First-ever 16mm Shoot
The 508 semester at USC Film school

#2 in a series of 16

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

Fade up & zoom in.

Wendy shot her first (ever) roll of 16mm film Friday, at the Zemeckis Digital Arts 
(studio C). She came home buzzing with excitement. Big thing for her. 
Fireworks & champagne. She has shot plenty of super-8 before, but never 16mm. 

She called mom & a few friends from the bathtub (candles & a glass of B&B). 
I overheard her saying, "I shot my first roll of 16mm film today, with a real-life 
gypsy, dancing Flamenco, with two guitars blazing. I directed. One of the best 
days of my life!" (Wendy played a gypsy every Halloween since 8 yrs old.)

The shoot went well. Hopefully she has a reel of good footage. Won't know until 
it gets developed. 16mm is notoriously problematic. Equipment is ancient, especially 
the cameras + editing machines (called flat-beds). Circa WWII. 

This was only a test shoot, but the girls (Wendy & Lisa) used the opportunity to 
(try to) get some useful footage. Since casting was already done, they called in
 (pronounced Lay-la), who plays the Mother/Liliana/Flamenco dancer. 

Lejla is a real-life gypsy, has lived in ~30 countries (more than anyone we know). 
She speaks 10 languages, 5 fluently. Holds a Masters degree USC. Originally from Bosnia.

Lejla is playing Lilliana, the spirit of the mother, a Flamenco dancer. For the filming, 
she danced with a Flamenco scarf (thx to Lani) on a back-lit platform, in front of 
a sheer veil (called a scrim), which caught the shadows for the film. Also got close-ups 
of her feet/shoes, hands & face. Lejla worked so hard, she was sweating. They'll also 
use her voice later to record some voice-overs.

Lejla arrived at the shoot w/ an updated copy of her resume. She showed Wendy where 
she'd included the latest entry for Liliana - with Wendy listed as director. That's the 
first time Wendy has seen her name listed as director, on a resume, like that. 

Lejla is very excited about the project. In real life, Lejla she has a strong personality. 
Wendy feels this will translate nicely for her part as a ghost/spirit, cuz a spirit would 
(naturally) have to be strong in order to bridge the spirit/physical gap. Wendy says the 
film (already) has a magical feel to it. 

Can see pix of Lejla, Zarena and the rest of the cast here.


Wendy + Lisa are currently the only ones shooting. Other students are still conducting 
auditions, & working on casting.

Lisa has experience shooting 16mm. This makes Wendy feel more comfortable. Lisa 
checked the camera periodically during the shoot to make sure the film didn't bunch 
or crinkle. 

Students have a Camera prof this semester - an ancient man, who knows everything 
about film cameras. The TA for the Camera prof is same TA that Wendy had for an 
undergrad class. The TA, girl named Berna, takes care of Wendy whenever she needs 

This semester requires lots of equipment - lighting, reflectors, sand bags, light stands, 
etc. Can take hours to check out all the equipment .. must first test everything, to 
make sure it works. Each piece of equipment has a long serial number that needs to be 

Wendy said she's starting to get a taste of how the business works .. how knowing the 
right people, in the right places, can make a difference.

Lisa works at the Post-production bldg (on campus near Lucas bldg). She works for the 
Director of Creative Media. That's where the girls will be editing their films. Lisa knows 
which machines work good & which ones have problems.

When it comes time to edit the film, space at editing stations (flat-beds & Moviolas) is at 
a premium. It can get tense as picture-lock date approaches. Edit bays stay open until 
4AM the final week, and round the clock the last few days. 

Each cut is tedious, made by hand, spliced one cut at a time. No more non-linear nirvana.

Wendy is looking forward to using the 'Steven Spielberg Scoring Sound Stage', where she 
wants to record her soundtracks. This Spielberg soundstage has remained a mystery during 
her undergrad years. Access is restricted. Students have a picture of a hidden, underground 
bunker, guarded by trained killers, where only a chosen few may venture, after speaking the 
secret password. 

The Spielberg Scoring Stage was state-of-the-art when it was built (a few years ago). 
It's big enough for a small orchestra. Giant mixing board.


Donnybrook during script reviews. 

Each student had to read all other student's scripts & prepare to discuss in class. 
One script was about two white prison guards who beat + torture a black prisoner. 
The prof, Helaine is black.

While discussing this script, one student, Stacey, who is a mom, said, "I was offended 
by this script." Once somebody poked a hole in the dyke, it wasn't long before the 
conversation got heated. Wendy was impressed at the way Helaine handled a volatile 
situation w/out losing control or getting (overly) emotional.

Prof pushed the student to define where he was coming from with his movie, and to 
take responsibility for the disturbing images. She kept coming back to, "WHY do you 
want to make this film?" 

Conversation would wander, she'd repeat, "WHY do you want to make this film? I can 
work with a film I disagree with, but in each of those cases, student had a reason 
they wanted to make the film. What is your reason? To get a thrill by seeing someone 
beat up is not a valid reason."


Three students have dropped out already this semester. One left cuz he got an acting 
job in Tibet, and will return next semester. At least one (it appears) was offended by 
the story conference about his script w/ prof + TA.

Prof + TA try to steer students in direction they think will improve their story. Wendy said 
students work their butts off on their scripts all summer long. And it can be hard when 
the prof & TA tell say your script sucks rotten goose eggs, and needs major revisions. 

It can be painful, and (apparently) has caused at least one student to say, "Screw this." 
The 508 semester known for attrition. If students can survive 508, they're go on to the 
greener pastures Elective_land, which are fun.


All 508 movies will be b&w, mono-optical (poor-quality) soundtrack, non-dialogue. 
Voice-overs are not considered dialogue. Yet, voice-overs which function as a crutch 
for visual story-telling skills are discouraged. 

Wendy likes the effect the human voice has, so she plans to inject some voice-overs 
into her film. Prof asked her to trim the amount of voice-overs to a minimum.

In class, a student asked about the acceptable use of voiceovers - what was & wasn't 
allowed. Prof replied and gave an example, "One student sent me a script over the summer. 
It had considerable voiceover, but the story was compelling and had great images. 
It wasn't relying on voiceover for its storytelling, so I suggested she see what could 
be done about revising her script to use less voiceover. The next revision had less v/o. 
That's what I like to see."

Wendy thinks Helaine was referring to her script, which she said had compelling images.

Wendy is excited about working with a prof who appreciates her ideas. Movies are so 
subjective & personal to begin with. If you're not into horror movies, it doesn't matter 
how well made the movie is - you're not going to fully appreciate it.

Before the class began, Prof  had a stack of scripts in her hand. She said, "Out of all these 
scripts, one student did the title correctly. Only one person read the instructions?"

Prof didn't mention names, but began w/ Wendy's script. Everybody said, "Thx, Wendy." =)


The drive is better since moving to North Laguna. The drive up the coast to Newport is 
gorgeous. From there she catches toll road - another nice road. The drive still sux when 
there's traffic, but it's not bad when there's no traffic. The 15 mins she shaves each way 
seems to make a big diff.

Fade to black.

Next -> Script-lock & First Dailies
Previous -> Welcome to the 508 semester 

[Index page, 508 semester chronicles, USC Film school]
[Master Index page, USC Graduate Film school chronicles]

Contact Wendy]
[Lagunacinema Home]

Radified Home]
USC Film school Home]