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

Wendy's Film school update #6  
Posted: 05dec2001

Topics covered this update:

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

Fade up & zoom in.

Working with Hi-Def

Wendy's classmates perk up when they hear the words Hi-Def (High-Definition)
mentioned in regard to her 581 thesis-project. Students specializing in cinema-
are most intrigued. 

In the competitive Filmmaking industry, every little advantage helps. Since not
many students have experience with Hi-Def, many view it as something worth
learning. This might help her secure crew to shoot her 581 thesis-project.

Hi-Def is the best format to shoot effects-related scenes, cuz it holds up best
to the 'processing' done by effects-generating programs, such as After Effects,
for example.

Wendy has been researching what it will take to edit scenes shot in Hi-Def,
a relatively new format. Supposedly the new Zemeckis Digital Arts Center has
*some* of the necessary equipment, but not all of it - at least yet. Rumor is
that the rest will arrive eventually, but no one knows exactly when that'll be.

She's been scouring the 'Net, leaning about various editing programs that
support the Hi-Def format .. such as Discreet's Fire. Another option would be
to convert the Hi-Def footage to digital video, and edit a DV copy, generating
what's called an edit decision list (EDL).

Cuts from the EDL are then applied to the original Hi-Def footage. [This type
of editing is referred to as off-line editing .. when you don't work with the
source footage directly.]

She also heard that you *shoot* Hi-Def like video, but *light* the scenes like
you do for film.

Filmmaking Smorgasbord

One of the coolest things about Film school is that it gives students a taste
of *all* aspects of filmmaking. This lets them discover for themselves which
parts they enjoy most .. and least.

You might think that every student's favorite thing would be Directing,
which is generally considered the ultimate filmmaking position. But I was
surprised to learn that many students find they don't like directing, cuz
they don't enjoy working with actors & actresses.

These students view actors & actresses as a difficult 'breed' to work with.
It takes a special type of person to be an actor or actress, someone who
enjoys becoming ('playing') another person (character). Directing actors
is a frustrating experience for some students.

Over the past few years, Wendy has discovered that she *most* enjoys
working with actors & actresses (directing). That's what juices her best.

Her strategy toward working with actors & actresses is to treat them like
children (in a good way.) Most of them seem to enjoy working with her.

Wendy most enjoys working with actors & actresses on scene's that contain
emotional content. That's her idea of filmmaking nirvana .. discussing the
emotion dynamics behind a character in an emotionally-charged scene.

She also found that she has a knack for editing. Whenever she comes home
after editing, she's always in a good mood .. even those times when she
worked all night, without any sleep. 

She likes cinematography, but the camera & equipment (lighting, tripods,
reflector boards, etc.) is too big and bulky for her to handle. But many of
her classmates love cinematography best, even some small girls.

She is good at producing, but doesn't much care for it. Producing deals
with the business aspects of filmmaking, such as scheduling and budgeting.
She's good at it, and has been complimented for her producing skills, but
doesn't find much creative joy in it.

She also has a knack for sound, and enjoys it. But Sound can be divided into
two parts:

  1. Production
  2. Design/Editing

She likes to edit sound, but finds production sound tedious (holding the
boom during shooting). In Film school, they don't separate the two, so she
has not pursued Sound very vigorously.

Her first job at USC was working for the Sound dept. That's how she kept
her foot in that proverbial (Sound) door. She heard that the Sound dept has
the best TA-ships at USC (pay the most units). Speaking of TA-ships...

Interview for a 508 TA-ship

Wendy has an interview for a 508 TA-ship today. A lady named Amanda Pope
called yesterday and asked her to come in for an interview today. A 508 TA-ship
would be her *ultimate* idea of a TA (teaching asst) position. She was dancing
around the house after the call.

Every 508 TA she has met has impressed her. They were all top-quality people.
She'd be honored to carry on that tradition. 508 is generally considered the
single most grueling semester ('the semester from hell').

508 is the second graduate semester .. the one where she worked with Lisa,
and made two 16mm shorts. [The experience is chronicled here.]

Afterwards, Wendy said, "She told me that I come *highly* recommended,
and you should've heard the way she said, highly .. like she really meant it."

