Welcome to the 508 Semester at USC Film School

#1 in a series of 16

Lights, camera, action! .. at USC Film school

Fade up & zoom in.

Rumor has it that the 508 semester is the single most grueling semester of the entire 
3-year program. If students can survive 508, everything else is downhill. Wendy finds 
it hard to believe it can be more difficult than 507, where she made 5 digital shorts
all by herself .. in addition to other academic requirements. 

Oddly enough, both 507 & 508 are extra course requirements. More 507/508 info here

Rumor is that these courses were added to combat accusations that the school did not 
adequately prepare students for life in the real world. The 507 & 508 curriculum add a 
big chunk of work to an already demanding load. Sleep deprivation becomes a part of 
the equation. Fashionable dark circles adorn thinly-slitted eyes.


Wendy loves her new prof -> an older lady named Helaine .. who was late to class by 
one week cuz she's been working on (directing?) an HBO special. (I forget the name.) 
So even tho this is 2nd week of school, they just met their main prof for the semester.

Helaine's intro spiel impressed students. Wendy + Lisa (Wendy's partner) stayed after 
class to chat w/ their new prof. They seemed to hit it off. Helaine told them, "I'm not 
your average professor." Wendy & Lisa said, "We're not your average students." =)

Having a prof she really likes is welcome change. Last semester, she had a couple of 
old, male profs. Their approaches to filmmaking (linear, conventional) sometimes did not 
mesh with hers. Movies are so subjective enough to begin with. Some people love the 
same film others hate. Wendy's approach to movie-making tends to stray from convention. 

Helaine is working prof. Wendy says Helaine doesn't have to teach, but she does cuz, 
she wants to give back. 

Wendy also likes the students in her class & the TA. She actually cried, telling me about 
it last night (happy tears). Then said, "I wish my daddy could see me now." 

Students will be working with 16mm film this semester (b&w). Wendy made five 8mm 
shorts as undergrad, but never used 16mm .. but Lisa has. Wendy is excited about 
working with 16mm. She says it's a sensuous medium. 


There are many restrictive guidelines regarding these films. Students have limited footage, 
so the ability to finance more film doesn't become an issue in quality of the final product. 
Everything needs a permit, a form, documentation. Students are exposed to the bureaucracy 
of movie making.

Students pair up in teams, and will do two films for the semester. Wendy & Lisa will do 
Wendy's film first, then Lisa's the second half of the semester. For the first film, Wendy 
will write & direct, while Lisa shoots & edits. The girls swap positions for the second film. 

So next two months are crunch time for her. The script is gone over with a fine-toothed 
comb. Every minute counts. Much work goes into making even a short film.  It's surprising 
that they also have such an aggressive academic schedule. For example, a 10-page paper 
is due during the middle of shooting. Students consider this cruel. After this crunch 
semester, greener academic pastures are supposed to follow.

Wendy sometimes asks my opinion of a change she's considering. We debate pro's & con's. 
I usually take the pragmatic approach. Whenever I say, "Well, it would be more difficult to 
do it off this way" .. that's usually the path she takes. She doesn't seem to be playing it 
safe. Ambitious scopes have always been her trademark.


Wendy & Lisa are ahead of many of the other students. They're only ones who have their 
casting wrapped. Prof asked in class how students were doing with their projects, adding, 
"Anybody got your cast set up?" Wendy & Lisa said, "We do." Nobody else.

Wendy puts a lot of importance on casting. She read that casting is half the job. She 
worked hard over the summer, placing ads & setting up interviews. Lani went with her 
for one of the auditions, cuz Lani does that stuff all the time. To set the mood, Lani tied 
colorful scarves all around the otherwise industrial studios at USC.

First cast meeting was yesterday, at a Mexican restaurant in LA. Wendy discussed her 
plans for the movie with the cast. She said it went well. She's happy about her crew. 
She has great people who are excited about her project. I saw some of the emails she 
got from them. They're using several exclamation points after I love this project. After 
the meeting, Lisa said, "You did a great job of casting." 

Pix from the cast meeting are here.

Simplified version of Wendy's story (titled Liliana) goes something like this:
Mother brings healing to the relationship between her husband & daughter from beyond 
the grave.

Mother/Liliana - played by Lejla, a real-life fiery gypsy from Bosnia
Father - played by Louie, 60-yr-old family man from Santa Ana who loves USC.
Daughter - played by Zarena, who is from Spain
Composer/musician/guitar player - Ed, he quietly played Flamenco music in the background 
during the meeting. (v. cool!)
Another guitar player (no composer skills) - wasn't needed at the meeting. 
Lisa was at the meeting, too. She'll be the cinematographer & editor.

Headshots posted here. Script here (formatting lost, but you'll get the idea). Production 
schedule is here. Posting the production schedule online, at her own website, impressed 
her cast. 


Wendy is doing good. The time in Yosemite - especially backpacking, far from cars, roads, 
people, with the kids + their friends, was good for her.

Yesterday, I made a crock pot of industrial-strength beef stew, and a monster-sized pot of 
nuclear-grade chicken soup. She had a bowl of beef stew for breakfast early this morning. 
So we have the nutrition thing going on again.

Fade to black.

Next -> First 16mm shoot

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