There's a lot of misinformation, miseducation and myth surrounding the number one film school in the world. In the podcast Gary and I go in depth on what USC is, isn't, and the way USC has and continues to help my filmmaking career. Even with this film. Some of the information in the podcast is repeated here but go listen anyway for the in depth information.
I went to USC to learn how to get more emotion into my films. That was it. Nothing more. I had friends who tried to persuade me against it... stating the cost or the fact it wouldn't do anything for my filmmaking career... etc. etc. The truth is that USC has done a lot for my filmmaking career... here's how:
There was something to learn in every class... but there were four that changed my life.
- script analysis: by far one of the most eye opening classes. In this class we watched a film, then dissected it into modular parts to discover why the film worked. This was way beyond the three act structure which we're all familiar with. We had two books for the class: The Tools of Screenwriting and How to Build A Great Screenplay. I was impacted so much by the class I made a cheatsheet for the modular parts of a film based on what I learned. You can download it here.
- Visual storytelling: In script analysis we learned how to manipulate your mind through the script. In this class we learned how to manipulate your mind and emotions throughout the film using visual elements like color, contrast, line, space, shape etc. This is deep, deep, deep stuff. The book was The Visual Story but the book only scratches the surface on what was taught in class by Bruce.
- All of the directing classes: The classes were intense. We'd have to direct live and the professor would critique our performance.... and then step in and direct our actors and show us where we went wrong. We had books but we never used them so I can't recommend any specifically from USC but On Directing is a fabulous book I found before USC that I can stand behind.
- Critical studies: These classes will get in your head and give you nightmares. There's a range of topics like what is art? Is film art or entertainment? etc. etc. It's all super intellectualized stuff. I don't have a USC book recommendation but if I did... it surely would be based on a book I found before USC called Film: A Psychological Study. This is the book that started film theory written way back in 1916.
The film school has a number of good and bad reputations and there's some truth to all of them. The best and brightest go to USC along with the ones who're convinced they're the best and the brightest.... And it takes about a year for the latter to be humbled. The talent level at the school is seriously off the charts and being there makes you step your game up to the highest heights. Go big or go home... your classmates are going big so what's to loose? In the industry we are known for producing students that know their sh**. It's instant credibility and name recognition with a lot of goodwill associated with it. The force is with the alumni!
This is not a place where the artist is coddled. You are told you suck from day one. It's like boot camp where they have to tear you down so that they can build you up to your potential. They have to do this because of that second group of students I mentioned above. It's the best school so the faculty is in kind. It's not unusual to have famous guest lecturers nor is it uncommon for your professor to give you your first big break in the industry.
The first day in engineering school, the professor said look to your left and then to your right.... Half of these people won't be here at the end of the year... At USC instead of saying half the people wont be here... they said these are the people who will be hiring and firing you for the rest of your career. The USC MAFIA IS REAL. Be nice to your classmates because you're guaranteed to need their help later in your career. I'm five years out and my class is doing big things now. It's amazing and exciting to see it all happen.
Promotion after graduation
I got my first industry meeting because of a USC referral. There's an entire office with like 10 people staffed who are tasked with promoting USC students to industry and to film festivals. I don't know of any of other film school that has this. The school really believes in promoting students and it's no bullshit.
I started at USC with a good idea of about how to make a film. Which is unremarkable because most students do... now that filmmaking has been democratized. There's no real mystery about how films are made anymore... you shoot it, edit it on a laptop, throw in some music and boom... you have a film. But the stuff I learned at USC coupled with the promotion of my career out of the festivals and distribution office... make this university second to none. I am honored to have attended and look forward to the day when I can give back to the university that has given so much to me.
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