A 508 TA-ship pays 8 units, plus a stipend, which means she could go to
school for free. And she likes the idea of a 508 TA-ship, cuz it would be
working directly with the art of filmmaking (instead of something like answering
, for example).

The lady let her know that there are other people applying for the position,
so it's not a sure thing. But Wendy feels confident. Her interview appt is for
11AM today. Cross your fingers.

Next Semester's 546 Directors Selected

The final four directors for next semester's 546 films have been selected.
Wendy didn't apply to direct a 546 this semester, but many students from
her class did.

Two students from her class were selected. One of them is Eric. He was also a
546 editor last semester, like Wendy was. If you attended the 546 screenings,
Eric edited (with Brad as his partner) the film titled Joey Petrone: TV Cop, which
was done well.

Eric is one of Wendy's closer friends. He has been down to the house several
times. If you attended the 508 screening, his 508 was the one titled: The
Groovin' Kazoos

[by the way - Wendy asked Eric to edit her 581 thesis-project film and he
said that he'd 'be honored to.']

Since 10 students apply for the four directing positions, that means that six
suffer rejection. They tell you not to take it personally, but .. it's hard not to.

Wendy spoke with one of those rejected (I can't mention names) .. but it's
someone who she knows is a hard-worker, and fine filmmaker. Wendy said,
"You could tell he was bummed. It was written all over his face. He worked
so hard on his pitch. My heart went out to him."

He told Wendy that he worked extra hard reviewing all the scripts, and that
the faculty chose students who had selected scripts that he felt were lame.

Rejection is a big part of Film school, and there's no antidote to numb the sting.
It bothers students that less-dedicated filmmakers sometimes get selected
over their hard-working classmates. Students know who works hard, and who
takes a more laid-back approach.

No 581 Pitch

One thing that has peeved Wendy recently is that students don't get a chance
to formally pitch their 581 thesis-project stories to potential mentors. She
met with the mentors, but there's no formal pitch .. at least not like they do
for 546

She'd like a chance to formally pitch her thesis-project story. This is the single
biggest project students will undertake at USC, lasting 3 semesters (1 semester
to shoot, 1 to edit, 1 to do sound).

She feels that a formal pitch is the right thing to do, cuz that's how the industry
operates. But potential mentors simply read the scripts, and an action plan. If
a particular script catches their fancy, they may accept the project & mentor
the student. If not...

Headaches of Ocean Shots

Some of Wendy's story takes place at the beach. Shooting in the water is a
giant headache, due to safety & insurance requirements. Wendy has been
researching stock footage of things like dolphins jumping & waves breaking.

Some footage costs $500 per minute to use. Other footage costs $85 per

Film permits for shooting in Laguna cost $250 per day .. *after* you pay
$160 application fee. They offer discounts for student films, but only if the
Dean writes a letter promising that the film will never be used commercially.

They consider Film festivals commercial ventures. Wendy isn't happy about
that. She loves entering Film festivals.

Chronicles Becoming Popular / Reader Mail

These Film school chronicles have become surprisingly popular, even since
they were discovered by search engines. For example, if you search for
USC Film school in either Google or Yahoo, you'll find that only the University's
School of Cinema-Television itself returns a higher-ranked result.

Also, updates from the 546 Semester were recently added to the Google Web
. These are all hand-added links that receive priority sorts for related
queries. See -> here.

I'm not sure how these search engines found the site .. cuz I haven't submitted
to any.

This exposure makes her a little nervous, kind of naked, but she has received
some of the nicest letters from readers .. such as this one.

We installed the editing program Avid Xpress DV last week. Still doing basic
testing with it. It has a problem finding the sound card, but otherwise seems
to be working okay. Avid is considered a *professional* editing program.

Lani was down for the holiday, from UC Santa Cruz. She & Wendy went out
dancing the night she arrived. They caught their favorite local Reggae band:
Common Sense, playing at the Sand Piper in South Laguna.

Nothing makes Wendy happier than hanging out with Lani. Lani just turned 21.
She says, "Now that I can legally drink, I don't even want to."

Fade to black.

Next => [USC Film school chronicles, Wendy update #7]
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USC Film school chronicles, Wendy update #5]

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