Applying to college or university is one of the most intense and critical processes you will undertake in your life. Your final decision is based on many factors, chief among them getting accurate information. Over the years, a number of applicants have told us about the "facts" they heard someplace about USC cinema. Turns out many of these "facts" were myths. So we figured we'd set the record straight with a reality check.
Myth: Don't even bother applying, it is too hard to get in.
Reality: Cinematic Arts is highly competitive, drawing thousands of applications from around the globe each year. Though these men and women come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, each and every one is united by the talent, vision and determination to be the best in their discipline. If you share those qualities, then we want to hear from you.
Myth: You have to know someone in the "industry" to be admitted.
Reality: Yes, we've heard the old adage, too. "It's not what you know, but who you know…" Problem is, that's all backward. When it comes to reviewing application materials, one thing stands above the rest: talent. If you've got that, along with a demonstrated ability to fuse your abilities with the skills and interests of others, that will catch our eye better than the fact that you know "the son of the guy at the place who did the deal …" Oh, and by the way, while it's true you don't need to know anyone in the industry to be admitted, by the time you graduate, you'll have had the chance to know hundreds of them.
Myth: We base our acceptance only on test scores.
Reality: We evaluate applicants on a broad range of criteria: creativity, originality, determination, the ability to work with others. While academic performance is certainly part of that overall equation, it is by no means the sole determinant.
Myth: We don't accept transfer students.
Reality: The School of Cinematic Arts welcomes transfer students from institutions around the city, state and nation. For example, in fall 2009, well over one-third of our incoming undergraduate students were transfers.
Myth: USC is only about directing.
Reality: Tell that to Erin Brockovich producer Stacey Sher, Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz, There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit, ThatGameCompany president Kellee Santiago, Pirates of the Caribbean visual effects artist John Knoll, and literally thousands of other alumni who have made their impact in all areas of the cinematic arts. USC is about what you want it to be about.
Myth: USC is only about "Hollywood" films.
Reality: USC alumni and faculty have had a profound effect on filmmaking, producing box office blockbusters like Star Wars, Apollo 13, and Forrest Gump, to name but a few. That said, their strength is equally evident in thousands of other productions, such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Darfur Now, The Fall of Fujimori, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, The Nines, Path to 911, Recount, Thank You For Smoking, and scores of others. Students don't come to USC to make films that might interest Hollywood. They come here to make the films that interest them.
Myth: A cinema degree has no value in the "real world."
Reality: Okay, let's just get this out in the open: The "wow" factor. You know you've got more than a hint of pride when someone asks what you're doing this semester and you tell them you're shooting your film on the Warner lot or demonstrating a new game at Electronic Arts or presenting research at a major international conference. But studying the cinematic arts is much more than simply learning a technique or a trade. Our primary emphasis is to teach individuals how to channel their unique backgrounds and experiences into a greater creative endeavor. From the undergraduate to graduate to Ph.D. levels, students are immersed in a highly collaborative environment. This sense of being part of the greater whole, coupled with the specific expertise students acquire during their time at the school, prepares our graduates to make significant professional contributions from the day they pick up their diplomas.
Myth: It takes forever before you get to do your first "hands-on" work at the school.
Reality: Unless you define the first day of class as "forever," then you're going to find that hands-on experience begins pronto. And that's not limited solely to production division enrollees. Depending on the courses they select, people in the school's other five divisions can be directing actors, shooting footage or editing in the Avid suites.
Myth: Cinema classes are huge, you'll never meet your professor.
Reality: SCA classes run the gamut in size. On one of end of the spectrum is the extremely popular "Theatrical Film Symposium," in which students fill the 365-seat Norris Theatre to view newly released titles, followed by engaging Q&A sessions with the people who were the leading creative forces behind the projects, conducted by noted cinema critic Leonard Maltin. On the other end of the spectrum are small atelier-like seminars. With the number of students in each section intentionally kept low, these settings enable students to gain direct insight and feedback from their instructors and fellow classmates.
Myth: USC's got great equipment-that you'll never be allowed to touch.
Reality: USC does have great equipment. And here's the thing. Much of our gear is donated or lent by leading companies interested in seeing two things happen: First, ensuring that students have "plug and play" experience so that the minute they graduate they are prepared to work in any level of the industry. Second, at the same time these men and women are learning, they are also teaching-their experiments with the equipment and resources frequently provides valuable insight for improvements and innovations.
Myth: Professors force you to do projects they want to do, not what you want to do.
Reality: One of the fundamental charges of the faculty is to help the next generations discover and hone their distinct visions and voices. Our professors take particular care to come to understand what the goals and objectives are of the men and women whom they are guiding and to ensure time spent both in class and beyond is focused on meeting those targets. In terms of specific assignments, while students can be asked to do exercises in areas that might not always seem to have an immediate purpose, such projects are in service of the greater aim of providing the broad understanding needed to succeed when students enter their chosen areas of expertise after graduating.
Myth: There's no diversity in cinema.
Reality: Providing access to the broadest possible array of voices is one of the School of Cinematic Arts primary objectives. To this end, the school has established scholarships and grants to provide financial assistance. We have also expanded our academic opportunities to include the most diverse slate of course offerings possible. Another key element in this effort is that our faculty themselves come from widely varying backgrounds with profession experiences and interests that let them to provide guidance and inspiration for their students.
Myth: Cinema instructors haven't worked for years in the industry.
Reality: The majority of our instructors, whether full-time or adjunct, are working in the industry at the same time they are teaching. The school encourages this not only to ensure that these women and men have the most up-to-date knowledge of their profession, but also to provide a valuable conduit for their students gain access to the industry as well.