December 5, 2014

SCA Family Stories: Brenda Goodman

Professor Goodman talks about her new film Sex(Ed)

Brenda Goodman

In the overview video which the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) uses to recruit students, producer/Trojan alum Sev Ohanian talks about the faculty’s dedication to their students at SCA and he mentions that, even though he’s graduated, he can still call Brenda for advice at any time. The Brenda in question is director/producer/writer/educator Brenda Goodman, the head of the Producing Track in the Film & Television Producing Division. Goodman is known for her hands-on approach with student filmmaking, her honesty with students and her unique style of mentorship which lasts for entire careers.

Goodman recently sat with SCA Family Stories to discuss her new film Sex(Ed), her philosophy as a producer and an educator, and what she learned about sex from making a film about sex-education films.

For more information on the film, please visit - http://www.sexedmovie.com
To read the IndieWire coverage on Sex(Ed), see - http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/doc-nyc-women-directors-meet-brenda-goodman-sex-ed-20141110

I always like to start with name and title. My name is Brenda Goodman. I am a Professor of Practice and I am Head of the Producing track in the Production Division.

Tell me about the film. The film is called Sex(Ed): The Movie. The Movie captures the humor, shock and vulnerability people face when learning about sex, through the lens of the often hilarious, only sometimes informative, sex-ed films from 1910 to the present day.

If I’m not mistaken, this is your first director credit on a documentary. Is that right? It’s the first feature length documentary I have directed. I have produced quite a few documentaries and independent features and directed a lot of commercials, industrials and smaller documentary pieces.

What did you learn while making this film? What did I learn about sex? 

Sure! Let’s say, “What did you learn about the communication of sex?  First of all, about sex, I think we’re lifelong learners.

But specifically, about sex education, I think I went into it thinking, “Oh, we’ll look back years ago and see that we have made a lot of progress since we first started to talk to people about how they relate to each other.” That did not prove to be the case. I was surprised that many years ago, for example, we were much more willing to talk about, the condom, as a way of protecting oneself from disease. It didn’t quite have the agenda surrounding it that it currently has.

When was this roughly in terms of decades? World War II.

Really? That early? World War II roughly. That was an important period in sex ed films -- the military used films a method of communicating, to the soldiers. So there were famous filmmakers -- all the studios were involved. John Ford made one of the most famous sex-ed films called Sex Hygiene. Beautiful film. Really, really beautiful film.

In terms of the composition of the shots? Yeah. All aspects of it.

Shots. Composition. The storytelling. Some of the acting: it’s really, really good cinema. Almost every studio was involved in making propaganda films for the military and for the government, and some of those  had to do with hygiene and sex.

As a filmmaker, were there any obstacles that came up that stretched your problem solving? We currently have a technical problem, so I’m learning in that regard, but the biggest challenge was a decision that I made early on not to use a narrator.

Why did you choose not to have a narrator? It’s a personal preference. I find that style of using a narrator is not always compelling, although I certainly have seen it used very effectively.  I wanted to see if the films could tell the story, to let either the people that we interviewed speak for themselves or the films. I didn’t realize how challenging that was going to be.

I think many times as you edit, you find scenes, and then you try to figure out, “What is the glue? How do we get from this to that?” It’s so much easier to write copy and bridge it by getting someone to say what we need. However, for our transitions we had to find it from either our vox pop, our films or our experts, who we called “sex-perts.” If you were to look at the timeline of this film, it’s insane. I would say that it was done with tweezers, which is a real testament to our editor.

What is it that attracted you to this project in the first place, and what is it that kept you going with it? I grew up in the South and at that time there was a code of behaviour for young women, and probably for young men, that I struggled against. With what little sex education we had it was very clear how we were supposed to behave. Because of that, I have always been aware how we communicate about human relations and have had a fascination for it.

Then teaching here at USC, I have a lot of folks that come in my office to talk about their own struggles relating to each other, and I began to wonder, “Are we doing better about communicating? How do we deal, decades later, with issues of intimacy and sexuality?”  Because we have this great archive at USC, I decided to start looking into these questions and I found a treasure trove of sex-ed films.

Where can they find you online? http://www.sexedmovie.com

What do you say to students that come to USC to become a producer? I say welcome. I say welcome and Hallelujah that you have an interest, because really what’s happening is that with the industry changing the way it is, we look at producers as being creative entrepreneurs and I think understanding how to develop story, which is where a producer lives, and then what to do with that story -- how to get it out in the world -- is going to be important for all of our students, undergrad or grad.

What is the change that you see in the industry that’s affecting the role? I think there’s an immediacy. There’s an access and immediacy that students today have to getting media out there that didn’t exist years ago.

Even a short time ago. So understanding what a story is, how to craft a story, how to develop a story -- I’m not talking about writing one -- I’m talking about how to be the guiding principal behind it. Taking an idea from here’s an idea to let’s develop it, let’s move it along, let’s make sure this is a cohesive story, to knowing what it is, where it could go, how to achieve it and then getting it out there… That’s the producer’s capital. And that pipeline from inception to delivery is much more accessible to students now. So I think, understanding how to do that -- the notion of really how to be the engine that drives something out into the market -- that’s what students need to know.

How can somebody do that better at their time here when they are a student here? How can somebody be a better producer? Well, the way that classes are designed here in  the Production Division -- regarding producing -- is that the beginning classes, everybody’s going to learn along the same way. And what they’re learning in terms of producing is really is how to get media made here. How do we make it here? That’s valuable. And that skillset will serve them all the way through everywhere. But once you’ve gotten through your basic production 1 and 2, undergrad or grad, then you can begin to go to some of the intermediate classes where we’re talking about how do you shape story and get it out into the world.

So, for example, our advanced producing class is on the lot at Fox Searchlight. And it’s with the Executive Vice President of Fox Searchlight. So those students are figuring out, “What are the stories that I want to tell?” What market is it for, because sometimes you might have a story, but you can’t figure out if it’s TV, or web, or is this a feature? Is this a studio feature? Is this an independent film? Is this really episodic in nature? So knowing what you have, knowing how to craft it in a cohesive way -- then, how do I attract financing? How do I attract talent? How do I attract distribution? So we have a series, just like all the other tracks do, there is a beginning, intermediate, and advanced sequencing in producing.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten in your career? Treat people like you want to be treated.

If somebody wants more information on producing, are there any books or websites that you recommend? I think the producer’s guild has some interesting information. Actually, all the guilds do. So it’s a great place for aspiring professionals to look at.