USC Film School Chronicles
The Fall 2001 semester at USC Graduate Production Film school

Wendy's Film school update #2
Posted: 06sep2001

Topics covered this update:

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

Fade up & zoom in.

The Fonz, Henry Winkler (who graduated from Yale Drama), was at USC last week. 
He was there with three college-age kids. He walked right past Wendy. They made 
eye contact for a moment.

Wendy said, "I couldn't remember his name. All I could remember was The Fonz."


Now that the required classes (507, 508, 546) are out of the way, students sit in on 
many prospective classes during the first week of school. They see which profs they 
like best, and which course material appeals to them most. 

Wendy sat in on several classes last week and settled on the following three:

1. Writing the Feature Script - 4 units
2. Advanced Editing - 2 units
3. Advanced Seminar, Practicum, Directing Actors for Film - 2 units

These are her first-ever advanced-level classes. She's taking one class in each of 
her three favorite subjects: Writing, Editing, Directing.

The first class, Writing the Feature Script, spans 2 semesters. Students spend the 
first semester developing their story. The second is spent writing it. 

A feature-length script is viewed as a necessity in the industry. If someone likes your 
film, the first thing they ask is, "Do you have a script?" 

In fact, having two scripts is becoming the standard. After you give them your script, 
the next question is usually, "Do you have anything else?" Even if it's not very good, 
you need to have a script to hand someone, or you're not taken seriously.

Wendy enjoys directing most of all. Directing involves working with people, and Wendy 
enjoys working with people. But almost everyone wants to direct. So competition for 
directing positions is fierce. 

Wendy has a knack for editing, and has plenty of experience at it, compared to other
Film-related disciplines. When we watch movies or TV now, she often says things like, 
"Did you see that?"
I'll say, "What?
She'll say, "That was a bad cut." 
Or she'll blurt out, "That cut didn't match!" like she's announcing it to the neighbors.
I never notice anything wrong.

She has experience with three different editing platforms: Adobe Premiere, Apple's 
Final Cut Pro, and Avid Media Composer

Directors are responsible for creating the shot list. If the director doesn't get all 
the required shots, the editor has to make due with what they have. 

Getting the necessary shots is called coverage, as in, "That scene has good coverage." 
(lots of shots from many different angles & points-of-view)

This is why editors have an advantage when it comes to directing. They have a sense 
of which shots they need to get. Many upperclassmen suggest, "Learn editing before 
you get into directing. It'll help you design your shot list."

Writing is her biggest challenge. It takes much self-discipline to sit down and crank 
out a feature-length story. All the details have to match. That's why she's taking
the Writing class. It forces her to write.

She has all women profs this semester. She likes that.

In her Writing class, her story idea was one of the more well-developed. She was 
surprised how thinly sketched some stories were. They pitched their story ideas in 
class today. People liked Wendy's story, which she synopsizes as:

"The Wizard of Oz meets The Matrix at the beach."


The class titled Advanced Seminar, Practicum, Directing Actors for Film is shaping up 
to be Wendy's all-time favorite. It's taught by a lady named Nina Foch. She is an 
elderly woman who had roles in over 60 Hollywood films. She is a 40-year member 
of the Academy (Oscars). 

Rumor has it that she's one of the main players involved in the Student Oscars

Wendy says she's a feisty old lady who can be tough on students. She heard from 
other students that you don't want to be late to Nina's class. She's only had two 
classes with Nina, but so far, it's shaping up the be the best ever.


After problems with equipment not working right, the biggest complaint students 
have is with the method of registering for classes. 

The problem stems from the way students are selected to crew on 546 projects. 
Most students who wish to crew on a 546 do not know if they have been accepted 
as a crew member until after the semester begins.

Directors for each of the four 546 films select their own crew members. These 
positions include Producers, Editors, Sound people, and Cinematographers (also 
called DPs, or Director of Photography). There is also an Asst-Director

During the first week or two of the semester, Directors call around to profs and 
TA's, finding out which students are most qualified for each position. The process
often involves negotiation, as some students won't work certain others. 

