She's Done!
The 507 semester at USC Film school

in a series of 39

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

One semester down. Only five more to go.

I went with her last week to hand in the last term paper & watched the (entire) class's viewing of films on the big screen. Everyone celebrated the end of the semester by showing their best film. Wendy showed Vandancing, which represented her best effort of the semester, and was the film she had the most time to work on (Spring break). 

We were both surprised at not only the intensity, but also the length of applause at the end - like they really liked it. And this was late in the day, after everyone had seen dozens of other films, and applause had been waning. Most of the students there (from other sections) had never seen Vandancing.

Vandancing looked good on the big screen. The image quality held up to being blown up so big. The sound/audio was perfect. The soundtrack rocked. Films were shown in/at the Lucas theater - not in the (new) Zemeckis bldg, where she has classes & usually shows them (where speaker system sux). A few students who hadn't seen Vandancing yet, came up to her in the lobby afterwards and commented how much they enjoyed it. Some said they'd attempted similar projects, but were unable to make them turn out how they wanted.

Some students had already (obviously) been imbibing, eager to begin celebrating the semester's end. One such person was gushing about how much he liked Vandancing. I think people who hava propensity to use/abuse chemicals/substances relate especially well to Van & the film. The heavy workload of Film school - especially at the graduate level - means the pressure is relentless. There's no time for anything but making your movies and studying the material. No doubt everyone has their own way of taking the edge off.

The quality of films improved dramatically from what I'd seen at the mid-semester viewing. Most films were entertaining in some way - either visually, or storyline, & all were 'tight' - no dead space. Not so at the mid-semester viewing, where a tight film was rare. Some films were surprisingly personal. 

Luke, the Canadian who Wendy tried to partner with for next semester's 16mm project, showed a B&W movie that rocked. He did a suspenseful take-off on The Outer Limits, or Twilight Zone. It clearly stood out from the others. Impressive. It looked professional, like something you'd see at the movies - held my interest from the opening scene. 

No wasted footage, with a killer, multi-layered soundtrack. Later, I overheard some students nit-picking his film. I didn't heard any negatives about the films that weren't very good. I think Luke raised the bar high enough to make others uncomfortable. 

We may try to help his encode his film, so he can post it on the net. Will let you know if this happens, but his film might not encode well, as the (encoder) algorithm seems to turn everything dark to black. Being a B&W film could pose a problem, as we learned with the night scenes from Vandancing.

Luke used the equipment at USC (camera & PC) to make his film, so, legally, I think USC has the rights, which could make posting it on the Net a problem. Also, his movie was made on a Mac (at school), and we have a PC, and have had problems (with the audio) trying to encode movies made on a Mac. 

I realize I'm biased, but I'd honestly say that Vandancing was one of the best films I saw at the viewing. Many films were comical & made me laugh, but some seemed to use humor as a crutch for engaging narrative, which kept them from being taken seriously (for me).

I met Wendy's 508-partner, Lisa, for the first time. Yes, she's a livewire. She graduated from an 'Arts' school in Minneapolis. After the film viewing, a group of a dozen or so went to the Engine Co. No. 28 (downtown) for vittles & cocktails. Engine Co. No. 28 is converted from a firehouse. Sabrina, the MIT girl, was also there. Sabrina was the last student to get a 508 partner. She partnered with Jovan, the only black student in their class. Wendy said Jovan is very nice, quiet & shy. I've never met him.

Lisa is trying to orchestrate renting an old mansion in Santa Monica, complete with Sound studio & wide, spiral staircase. If she can get enuf people together to pay the $6000/mo rent, it could be the ultimate party palace. She's talking of wiring all the rooms with Ethernet connections. I think she has five people committed so far, but needs a few more to make it fly.

I also met Tara, Wendy's favorite undergrad prof. It's always interesting for me to meet ppl who I've heard so much about. Wendy was good at describing her. We stopped by Tara's office, but she'd stepped out for lunch. We then we ran into her crossing campus after leaving her office. Tara had recently returned from a trip to NYC where she gave a talk at NYU. Despite the rumors that next semester, 508, is the hardest semester of all, Tara was encouraging. She thinks Wendy has the worst behind. 


We've moved. Back when we had our sights set on LA (Los Feliz area), I heard Wendy praying, "God, we need a nice place to live - and I really like North Laguna." The next day, she was talking to her friend, Maria, who said, "I hava place I need to rent." - which just so happened to be in North Laguna. 

Well, here we are, in North Laguna - a mile from downtown & a block from the beach. Still have piles of boxes everywhere, but at least we're outta the old place - took 3 truckloads (14-foot U-Haul) and a dozen carloads. We picked up a few day-laborers to help with moving the heavy stuff. 

These guys work harder than anyone I've ever seen. They come here (from Mexico) for a few months, fill their pockets with American greenbacks, then go back to Mexico and live like kings. They taught me mucho Espanole. Basura is 'garbage' or 'junk', which we have entirely too much of. Moving is therapeutic is a painful kind of way.

The way things worked out, we had to move before the semester ended. So she had no break after finishing school. No time to celebrate. Yesterday was her first non-crunch day since the semester began in January. We were here painting the (empty) place before moving in. Sunshine yellow in the living room and peaceful rose in the BR. Wendy would paint for a while, then work on her term paper for a bit, then paint some more. Can't help but think she could've done a better job on the term paper - the sole criteria for grading in that class - if we didn't have to move. 

