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

Film Two Report Card
Dante piece, titled Descent

Wendy came home from school after showing Descent and balled her eyes out. =D 

Film school is where mistakes are pointed out, & where/how improvements can be made. They don't linger on the good/positive, cuz that's not where improvement is needed. Film school tries to develop each student into the best filmmaker each is capable of becoming.

The problem is that, even the bad films take an enormous amount of work, & it's often painful when people shred something that a filmmaker put so much heart & soul into. If she is going to make it in this business, she'll have to develop a thicker skin - to learn to detach emotionally when her film is shown.  

Wendy said, "As soon as the prof said, 'Okay, looks like Wendy is next,' My heart started beating so fast. I thought it was going to burst out of my chest."

A guest/friend of the prof, sat in on the class. He teaches at Cal Arts & sits on a few boards. Fortunately, he'd had a class where they looked at Dante line by line. He liked her film for accuracy. But that was also the main negative -> cuz if someone hadn't read Dante, they were (more or less) left out in the dark. 

We discussed this before she ever began the project. She knew the risk, & was prepared to take it. She thought she could make it work, even for people who had never read the story. But I don't think she pulled it off. Cuz it sounds like people liked what they saw, & were impressed by its technical aspects, but, overall, came away with question mark.

She opened the movie with a quote (text) from the poem:

I came to myself in a dark wood, where the straight way was lost.

She tried to get a voiceover from an Italian guy, Michael, who works at the local pizza place. He's from Italy, & has a great Italian accent. She wanted him to do the voiceover - in Italian, so the viewer would hear the words read aloud in Italian, while reading them in (translated) English. But she simply couldn't hook up with Michael, so the beginning was silent. 

I think she used the intro text quote from the poem as a kind of license to make an emotionally-oriented film, without paying sufficient homage to the twin story-telling gods of Intent & Purpose. Sounds like she could've rocked the house if she'd had she gone another step or two. But the scope of her project was so ambitious that she was over-extended from the word go. And there's only so many hours in a day. She ran out of time. 

Descent's primary compliment mirrored its primary criticism: 

compliment: very ambitious
criticism: maybe too ambitious 

They viewed four films. Wendy showed 2nd. The guy who went before her strapped the camera to the handle bars of a motorcycle & drove around LA & Santa Monica. He then edited the footage to speed things up & dropped in a cool sound track. The aim of his film was to take the viewer for a ride around LA, with some cool music. Perhaps not the most ambitious, but it worked -> you went for a ride around LA & got to listen to hot music. Supposedly, they have at least one of these camera-on-the-handlebars-of-a-motorcycle every class, now that DV camcorders are popular. 

A girl did a flirty piece of 2 guys and a hot babe in a Laundromat. The guy wants the girl, the girl wants the guy, and the guy wants the other guy. Another guy did a documentary on rock-climbing, his hobby. 

I read the critiques for Descent. It's amazing to me that someone can love a certain part of a film, while someone else hates the very same part. Human nature, I guess.

We sometimes discuss the specifics of story & plot. I tell her that guys tend to be goal oriented, while women can be more emotionally oriented (Wendy certainly is). Her story had little/no goal/objective for someone to latch onto. The viewer, if they hadn't read the story, had no idea what the main character was after - his goal - even at the end. So, in that sense, the viewer felt like they went on a cool, emotional ride, with cool images - but didn't know why. I think this left men more dissatisfied than women. 

But I read some of the critiques, & I don't see why she's so upset. Check out these comments:

"A powerful piece, you got great performances, great music that brings us deep into the story, beyond the surface narrative. I was touched by the boy's feelings - be it joy or fear, and i think that's the greatest strength of this piece."

The Harvard girl wrote:

"I thought this was very ambitious & well constructed. I was in awe of all your camera shots & the breath of the story. Your sound track was very sophisticated."


"You create a strong sense of suspense, it felt like another world."

The TA wrote, "Don't know how, but this doesn't even look like video. It looks like film. How did you do it?"

Wendy uses the GL1 (made by Canon). Other students use the school-supplied TRV900 (Sony). Both are 3-chip camcorders. She shot the piece entirely in frame movie mode, which captures 30 full frames per second - where as normal video captures 60 half-frames per sec. Since real film (celluloid) employs 24 full frames per second, the Canon can shoot in a mode that approximates film. 

Personally, I think she (unconsciously?) used the piece as a cathartic instrument to access/release many of the feelings she has concerning the recent deaths of her father & brother. In other words, I don't think her primary intent was ever to make sure that the viewer 'got it'. The piece deals with darkness, pain, loneliness, danger, fear - focusing on negative emotions - not uncommon for someone who lost father & brother in the same year. On the flipside, the piece ends with a ray of hope. 

Whatever the case, she learned a lot making & showing this film. That's what she's there for.

Next -> Week 5

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