The Fall 2001 semester at USC Graduate Production Film school
Wendy's Film school update #5
Topics covered this update:
Fade up & zoom in.
Wendy's next major goal is getting her thesis-project green-lit. This means
that a mentor formally accepts her project. She has already submitted the
final version of her script (titled Breakwater) to each mentor.
Three mentors accept thesis-projects each semester. Each mentor accepts
5 projects. Since only 15 students receive mentors for their thesis-projects
each semester, many students will be rejected.
If Wendy doesn't get a mentor this semester, three more will be available
during the summer .. one of whom is Mary Beth Fielder, who Wendy likes
During a recent class trip to the First Look Festival, at the Director's Guild
(in Hollywood, on Sunset blvd), Wendy said, "The films mentored by Mary
Beth stood out as some of the best."
The biggest problem with Wendy's thesis-project is that it contains elements
of fantasy, which require visual effects. Faculty has discouraged her from
incorporating any special effects. They add time to the project & complexity.
This could be cuz faculty isn't familiar with the (new) technology used to
generate visual effects. Faculty cites how long it's been taking another
student (Eric Furie) to complete his project, which uses lots of animation.
Wendy claims that the reason it's taking Eric so long to complete his project
is cuz the school keeps him so busy working that he doesn't have much time
left over to work on his project.
Eric works as a liaison between the Production dept and USC's Animation dept.
Despite Eric's interface, Wendy is surprised that there's not much interaction
between students in the school's six different departments. For the most part,
each dept functions as it's own, separate domain.
Wendy's project includes only a few seconds of visual effects that she would
describe as major, and a maybe a minute's worth of minor effects - such as
Nevertheless, only 25% of students actually complete their thesis-project films.
So any extra work could prove to be the proverbial straw.
She's been researching exactly what it will take to generate the effects she
wants. During her research, the head of USC's Creative Technologies (Greg
Vannoy) has agreed to be her technical consultant.
Eric Furie, the student mention earlier, who works as a liaison, an effects guru,
has been helping her determine exactly what is and isn't feasible.
For example, she learned that it's best if she shoots the effects-related scenes
in High-Definition video, cuz footage shot in Hi-Def stands up best to the processing
done by visual effects.
She also learned that Hi-Def cameras rent for $3K/week, and that rental places
usually throw in the second week for free (to students from USC). She got the
name of a student who has experience with a Hi-Def camera, and calculates that
she'll need the camera for 2 weeks.
She has also has made contact with various Animators located thru websites
such as 3dgate.
Wendy is excited about the cool, new equipment (such as Motion Capture)
being offered at the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts. She wants to get
her hands dirty with everything the school has to offer. She only wishes the
faculty were more encouraging that she use this equipment in her project.
New equipment is coming into the Zemeckis center all the time. Greg Vannoy,
the person who has agreed to be her technical consultant, is the head of
Creative Technologies at the new Zemeckis Digital Arts Center.
Her next step is to submit a schedule & a budget for her project. She has been
using Movie Magic scheduling and budgeting software. This software is typically
used by Producers.
Last semester, as an Editor, she attended a Saturday seminar on Movie Magic
software. All the other students there were 546 Producers. She wondered why
she went, but is now glad she did, cuz the program is complicated.
Speaking of software, she also picked up Avid Express DV for editing her thesis-
project, but hasn't installed it yet. She uses Final Draft to write her script.
Becoming familiar with software programs is a significant part learning curve.
For example, she learned how to use Final Cut Pro (Apple Mac) this semester,
while editing Tania's thesis-project film, titled Seahorses.
Wendy says that Seahorses has many great scenes to work with, and contains
lots of interesting images, but the story has some gaps that she doesn't know
how she'll fill in. Speaking of problems with Seahorses ...
Tania's hard drive fried a few weeks ago. Wendy was plugging it in, when she
heard a pffff, and smelled something burning. When it wouldn't work in that
computer, she tried plugging it in to several different systems, but couldn't
get it to work to any of them.