While hobbling through Laguna yesterday, I put my hand in her small of her back and said, "My back hurts here." She looked at me for a sec, and replied, "That the only place?" =D (she aches all over). We kept a bottle of Advil at the new place, the old place, & in both cars - just in case. Moving sux. 

She figures moving here will chop off 20 mins from the drive, hopefully making the diff between bearable & unbearable. Still have some challenges here, like getting the gas turned on (no hot water), but Wendy loves it. She says she feels inspired here. Heard her say how much she loves at least a dozen times. In fact, Doug-the-carpenter is banging on the side of the house right now, building a new enclosure for the (new) hot-water heater, using a guide titled 'Eathquake specs'. The Gas Co. should be out sometime today to turn on the gas, & none too soon. Wendy had brecky with Maria (voiceover on Pearl Diver), and took a shower at her house. But until the Gas man shows up, I'm Mr. Stinky. =)

Seems like there's construction going on everywhere in her life. The new Zemeckis Digital Arts Center, where she has classes, is under construction - still bare concrete floors, men with hardhats working everywhere. People have been working on this new house for weeks now (new bathroom, new foundation under bathroom, new wall enclosing bathroom, new gas pipe from the street, new hot-water heater, etc.). The road outside (5-lanes, Coast Hwy) is tore up - CalTrans is repaving, jackhammers signing outside the house. 

Hardwood floors here. We've never lived in a house with hardwood floors. The beach closest to us, that we walk to, is having a new house built at the top of the bluff. Circ saws screaming on the way to the beach. Wendy was laying down on the bed with a headache yesterday when Doug-the-carpenter came in with a fat electrical cord in his hand & asked, "Can I plug this in here?" And of course, her brain is being totally remodeled by the 'granddaddy of Film schools'.

I've moved 15 times in the last 25 yrs, which I thought was a bit much until the Dog (Tommy Mac) told me he moved 28 times in the same time period. Got to be some kind of record.

Wendy asked her Screenwriting prof to consider giving her an extra point which would up her grade from a B+ to an A-, but he said, "Sorry, grades are already in and can't be changed."

She got a 92 on the Sound final (4 wrong on a 50-question exam). She looked at the posted answer sheet, & thought she got them all correct except for one, so she's gonna email the TA to look at her exam. She studied hard for that final. A 92 on the final would give her another B+ (88) in that class .. but 'Sound' is only one part of 507/Production, so no telling what the final grade will be. Sound is very technical. I helped her study for the final, asking her questions from the review sheet - was impressed by how much she learned over the semester. Walking the beach barefoot, I'd ask a question, & she'd spout a bunch of Greek-sounding jargon.

Will let you know when we hear a final grade report. Acting and Sound are technically part of the 507/Production class, & are grouped together like so:

Film Production: worth 60% of grade 
Sound/Audio: 20% 
Acting: 20%

Not sure why they group them like that. 

She put the most effort into Production & Acting. Next Sound, then Screenwriting, and lastly History of Silent Film, some of which she's familiar with from undergrad classes.

The holy grail for a USC graduate Production student is to direct a '546', during their final year. Only four students are chosen from the 50, to direct their movies. Dialogue is allowed, & it's a 20-min film. 16 or 35mm. A panel of profs make the selections of who gets the tap. The rest of the students 'crew' for the selected four. 

Each of the Four each get a $10K budget from the school. 546 premiere parties are famous/infamous. She doesn't know very much about the 546 films & some of this may be inaccurate, but Wendy does know she wants to be selected. If the first semester is any inclination, I'd say she's got a better than average shot.

Next semester, the 508 semester, is considered grueling. Wendy's class has received repeated warnings that it's the hardest. After next semester, things smooth out and students can choose the classes that wants, and specialize is some particular area, such as Sound or Editing. The first, all classes are chosen for the students. 

They pretty much even dictate the schedule. There is much work to making movies - you've seen the size of credit rolls after a flick. No one can do everything. Wendy seems most interested in Sound and Editing - and, of course, Directing. She seems to have a knack for Sound

But for now, she's focused on 508. Sometimes she feels overwhelmed by the idea of how much work is involved making a 16mm film, and she wants it hers to rock. Script for 508 must be submitted by Friday, August 18th - two weeks before classes begin. From what we've heard and read, a kick-ass 508 can mean a lot to a filmmaker's career. 

I think she'll give it a superhuman effort. 508s get seen by industry suits. I told her, 'in the land of 6-foot-tall men, the man who is 6', 1" is a giant." In other words, she doesn't have to make a film that's twice as good as everybody else's, in order to get recognized - it only needs to be a little better.  

So that's it for the first semester. What a ride! Nothing but the grades left. Will there be tears or cheers? I know she's been conscious of grades since learning that GPA can affect scholarship awards. Word is that she can apply for scholarships at the end of the first semester. We hear there is lots of industry broccoli to be had for those doing the right things, and holding golden GPAs. 

One final note: the student who dropped at the beginning of the semester cuz of a bad back, Rick, is back! He had to reapply & everything, but the profs rallied behind him, & he'll be starting over next semester. That kind of story makes my day. Rick was (very happily) sitting in on the last few classes of the semester. 

The Gas man was just here, turned on the gas, lit all the pilots & says we have hot water, so Stinky is off for a shower. 

Next -> Grades!

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