Adventures at USC Film School
Graduate Production | Spring 2002


Update #1

A Chronicle of the 581A Semester

Topics discussed this update:

Lights, camera, action! .. at USC Graduate Film School

  • Grades for Last Semester's Classes
  • This Semester's Classes
  • TA-ship
  • Omens & Injuries
  • A Letter from the Mailbox


Fade up & zoom in...

Wendy's grades for the Fall 2001 semester at USC graduate Film school


Grades for last semester's classes are posted above. You should've heard Wendy whining about that B+, saying, "I should've got an A- in that class. I worked hard and turned in every assignment on time." =)

Writing is one of her more challenging endeavors. Most Film school students enjoy conjuring up intriguing ideas for stories. But it requires tons of discipline to sit down and transform creative ideas into a coherent script.

The bad thing is that Writing the Feature Script (B+) carries 4 units, and therefore weighs twice as heavily on her GPA as the other two classes. The good news is that this is the first graduate semester in which she received two full A's.

Wendy's face lit up like a 6-year-old on Christmas morning when she saw the grade (A) that Nina Foch gave her (for Directing Actors for Film class). This was Wendy's first Advanced-level class.

Despite the harmless-looking photo, Nina can be a terror in the classroom. She's not easy to please, and when she doesn't like something, it's no secret. Students come to Nina's class prepared .. or they don't come at all.

Nina was out sick for much of the semester, but an impressive stream of her former students, who have 'made it' in the industry, stepped in to substitute for her .. a different one each week.

Wendy greatly enjoyed these 'guests' from the industry. They put a lot of effort into each class. This is one of the things that makes USC a little different from your average Film school.

Wendy feels that 551 (Planning the Advanced Production) was the single most-useful class she's had at USC .. cuz it teaches the actual mechanics of making a movie. And that's what Film school is all about.

This Semester's Classes

This semester marks the beginning of Wendy's third year. She'll be taking two classes this semester, worth a total of 8 units:

  • 581A - Individual Production Workshop (4 units)
  • 541 - Intermediate Interactive Multimedia Workshop (4 units)

581 is known as the Advanced project, or the Thesis project. It's what Film school students live for: the chance to make your own movie. 581 runs three consecutive semesters (including the summer). Semesters are structured like so:

  1. 581A => Polish script, pre-production & shoot [this semester]
  2. 581B => Edit, post-production [summer semester]
  3. 581C => Post-Sound, sound-design, scoring, & mix [Fall, 2002]

To modify a creed from the Army: the more you sweat in pre-production, the less you bleed in production. Wendy is generally good at pre-production. During the 508 semester, she & Lisa were always done shooting before other groups.

Pre-production involves a host planning-related activities such as, script-polishing, scheduling, location-scouting, budgeting, casting, crewing-up, fundraising, securing corporate sponsors, publicity, costumes, props, set-design & construction .. uh, not necessarily in that order. =)

If all goes well (which it never does) she'll walk away with a 12-minute movie to her name. Some students take nothing but 581 during their 'A' semester. This allows them to focus single-mindedly on developing their thesis-project film.

The other class that Wendy will be taking this semester (Interactive Multimedia) is a mandatory requirement. She'd actually rather take a different class, called Script Analysis, with a prof named David Howard. She read his book The Tools of Screenwriting (twice!) two years ago, and *loved* it. This class would also help her develop her story idea. (She already sat in on one class.) Everybody raves about this class.

But she feels compelled to take the Interactive Multimedia class, cuz it's a requirement. She's heard too many stories about students who can't graduate cuz they have *one* required class remaining.

From the syllabus:

This course focuses on the design and theory of narrative-based Interactive media. We will work primarily with computer games, databases, and the Internet as the emergent loci. Course themes will include:
  • Cyber culture in Cinema
  • Narrative structures of computer games
  • Artificial characters
  • Metaphors in computer interfaces
The course will introduce technologies through popular software, such as Macromedia Director and Adobe Photoshop. Texts:

As part of the discussion about Cyber culture, the prof mentioned the book, Snow Crash. Some of my techie friends feel that this is the best book they've ever read.

Wendy is already familiar with both Macromedia Director and Adobe Photoshop, so she feels that the class won't distract too much from the demands of her thesis project, which will be considerable. You can see an example of some Photoshop mojo that she threw together in a collage at her site.


