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

Week Three

We (mistakenly) thought that Wendy's class was the first to use digital video (DV) camcorders, but they're actually the third to do so. One issue that has come up recently (this week) is that of students posting their films on the Net. Since DV can (easily) be encoded to a compact size (few megabytes), which makes it easy for broadband users (Cable, DSL) to download & view on their PCs, it's not difficult to post a 5-minute movie on the Net.

We've played around with various video encoders. The smaller we make the file, the easier it is to download, but the poorer the quality. Biggest files offer best quality, but at the expense of modem-choking sizes that (can) take forever to download. Files small enough for dial-up users (small pipe) to stream, look & sound  horrible.

RealPlayer & Quicktime are the two big video encoding programs. Windows media player got into the game late, but is making up ground fast. We like RealPlayer best. It seems to be the closest thing there is to a standard. Quicktime is the standard for Macs. But both RealPlayer & Quicktime operate on either platform.

We've already been encoding several of Wendy's (home) movies to RealVideo, & posted them on our FTP server (home PC). Many of our broadband friends have already downloaded & viewed. 

USC owns the rights to student films because they supply the equipment that students use to make the films. But Wendy has all her own equipment & doesn't need to use USC's equipment. So, technically, she owns thwe copyright to her movies. Some of her movies use soundtracks with parts of copyrighted music (Seal, Sting, the Beatles, etc.). This is a gray area, cuz students aren't looking to make money from their movies. They merely want exposure.

Wendy says many of the films in her class are excellent, & would be enjoyed by the public. She also thinks some of the local coffee houses might benefit from having one night a week of 'student films' - playing on a large screen - in lieu of a musician or more traditional forms of entertainment. But since USC owns the rights to most student films, they are legally responsible, & figuring out how to best deal with this new situation, created by digital video & the internet.  

She loves the people in her class. Says they're becoming a little family, & you know how much Wendy enjoys family. They have lunch together & things like that.

Seems that USC *does* have some Windows-based PCs after all (in addition to Mac's), but these are reserved for 'advanced' students, to use Adobe After Effects, a program for creating special effects. We've got AfterFX recently, but haven't had a chance to explore it much. After Effects is a 'compositing' prgm. Most agree it's best at what it does.

Wendy's main advantage is that she's already familiar with the editing prgm used USC: Adobe Premiere. She's been editing at home with Premiere for ~ a year now. It's not the easiest program to master. Editing at home gives her the ability to spend whatever time necessary on her projects, & not have to stop & go home when the editing room (the 'bullpen') closes for the evening (10PM). 

She's also become proficient at using an audio/sound-editing prgm named Vegas Pro (by Sonic Foundry). The audio-editing portion of Adobe Premiere sux. She exports the audio component out of Premiere, builds & edits it separately in Vegas, then imports back it into Premiere. Better controls & capabilities than Premiere's audio-editing.

She said many people (at USC) were having problems with the batch capture function (getting video files from camera to hard drive). I found this comforting, knowing that I'm not the only one who has had problems with editing video on a computer. Been frustrating at times, cuz the technology is new, & video files, which are huge compared to most other computer files, can be difficult for a computer to handle. Once the quirks have been worked out, editing video is a beautiful thing. But until then, it cab be quite painful.

She has most of her classes in a new Zemeckis bldg. It's still under construction (off campus on Figueroa). Neither the floors of walls are finished. Men walking around with construction hardhats. 

She loves her classes - comes home all fired up, telling me the new stuff she's learning - talking a mile a minute, can hardly keep up with her. She especially likes showing & watching films. 'That's the juice!' she says. She also loves her class on Acting & Directing Actors, & the Sound class.  

The 10 units she now carries are twice the work of the 16 units she carried as an undergrad. Sometimes she feels intimidated by her classmates, who she refers to as 'mental wizards'.

She went to the class party last weekend. I had the chest crud that's going around & couldn't go. Apparently word had gotten out that she was gonna attempt a scene from Dante. She got lots of encouragement & ideas - had a great time. Getting to know her classmates better.  

She shot the Dante piece last weekend & was pleased with the results. Jonathan played Dante. He's a gifted high-school actor (Laguna Beach) who already has an agent. She calls him 'one-take Jonathan', cuz she tells him what she wants, and, boom, he's there, first take. She'll upload the footage to the PC tomorrow & edit this weekend.

She's been impressed with the quality of many of the (student) films in her production class. And these are only their first films .. 3 mins, no audio. Some have been more like experiments, learning the camera, but most have been surprisingly clever and technically well done. She learned many camera tricks from watching other films.

The better films seem to get more response/criticism. There's only so much you can say about a poor film. Most of her classmates have experience with a camera. 

She stayed in LA Monday night, at the Beverly Hills Marriott. She has a late class Monday night (out at 10:30) & an early one Tuesday morning (9AM). This kicked her butt the last couple of weeks. Last year, as an undergrad, she stayed at the Dog's place (in Hollywood) one night per week. But the Dog has since moved to San Jose. She gets an employee discount from the Marriott, cuz Marriott bought out the Ritz & she works at the Ritz part-time. Said it was the first time she was actually awake for the Tuesday morning class. Otherwise she gets home after midnight, & has to get up at 5:30 - not pretty.

She was surprised to see that some of her classmates didn't make a morning class when it rained this week. Prof said, "I see who the real filmmakers are. If you can't make a 9AM class, you'll never make a 6AM shoot." Wendy never misses class. Even when her brother died, she was in class the next morning.

One of her classmates asked her to be in his next film, wanting her to play an acting instructor. But after deliberating, she declined - even though she badly wants the (acting) experience. But a two-hour shoot quickly turns into 5 or 6 hours with the drive. Being so far from LA & the action bothers her.

Next -> Week 4

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