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

Film 5 is a Wrap

Finished about 2AM last night - at which time I went to bed. But Wendy still had to do some script writing after finishing the film. So I'm not sure what time (or if) she finally turned in. But I know she had to get up at 5AM. She shows the film at 2PM today. 

Maria came over last night to record the voice-over. It took her a few takes to settle into character, but, for the voice of a woman who's weary of the daily grind, it's hard to find someone better qualified than Maria. =D She tried to back-out at eleventh hour, saying she was tired ("Can't we do this in the morning?"), but Wendy wouldn't let her. 

She bribed Maria with a yummy bowl of stew. So Maria put the kids to bed and motored over. She recorded a dozen takes of each v-o. Since each take seemed to improve, they kept recording & fine-tuning. Maria has come through in a crunch many-a-time now, so we want to send her a special shout-out: Thanks, Maria!

We both love good mind screen voice-overs - like DiNero's in Taxi Driver. V-O's are sometimes viewed as a crutch. The idea being that, if a film's images are good enough, you don't need (no stinking) v-o. Of course, this is not necessarily true. USC tries to focus students - first and foremost - on power of images, and to tell a story with only images. 

Little or no dialogue is allowed (without prof approval). It's similar to training a boxer to fight with one arm tied behind his back. When he finally gets to use the other arm (dialogue), he'll be much better at using his image arm. [Voice-overs are not considered dialogue.]

While finishing film 5 (titled Pearl Diver), I heard Wendy say, "I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Then she walked over & flipped the pages on the calendar hanging on the wall from January to April.

Development of this last film has been different from the others. It wound up very different from her original concept. At first she wasn't happy cuz she changed the story to please her profs. Wendy likes magic & enchantment, which may not always make sense. But profs want clear, narrative structure, cuz, in the movie-making industry, narrative is king. 

But as she worked the film, it seemed as if the story took on a life of its own - like the story began telling itself. Pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. I think she has the technological aspects (editing programs) down to a point where her intuitive skills are able to come into play more. She'll do things based on hunches, feelings, impressions. These seem to become the most magical parts.

It's something to watch her build a movie. She'll have multiple programs open at the same time. Premiere to edit the footage, Vegas to build the sound, & Sound Forge to add special effects, like reverb, to audio clips. She whips between the different programs, clicking like a creature possessed - with a look of focused concentration, like she's in another world. My comments to her receive only a distant grunt.

Editing requires intense concentration for extended periods of time (a few days). The effect & impact of each & every (editing) decision must be considered. Some things work, other don't. She'll try a variety of things. Some she keeps, others she'll undo

After a day or two of editing, she'll look spaced out & punch drunk. For example, yesterday, she was in the bedroom, standing there with a blank look on her face. When I asked, "Whadaya doing, honey?' she paused for a few seconds, then replied, "Uh, I forgot." =D

Update: she just called -> said she never got to sleep last night. Laid down at 4:30, but was too wired to rest & the alarm was set for 5:00, so she got up & took a hot bath. Said she's already paid a couple visits to Dr. Advil today, and has invested heavily in latte's at several different Starbucks franchises.

Acting plays much bigger role in film production at USC than either of us anticipated (small pun there). She spends a lot of time in rehearsals. Each student is involved in several different 3-person groups throughout the semester -> 1 person directs while other 2 act in a scene of director's choosing. Wendy's directing a scene now she selected from Kubrick's latest/last Eyes Wide Shut

If you've seen, it's the scene where Cruise & Kidman are in the bedroom, after smoking the joint, Kidman is sitting on the floor, & she tells Cruise about the other guy.

Anyway, she has Dennis + Mun Chee (girl, from Singapore). Dennis has most acting experience of anyone, and she learns a lot from Dennis as a director, but he is difficult as an actor - at taking direction. Wendy has no acting experience, and actors have this cryptic lingo way of talking and doing things, which she doesn't yet know (but is learning quickly). Dennis is always too busy to rehearse, cuz his last film is coming up & he wants it to rock. (It's clear to me that Dennis puts a lot of effort into his films.)

Some students have problems with Dennis' 'moods'. He seems to have has the feminine/gay thing going on, does films about gay people and gay themes, but is married to a (real) girl, so no one has him quite figured out. Wendy likes Dennis. She says, "He's just Dennis." But he can be difficult at taking direction. 

Wendy called her Acting prof yesterday, asking for help on how to deal with actors who resist direction (cuz she doesn't want her scene to suk). The Acting prof said, "Wendy, you have to realized that I've been at this long enough to know what's going on. I could see that Dennis was trying to direct (as an actor). Dennis may have a lot of experience as an actor, but he has a lot to learn about life." 


Back in the first few days of class, the profs said a few students might be able to (set up a little crew and) direct their scenes and have them filmed. (Wendy would love to have someone shoot a scene she directs.) Individual sections (18 students each) were divided into groups A, B & C (6 students each). Wendy took group A, cuz that was the group that had a chance of having their (directed) scenes filmed. So now that the time is here, & she badly wants to do this, she has to convince classmates to 'crew' for her. 

Crewing for her would mean more for Wendy and the actors and members of her crew. Dennis was being temperamental, saying he didn't have time, but she finally got him to commit. If it works, it could rock, cuz Dennis is one of the best actors. 

She also got Luke (from Canada) to commit to running the camera for her. Wendy says he's the best at working the camera, that he knows how to make his stuff look gorgeous. 

A few others have said they'd help on her crew. Jennie, the Harvard girl, committed to helping as PA. I forget the others.

The last remaining obstacle is Mun Chee, who doesn't want to be filmed cuz she says the scene is "too intimate". Wendy worked her all day, but Mun Chee remains resolute. Wendy told the profs where she's at (she has everything set to go except for Mun Chee). The profs are going to try to talk Mun Chee, but they can't make her be filmed. Wendy's very much into it. She thinks it'd be great experience.

But no other students from group A have approached the profs about having their scenes filmed - at least not yet. I think most are tired.


Wendy and her classmates have been working with 16mm film the past few days. It's exciting for them. But everything that could go wrong has. It's been a comedy of errors. She brought home several little, crinkled bits of film and said, "Here's our 16mm project." =D

She worked on an old 16mm editing Moviola. The prof said that they used to be $30K machines, but now that everyone is going non-linear (PC) with Premiere and Avid, they (Moviolas) can be purchased for (as little as) $300. Students should consider buying one, so they can edit at home. Wendy is considering getting one, but they are big machines, and she's not sure where we'd put it.

She wants to team up with her classmates and do a 16mm project this summer. In preparation (to learn) for next semester's 16mm project. Plan is for everyone to pitch in a reel or two of film, and contribute to either writing, directing, filming or editing. Better to make mistakes on the practice film, than on the 508 project.

Another interesting phenomena is that some students feel insecure. Wendy's been talking about it. She thought that maybe it was cuz she was doing a film about her brother, and the emotion associated with it. But Lisa said she also feels insecure. Showing your films is a vulnerable thing, opening up your art to criticism. 

Lisa said she's showed her films before and not felt the way she does. Lisa said Sabrina also feels insecure, and Sabrina is a grad of MIT (wicked-smart), but she sometimes feels afraid to raise her hand and ask a question for fear of looking stupid. 

Maybe it's because of the level of competition. No one knows for sure why they feel this way. Insecurity is not a trait Wendy is known for. 

Everyone who was in Vandancing will be here Sunday for a viewing. Should be a special time.

Next -> Film 5 Report Card

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