Wendy got a TA position for an Advanced Editing class, called Editing the Advanced Project (543). She *also* got a position as personal assistant to Jim Mitchell, head of the Editing dept.

Wendy's was Jim's TA last semester, for an Intermediate Editing class (535). Apparently he liked working with her. Nancy Wang, who is Wendy's Producer for her thesis project, was Jim's personal asst last semester (Nancy rocks).

I think Wendy gets 5 units (total) for these two positions, which means she only has to pay for 3 units this semester.

Luke got the 508 TA-ship that Wendy was vying for. She said Luke was happy about getting the position, which pays 8 units, but found that he can't take any good classes, cuz the 508 class for which he is TA'ing conflicts with all the good classes (Tuesday/Thursday schedule).

Omens & Injuries

The evening of the day that Wendy learned she got green lit, she went dancing after dinner (sushi) with her friend Natalie ('Nads'), an undergrad classmate, who is now producing.

Wendy was in a celebratory mood, but she was also feeling the pressure of making her own movie. I don't think she thought she was really going to be selected. She had the idea that the faculty would pick upperclassmen first, and that she'd get green-lit during the summer.

Getting green lit was a surprise, and meant that the race is on. If you've stayed after a movie to watch the credits roll (..and roll, & roll), you have an idea of how much work is involved.

Anyway, the girls were drinking sake. Natalie has Russian blood (for real), and is seemingly impervious to alcohol, but Wendy spent much of the next day in the bathroom, on her knees, praying to the great, white, porcelain god. I believe his name is Ralph, cuz that is the name she kept calling out repeatedly from her position of worship. I'd never seen her so religious.

She wasted a couple of days recuperating, and then decided to take the kids skiing for Christmas. I had a bad feeling about the ski trip. I told her that she just got the biggest opportunity of her life (getting green lit), and that she shouldn't do anything to jeopardize that. I felt like she was tempting fate, but she would hear none of it.

She tweaked her knee while testing some new 'powder skis' on a steep face at Heavenly Valley (Tahoe), getting into position to shoot video of the kids snowboarding off a jump. One leg went one way .. the other went another. She said, "I heard something snap."

The snow that day was heavy - ideal conditions for snapping tendons. Wendy told the people in the ski shop that she was an 'expert' skier, which means they cranked her bindings down real tight. Wendy thought she was 18 years old again, but her body refused to believe it.

Next thing ya know, Ski Patrol is toting her away on a stretcher. Doc said she tore a ligament (ACL, left knee), and will need surgery if she ever wants to do active stuff again, like hiking or backpacking. She's was hobbling around on crutches, with a brace on her knee & sad look on her face. She getting better, tho.

If I said, "I told ya so" once, I must've said it a hundred times over the last few weeks. Every time she asks me to carry something for her, I say, "Ya know, if you would've listened to me..." Of course, she hates that. =)

So things haven't started out so great. When I ask her about these self-inflicted wounds coming so soon on the heels of getting green-lit, she replies by saying, "You obviously know nothing about the creative process." I hope this doesn't mean that she plans to cut off her left ear next.

The good news is that she's not had single drop of alcohol since the night with Natalie, and has been focusing on developing her story.

Sometimes a little humbling can be a good thing. I heard that Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team...

Reader Mail

Wendy receives letters from people who find these updates via Internet search engines. I posted one of these letters, from a girl named Tara, who is currently a Poetry major at Sarah Lawrence College, near NYC. She'll be graduating in May and has applied to USC Film school (she won't find out until April whether she is accepted). You can find her letter ->[HERE].

I can't help but feel that a Poetry major would make an ideal platform from which to approach filmmaking, as it also uses the language of imagery. We wish her all the best.

An updated copy of Wendy's script is posted here. The file is password protected (she doesn't want Spielberg to steal her idea). If you'd like to check it out, let me know and I'll send you the password.

It has developed considerably over the last several months. I'm sure she'd appreciate any constructive criticism you might have. Sometimes it helps to have a fresh set of eyes look at your script.

The logline for her story reads like this:

The divorce of her parents tempts Elena to give up on love and sends her reeling into a fanta-sea world where mythical creatures challenge her to face her pain and embrace love again.

A logline is industry lingo for a single sentence that sums up your story.

Fade to black...