Adventurers at USC Film School
Graduate Production | Spring 2002


Update #5

A Chronicle of the 581 Semester

Topics discussed:

Lights, camera, action! .. at USC Graduate Film School
  • 508 TA-ship
  • High Definition Video
  • The Footage
  • First Look Festival

508 TA-ship

Fade up & zoom in...

Wendy received a call today, informing her that she was selected for a 508 TA-ship next semester. 508 is the second of a 6-semester program. She will be TA-ing for Pablo, the head of 508 (who gets first choice of who he wants).

Three 508 classes are scheduled each semester. Each 6-unit class contains ~16 students that pair into groups of two. This is the third time she has applied for a 508 TA-ship. Now that her thesis project is done shooting, the timing for the TA-ship is perfect. Much work remains, but the lion's share (writing & shooting) is behind.

Wendy replaces Tania, Pablo's previous TA, who is graduating this semester. Wendy edited Tania's 581 thesis film (Seahorses), and Pablo was Tania's mentor, so they all know each other well. The 508 TA-ship pays 8 units plus a generous stipend .. welcome news after she spent a small fortune shooting Breakwater. It also pays 4 units during the summer, but she won't be able to use those units until summer 2003, after she begins her TA-ship this fall. So she'll be able to complete her remaining semesters for free.

A 508 TA-ship is one of the best available at USC. Only the Sound TA-ships pay more units (12). The only bad thing is that the 508 schedule conflicts with many good classes. She's been having a hard time finding classes to take next semester. The TA-ship *requires* that she take 8 units. She hasn't yet had a chance to tell her current boss, Jim, that she got another job. Her current postions pay 5 units.

She also learned that this will be the first experimental class where students will edit films using Avid Xpress DV (which she has on her home PC), instead of flatbeds. They will still be shooting 16mm. Editing on a flatbed is slow, tedious and painful by comparison. Students who get this class have no idea how lucky they are.

Flatbeds used to cost $30K, but can now be had for a song. Wendy almost bought one to use at home during her 508 semester. I think they wanted $300. The problem was not cost, but space. We had no place to put it. But flatbeds will soon be relics.

Old timers bemoan that digital editing loses the tactile senasations of holding the film in your hands .. as I'm sure they bemoaned losing the clickety-clop sound of the horse and buggy when automobiles began to take over. Everything is going digital, cuz it's so much faster, cheaper and easier to use. Speaking of going digital...

High-Definition Video

Word on campus is that the industry will eventually migrate to high-definition video. It's not clear how long that might take, but it's considered inevitable. HD offers the quality of film with digital's ease-of-use. Wendy had originally planned to shoot her thesis film on Hi-Def, but was advised against it by various profs.

Much hype still surrounds the new format, and many people at USC (including Wendy) got caught up in the hype. It's like DVD was 5 years ago. One professor said about shooting her thesis project on Hi-Def, "You're likely to go broke *and* crazy." .. referring to the cost and compatibility problems associated with using any new format.

At Wendy's undergrad graduation ceremony (Shrine Auditorium, across the street from USC campus), a private company had showed up early and set up $35M worth of HDTV equipment. Two large screens were mounted, one on each side of the stage. Remarkable quality

The Footage

Wendy met with Despina (the DP) and Eric (the editor) yesterday to review the footage. She's happy with most of it. Only one scene needs to be re-shot. It was windy that day and you can see light moving on the boyfriend's face as the reflector boards moved. It looks like .. well, like the reflector boards are moving.

It's a shame, cuz he gave an excellent performance in that scene. Unfortunately, they didn't have the monitor on set that day, or they might have caught it.

They ended up with 9 one-hour tapes. But not all are full. They guesstimate 7 hours of footage to work with (for a 12-min film). That seems to be typical for a 581 thesis project.

Best of all is that all of the footage shot for the cave scene in the studio at the Zemeckis center came out good. Good thing, cuz they won't be able to re-shoot, having already taken down the set. What did they do with all that sand? If you pull into the Zemeckis center you'll see some holes filled in around the parking lot .. compliments of the Breakwater crew.

Eric has already begun digitizing the footage. Lisa will be helping him. Cutting will begin soon as all the footage has been uploaded to the hard drive. Eric just finished editing his last project, so this is a good time for him. Wendy like that he will add a male's perspective to to story written, shot and directed by women.

After reviewing all the footage with Eric, Wendy & Despina smoked a victory cigar (fat Macanudo) .. a tradition started when the Dog gave her a cigar after her final undergrad class.

First Look Festival

The best thing about thesis projects is that they're all screened at the First Look Festival, for industry professionals at the Director's Guild in Hollywood (Sunset Blvd). Speaking of FirstLook, the 546 film that Wendy edited (with her editing partner, Geof), titled Echo, was recently screened at FirstLook. Word is that they save the best for last, and Echo screened last.

Not all students do a film for their thesis project. Graduation requirements can be met by completing a feature length script, and by crewing on a 546 twice, in different capacities (e.g. editior & cinematographer). Doing your own film is the most ambitious. Students who do a 581 or other advanced project film to meet their thesis requirement find it difficult to complete the program in 3 years.

Fade to black...