A contributing factor is that students cannot receive financial aid without being 
officially enrolled in classes. The deadline for financial aid applications is prior to  
the time they receive word whether they've secured a position crewing on a 546.

For this reason, students must sign up for classes they have no intention of taking
Later they will drop and add classes as necessary. 

This exasperates the problem, because student who really want a certain class are 
often wait-listed, because there are so many students enrolled in the class who 
have no intention of actually taking it. 

The real problem is that you can't get approved for financial aid with a wait-listed 
class on your schedule. So students must enroll in other classes, for which they have 
no intention of taking. 

As you can see, it's a self-perpetuating problem. The good thing is that students 
can usually get the classes they really want, even if they're far down on the wait-list. 
But not always, and there's no way of knowing for sure.

Wendy says, "You have to learn to work with a flawed system. You have to sign up 
for any open class, just to get your financial aid."


Clapperboards are usually used at the beginning of a scene to identify the scene and
to sync the sound. When used at the beginning, they're referred to as a head slate

Sometimes it is not desirable to use a clapperboard at the beginning. For example, 
the director may be working with a child in a sensitive scene. He may not want a 
sharp clap that might break the emotion that's been developed. 

In this case, the clapperboard will be used at the end of the scene. When used at 
the end, it's referred to a tail slate, and the clapperboard is turned upside down
to signify this.

We were watching
The Shadow of the Vampire, with John Malkovich and William DeFoe
the other night. At the end of this movie, Malkovich asks for the slate to be turned 
upside down. I asked why. Wendy explained. Now you know, too. =)


Dennis made post cards for the 546 film that Wendy (and Geof) edited last semester.
They came out nice. You can see what they look like. Dennis used the image as the 
basis for the film's new homepage. It's posted
here (titled Echo).

These post cards are being sent to family & friends, inviting them to the film's official 
screening, and the festivals that it got into. The post card doesn't have the menu 
that's included on the web page. Wendy has a dozen cards. Maybe someday they'll
be worth money, when she's famous. =).


Wendy is meeting with Tania today to review the thesis project film, titled Seahorses,
that Wendy is editing for her. This is their first meeting since Tania returned from 
Hawaii. Tania said that Wendy got more done that she expected. They expect to be 
done with that project by November. 

This is the first thesis film that Wendy has worked on.

Tania has a full plate this semester. She's directing a 546 Documentary (not a 
), along with a few other things. She probably should have returned from 
Hawaii a week earlier. Tania has her first primary shoot this weekend. 

Wendy doesn't know how Tania's going to do everything. But she feels that, if 
anyone can pull it off, Tania can.

Tania's mentor for Seahorses is a prof named Pablo. He is one of the heads of 508. 
Wendy badly wants to get a
508 TA-ship. She met Pablo for the first time today.
She likes him. Says, "He looks you in the eye when he talks to you." 

She thinks that getting to know Pablo might help her chances for securing a 508 


Last semester, Wendy had a prof named Jeremy Kagan for an Intermediate Directing 
class. She began this class with much enthusiasm, but ran into problems when she 
selected material that was poorly suited for the class. Students who selected 
material from (pre-written, dramatic) plays faired best.

Jeremy also teaches an Advanced Directing class where he hand picks students. 
Wendy got a
B+ in his class. She didn't try for Kagan's Advanced class cuz she's 
more excited about Nina Foch's Directing class. But she knows students who did. 

She considers
Brad & Chad two of the best filmmakers in her class, but neither of 
them were selected. She said Chad in particular looked very bummed. Chad had 
possibly the best
508 of her entire class. 

Brad told her that, in the first class, Kagan asked them to talk about an experience 
that made them want to cry. Brad answered that his life hasn't had many depressing 
experiences, and that getting accepted into USC was the most emotional experience 
he could recall.

Kagan didn't care for that answer. Brad thinks this may be why he wasn't selected.
She's surprised that neither of them got into his class. Only one girl got in. 


Fade to black.

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