Wendy worked with the technical support group for the drive's manufacturer
and had it replaced. Tania is been busy directing a 546 documentary this
The girls received a new hard drive, but all the data (video footage) was lost.
It would take several tedious days to recapture all the footage. Tania has an
assistant editor to help Wendy. He was the one who originally captured all the
footage, which is a tedious job, offering no creative reward.
Wendy asked if he would be willing to recapture all the footage again, and he
did. I think his name is Viril. He's an undergrad Film school student. Wendy was
So after a few weeks away from the Seahorses project, she's back at it. Now
she sweats bullets every time she plugs in the hard drive. [Firewire, 75GB]
Wendy did not apply for a 546 directing position. This is surprising cuz, last
semester, she wanted nothing more than to direct a 546 .. and was hurt when
she wasn't selected.
Now however, she feels that it's more important that she learns how to make
a movie on her own. She won't get this experience by directing a 546.
546 is a collaborative effort that's considered an Intermediate project. The 581
thesis-project that she wants to make is considered an Advanced project. Making
your own advanced thesis film at USC is considered the ultimate.
The school has selected its 10 preliminary directors for next semester's 546. It
looks like they picked some talented filmmakers. Among them are Brad, Eric, & Luke.
Wendy feels no remorse about not applying. Her only disappointment is that Helaine,
her prof from the 508 semester, is going to be the 546 Directing prof next semester.
Wendy says that Helaine is one of the most impressive people she has met at USC.
She is fiercely committed to her students, is serious about filmmaking, and takes no
The 10 students selected will pitch for 4 final directing positions. Students selected
as the final 4 directors will be fortunate to have Helaine as their Directing prof.
A major disappointment is that Nina Foch has been out sick most of the semester.
She was very sick the first few weeks, but still came in to teach. Wendy has
been looking forward to Nina's class ever since her days as an undergrad.
Some of Nina's students, who have 'made it' in the industry, have been substituting
for her. Wendy says they are all excellent .. but they're not Nina. She has a different
substitute for Nina every week, so she's getting many diverse ideas. Nina's teaches
an Advanced Directing class.
All the classes at USC are known by their number, such as 508, or 546. But Nina's
class is simply known as, Nina's class. She has double-pneumonia. Wendy said Nina
looked very bad, and that she was very concerned about her. Nina hasn't been to
class for several weeks now. When she was, she was too sick to be herself.
In the spirit of the war that's raging in Afghanistan, the US Army awarded USC
a 5-year contract to create the Institute for Creative Technologies.
ICT's purpose is "to enlist the resources and talents of the entertainment and
game development industries and work collaboratively with computer scientists
to advance the state of immersive training simulation." You can read more about
We also hear that the government is courting Hollywood to create movies to help
sell the war, which is likely to last a long time. Hollywood ain't buying it, but you
can't blame the government for trying.
Wendy might be getting a new job at school, working with the Admissions office.
The job pays 4 units, plus an hourly wage. Together with the 3 units she gets
from the Editing TA job, she could almost go to school for free next semester.
The lady in charge of Admissions called out to Wendy on the street, and told
her that she thought Wendy would be good for the job. Wendy feels honored
that someone would seek her out like that and offer her a position.
The job involves answering questions for both new & prospective students.
She'd be good at that type of thing, which requires patience & understanding.
I think Wendy is going to take it. The only problem is that they want her to
work a minimum of 15 hours per week, and she'll be very busy if she wants
to make her own thesis-project film. Decisions.
These pages have become
surprisingly popular the last few months, ever since
they were discovered by search engines. If you search for USC Film school in
either Google or Yahoo, two of the most popular search engines, you'll see what
I mean. Only the University website itself is more popular [Scary, huh?]
If I would've known that they would become this popular, I would have done
a better job. I went back and redesigned the Index pages for each semester,
so they look a little more 'presentable'. I also created a Master Index page.
Wendy has run into several students on campus who know her thru these
Fade to black.
Film school chronicles, Wendy update #6]
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