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

End Week 11, Shoot Film 5

Wendy is on her way to Claremont, to the home of Stacey, a classmate she calls 'a true artist'. Stacey's background is as a sculptor (sculptress?). Wendy said Stacey always has gorgeous/sensuous footage and interesting stories, but sometimes her films aren't complete when she shows them in class. Stacey has a 5-year old daughter.

Film 5 (last film this semester) will be a story about a 9-to-5'er who is weary of the daily grind, and has dreams of becoming a sculptress - something she currently does only part-time and half-heartedly in her garage, but which requires total dedication to do on a serious/professional level. 

Wendy has 1 actress + 1 boy slated for the shoot both today + tomorrow. The little boy, Luigi, is cutie as a bug's ear. She found them both from headshots sent to her from an ad she placed in the Backstage West magazine while stilling working on film 4. The stack of envelops of headshots she received was nearly six inches tall. 

Took her a few hours last Saturday morning just to open and review them all (qualifications + experience). This was fun. Wendy says casting is a crucial part of filmmaking. 

She held auditions earlier this week at USC. The people she like best from their head-shots were the ones who she liked best in person. These were the ones she chose. This was her second rehearsal, so she's getting more comfortable with them. The actress slated for film 5 is totally into it & enthusiastic about the concept. 

She said this actress is "comfortable with herself" and should do fine. She looks like the Ivory Snow girl - pure, wholesome, long, blonde, straight hair. Maybe I'll scan her head shot and post for you to see them both. 

Wendy had the hardest time with the concept for this film. She agonized about what to do. It's her last film of the semester, so she wants it to rock. But after the last film, Vandancing, she said it felt like somebody pulled the plug. The emotional drain from doing Vandancing seems to have sapped her creative energies. She put a lot of effort into Vandancing

The idea for this story has continually morphed from day 1 & is now much simpler & focused than her original ideas - thanks to advice from her profs. She calls them frequently (especially the prof who is/was a cinematographer), asking for advice on tricky parts. The prof said she's the only one who calls.

Plot: the girl in film 5 will happen by a little boy (Luigi) on the beach (in Laguna) who will be making a mermaid in the sand. The actress will approach the boy and offer to help him build the mermaid. While helping the boy (maybe representing her own inner child), she will (magically?) be inspired sculpt a mermaid from clay at her home, and to follow her dreams. 

Wendy's gonna try to engineer the sand-castle building so that, when she's done filming the encounter, the tide (low tide is at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon) will come in and wash away the sand castles for a final shot. 

Wendy has some artist-friends in Laguna who have their sculptures in art galleries there. She has permission to film there tomorrow. I won't say much more cuz she gets mad when I give away too much of the story. =)

Wendy sits down the day before the shoot and plans all the shots on 'storyboard'. This helps her visualize the shoot better and ensures that she'll get the shots she wants, especially the key turning points. Some students have ideas in their head and simply shoot on the fly. More pre-planning usually means a more organized shoot - less standing around.

The critical element that she wants, and tries to get, is the arc of character - the character has to change in some meaningful way. That's at the core of what they try to teach students at film school - that and the emotional structure, or beat, of the film. Films that work tend to have a certain emotional structure they follow. These are the things she's been focusing on in her latest films.

For example, in her last piece, Vandancing, she used footage of herself walking south on the beach. South represents down into the muck and mire of painful, longing memories. At the very end, when she comes to a resolution that her brother is really gone, and accepts it, she uses footage of herself heading back north

It's a subtle change, but, on an unconscious level, is used to (tangibly) represent her 'arc of character,' which = coming to grips w/ harsh reality + accepting it. The music also changes to upbeat at the end. 

Mom & Sidney came over Wednesday, and watched Vandancing on 'the big screen' (our 32-inch TV). Emotional. But we finally felt like we finally turned the corner on that one. Then we all went for lunch the Ramos House, by the mission in old town San Juan Capistrano - across the train tracks. After lunch, we walked over to the petting farms nearby, where goats and other animals eat right out of your hand. 

The main point is that every film improves, even if only in some small way - or that she tries some new technique, & learns something new.

Most students complain of bring tired. Many say that, for their last film, they're not going to do anything that requires much work. Wendy's tired too. She took an herbal (legal) stimulant this morning before heading out, and Dr. Advil is a constant close companion. (Better living through chemistry.) But she badly wants her last film to rock - tired or not - so she finishes the semester with a bang.

After the shoot today, she'll head to USC for acting rehearsal, with Dennis, who has an acting background. Dennis is directing, and she has already learned much from him. They're doing a scene from the play Angels in America. Wendy is playing a valium-addicted Mormon. Her acting partner for the scene is Quinn, who also has lots of acting experience. Quinn is playing a flaming gay.

Scenes are chosen by the student doing the directing. Sometimes I think the directors chose scenes that most challenge the students doing the actors. For example, Wendy has played several roles, but none of them are congruent with her basic personality. Wendy hasn't said this. It's just an observation I made myself. 

Everybody thinks Dennis is gay, as he has some decidedly feminine traits. But he's married to a (real) woman, which confuses his classmates. No one has yet approached Dennis and asked whether he's (actually) gay. Many of Dennis' movies and scenes involve gay themes and characters. 

When I went to USC with Wendy, to see the showing of their entire class's films, Dennis' was one of the best. Wendy has several gay friends and is comfortable with them. Laguna ( I heard) has the largest population of gays in the US outside of Frisco & NYC. 

Wendy is happy that she's in group 'A', cuz now she has only one film left, whereas other student have two more to go. Group A had it rough in the beginning.

She has 10-page script due Thursday morning. Screenwriting has been one of her weaker areas. She puts the least amount of effort into it. 

Wendy said USC Film school students are used as seat-holders at the Oscars. When someone leaves to go to the restroom, or for whatever reason, someone will take their seat, so when the cameras pans the audience, they see no empty seats. I never noticed this before, and see no problem with a few open seats. But made a point to watch for empty seats, and couldn't see any. She wanted to be a seat-taker, but was too busy to make it happen.

A few days ago, I made a crock-pot full of yummy beef stew - from all the stuff that grows in the ground (roots). Yesterday Jahmar and I made a caldron-sized pot of nuclear-grade chicken soup. She says those two things do the best to give her the energy and stamina she needs. Today we'll can it in wide-mouth mason jars & squirrel them away in golden containers of yumminess.

Several people have suggested that we stash copies of these emails in a safe place - for posterity. I haven't been very good at this. They've gotten scattered and lost, but mom had 'em all, and sent them back. I copied and pasted them into a Word document. So far, it's about 60 full-sized pages. Maybe this summer, I'll throw it together in PageMaker & make a homemade short book titled A semester in the Life of a Film School Student, or post them on the Net.

Next -> First look at 16mm Equipment

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