What Happens in the Cage Stays in the Cage

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Published March 4, 2020
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The Montclarion
Francis Martinez, the cage supervisor, checking out equipment for students. Photo courtesy of Danielle Vacca

Montclair State University students foreign to the School of Communication and Media may be oblivious to the bustling cornered room that resides on the first floor of the lavish new building. The area may appear seemingly dull upon first glance. However, behind the intimidating gray, steel, double doors labeled “BMO Cage” lays a world of industry level equipment used in leading media corporations.

The ceilings are lined with state of the art fluorescent, Fresnel and LED lights that tower over colossal white baskets used to transport the massive equipment from cage to studio. The shelves are stocked with rows of upscale camera kits, audio recorders and light panels that are meticulously classified and tagged by number and content. Plastic crates overflowing with bulky extension cords and cables fill the minimal gaps of empty space between equipment and employee.

Francis Martinez, a cage supervisor, is the leading force behind the success of the facility. He oversees every minor detail pertaining to equipment and employees. Students and faculty are almost always greeted by his inviting smile, scruffy beard and sarcastic sense of humor when they enter the Cage.

Any School of Communication and Media student who is taking production classes and is insured through the university’s policy can rent media equipment from the Cage.

Montclair State University’s BMO Cage entrance in the School of Communication and Media. Photo by: Danielle Vacca

Montclair State University’s BMO Cage entrance in the School of Communication and Media. Photo courtesy of Danielle Vacca

When Martinez is unavailable, he relies on his entirely student-based staff to run the Cage efficiently. With the obligation of hundreds of students depending on the capabilities of the facility, he is meticulous in his methods of productivity.

“A lot of it is just being really good at making corrections and making sure everything is accurate to what is actually going on,” Martinez said. “I try to develop new ways of keeping things organized, things like ghost sheets and labeling shelves. For a long time things were just kind of thrown in whatever available shelf is there. Now, we go through about a mile of labels a year.”

The Cage’s accumulated value well surpasses a million dollars, including one SonyF65 camera available to film students, appraising at approximately $85,000. Given the immense monetary worth of the Cage, security is of the utmost importance. Each employee is required to not only swipe their student ID card, but to punch in a numerical identification code as well.

“There is a multiple redundant security system in this room,” Martinez said. “This is one of the more secure locations on campus. There are motion detectors throughout the whole place and an active security system. It is behind fire doors, a security window and multiple pane glass.”

Despite the diligence and dedication that is involved in running the Cage, employees are not always greeted with pleasantries. Mia Carranza, a freshman animation and illustration major, has been employed at the Cage since the fall semester of her freshman year.

“You deal with a lot of people’s attitudes,” Carranza said.

In the midst of the occasional and expected workplace drama, working at the Cage has its benefits. Ronni Hom, a freshman filmmaking and theater studies major, is not only employed at the Cage, but seeks comfort in the encouraging climate the space offers.

Ronni Hom organizing camera kits in the Cage. Photo by: Danielle Vacca

Ronni Hom organizing camera kits in the Cage. Photo courtesy of Danielle Vacca

“I think overall, it’s one of those things that keeps me sane, so I like coming here even if it’s not technically my hours,” Hom said. “There’s a lot of good energy around here and I think that’s the other thing that helps me not feed into the negative energy with people who come here and are nasty.”

The Cage also tackled the turbulence of an unexpected visitor last semester. Awarded with the alias “Angry Santa,” alluding to his snow white, ungroomed beard that frayed from his chin, a homeless man sought shelter in the School of Communication and Media.

“’Angry Santa’ came here demanding that since he was a former student of the university, he was allowed to rent equipment,” Martinez said. “When I told him he has to be presently enrolled in a class he got mad. That’s where the angry part of Santa comes from. He went from event to event around the university, eating every free meal and finding different places to sleep.”

Despite the frequent chaos that is associated with managing a top-level facility like the Cage, Martinez is content with his role and the overall success of the media wonderland.

“I think that our rental cage is superior to just about any of the other ones out there,” Martinez said. “We offer freedom of choice here which is very unheard of in academics as far as rentals go. Most of the time it will just be a package for a class and there is no deviating from that package.”

The Cage is triumphantly operated each day at the hand of Martinez and his staff. Aside from the required check in and out tasks, there is an abundance of manual labor that is associated with the job.

Students Mia Carranza and Zohn Coles working in the cage in between classes. Photo by: Danielle Vacca

Students Mia Carranza (left) and Zohn Coles (right) working in the Cage between classes.
Photo courtesy of Danielle Vacca

Martinez recently suffered a right shoulder injury inflicted by the constant burden of transporting massive and awkwardly shaped equipment. Student employees often stress about the considerable responsibility they hold when handling such fragile and costly equipment.

“I do have the small anxiety like I might drop something and break it,” Carranza said. “For the most part I’m good, but there are days when it gets hectic especially toward the end of the summer.”

While on occasion the hardworking employees of the Cage feel that their substantial time, effort and commitment goes unnoticed and is underappreciated, most media students at Montclair State are grateful for their elite privileges.

Angelica Wilson, a junior television and digital media major, credits the Cage for propelling her education and establishing her career path.

“Having access to the Cage really allows me and other students the opportunity to work with high-end equipment that we’ll be using in our careers,” Wilson said.

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