May 8, 2007

Reel Talk

First-Ever Women of Cinematic Arts Conference

By James Tella

In their first major conference, the Women of Cinematic Arts brought current students, recent alumni, faculty, and other interested members face-to-face with successful professionals working in the industry who shared their experience, insight, and inspirational stories during the May 5 “Reel Talk” at the Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts.

Sam Dickerman, Sharon Morrill, and Polly Cohen lend their words of advice during the Executive Power: Behind the Studio Desk panel at Reel Talk.
Filling the center’s massive soundstages, screening rooms and classrooms, the all-day seminar featured panels on cinematography, producing, financing, documentary, and more, while also highlighting the achievement of female filmmakers and raising questions about the issues women face throughout their career.

“Learning never stops, even after we leave USC,” said Women of Cinematic Arts events coordinator Soo Hugh, who graduated in 2006 with an M.F.A. in production. Hugh also shared the impetus for the event, saying that her group asked themselves one basic question: “What would the best people in the industry tell us about how they got to where they are in their careers?”

“The great thing is that hearing their stories and advice will inspire us all to do what we love, and keep us motivated,” said 2003 Starkie Jennie Yamaki, who also serves as the co-chair of the Women of Cinematic Arts. 
2003 Starkie Jennie Yamaki (left) and M.F.A. 06 Soo Hugh offer their opening remarks.

“This is such a terrific day,” Dean Elizabeth M. Daley said following an introduction by Hugh and Yamaki. “The most important people you will ever know are each other, and we want to help you find whatever path you need to succeed in this tough but wonderful world of entertainment.”

Daley then brought “Reel Talk” keynote speaker Stacey Sher (Erin Brockovich, World Trade Center) to the podium, praising the 1985 Stark graduate and highly successful producer as “one of the best role models today.”

After inspiring the crowd with her passion for film and sharing some light-hearted personal anecdotes, Sher fielded questions from the audience ranging from how to balance family and career to how the industry has changed in a global marketplace.

Throughout the morning’s panels, the helpfulness of attending film school was a common theme. From how the guest speakers began their careers to how they see the landscape of the industry today, 1986 Stark graduate and President of DisneyToons Studios Sharon Morrill perhaps summed up the practical advice offered.

“Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work,” Morrill said.

The day concluded with group advice at the roundtable discussions, which included topics such as planning for family and career, the gender gap, and what to do when you leave USC.

“You can get it all done,” said Sher during her keynote address. “It’s hard and all about setting boundaries, but you can do it.”

The Women of Cinematic Arts helps create awareness of women in the cinematic arts program and of those working in the industry, and serves as a forum for information. To join the group, currently moderated by M.F.A. Phoebe Shackeroff ’05, send an email to

“Reel Talk” Event Panels and Participants:

“Breaking into Cinematography: Lost in a Man’s World” with Shana Hagan (Breathing Lessons, Shakespeare Behind Bars), Amy Vincent (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan), Lisa Wiegand (Adventures of Power, Chasing Ghosts), and Uta Briesewitz (Homeless to Harvard, Life Support), and Cynthia Puscheck (Field of Dreams, Tomorrow Never Dies)

“Executive Power: Behind the Studio Desk” with Sam Dickerman (SVP Production, Columbia Pictures), Sharon Morrill (President, DisneyToon Studios), Polly Cohen (President, Warner Independent Pictures)

“Behind the Scenes: Careers in Film and TV” with Kristin Burke (Costume Designer, The Grudge 2, Running Scared), Joe Dzuban (Post Sound, Bobby), Chad Galster (Editor, Megastuctures), and Kevin Tent (Editor, Sideways)

“A Room of One’s Own: Preserving the Female Voice in Screenwriting” with Jessica Bendinger (Writer/Director Stick It, Writer Bring it On), Diablo Cody (Juno), Cheryl Edwards (Save the Last Dance, Against the Ropes), and Dana Fox (The Wedding Date)

CASE STUDY: Breach with Billy Ray (Director) and Jeff Ford (Editor)

“Taking Charge: Producers Get Creative” with Jocelyn Hayes (Killer Films, Infamous), Ted Kroeber (American Gun, Four Sheets to the Wind), and Edward Saxon (Silence of the Lambs)

“Selling the Vision: How to Cultivate a Director’s Career” with Elizabeth Allen (Aquamarine),  Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking), and Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, The Decline of Western Civilization)

“Tuning In: From Pilot to Air with Mark Goffman (Law & Order SVU, Studio 60), Stacy McKee (Grey’s Anatomy), and Katie Wech (Prison Break, The Dead Zone).

Learning the ABCs: Film Financing with Jeff Geoffray (Blue Rider Pictures)

“Making Your First Feature: How the Hell Do You Do It?” with Catherine Hardwicke (thirteen, Nativity Story), Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Aeon Flux), Frank Mele & Ed Parks (Special), and  Arie Posin (The Chumscrubber)

“Your Best Friend – The Assistant/Creative Exec” with Suzie Gilbert (Executive, Ixtlan),  Annie Laks (Asst. to EVP of Production, Columbia Pictures), and Mike Palank (Agent Trainee, William Morris).

“Life Studies: Documentary Films Today” with Mitchell Block (Executive Producer, Carriers),  Douglas Blush (Editor, Wordplay), Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated), Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston), Christine O’Malley (Producer, Wordplay), and Ellen Perry (The Fall of Fujimoro)