socioeconomic place to access these facilities otherwise,” she added. “Not everyone is going to want to make The Mandalorian — but you could!”
The Manhattan Neighborhood Network Hell’s Kitchen media center is located at 509 W38th Street (bw 10/11th Avenue).