February 1, 2009

Digital Cribs

SCA Teams Get Real-World Experience In Cisco Contest

By Teresa Lo

If you think delivering a term paper on time is a challenge, try creating a mini-documentary that goes from concept, to creation, to global distribution in four months. For eight student teams, from the School of Cinematic Arts who competed in the Cisco Digital Cribs film contest, this was their task. The fruits of this student challenge where shown on the big screen at USC’s Norris Theatre Complex during a red-carpet reception on Sunday, January 31, 2009.

The Digital Cribs contest began the first week of October when 15 SCA student teams submitted pitches and budgets to representatives from Cisco (which specializes in networking and communications solutions), Olgilvy (a world-leader in advertising) and some of the renowned faculty advisors from the school's production department.

Other than having to fall within a 30-second to three-minute total-running-time, the only mandate the films had was to explore how people use consumer electronics and home networks to make up their 'digital crib.'

“...it was very similar to a real world pitch situation, and
the students had the opportunity to work with a real client ..."
                                                                  Senior Lecturer, Brenda Goodman


“I was attracted to the contest because I wanted to put a lot of the skills I’ve been honing at USC to use,” second-year M.F.A. production student Jeremy Cohen said. “I’ve never really done a project like this, so this competition gave me the chance to learn on the go and apply lessons that I’ve learned from other types of projects.”

In mid-October, after extensive consideration by the representatives, eight SCA films got the green light and accompanying production grants to move forward.

Michael Koerbel's David and Amy Wenzel.
As soon as he found out his proposal was accepted, second-year M.F.A. production student Michael Koerbel headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to shoot David and Amy Wenzel, a documentary about a tech-savvy couple and the hardware in their home.

Using his Cisco production grant to hire a local crew, Koerbel said that, “working outside of L.A. was a wonderful learning experience—even though it was freezing cold. We were filming in mid-November, and it rained a very cold rain most of the time. That being said, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Jeremy Cohen teamed up with second-year production student Ross Cohen (the two are not related) and trekked to San Francisco to capture footage for Tim Ferriss’s Digital Lifestyle, chronicling how the renowned blogger and author of the best-selling The Four Hour Work Week uses technology in his daily activities.

“Tim was an ‘early adopter’ of new technology and we knew he would tell a different story than that of other tech bloggers. He told how one can use technology to free up your leisure time rather than eat into it,” Ross Cohen said.

Though production was over, the students’ work wasn’t. On December 16, Cisco posted the eight films, along with eight from a simultaneous competition at NYU, on the Digital Cribs site. As part of the learning experience, the filmmakers had to promote their shorts by getting people to vote for them. When the selection process concluded on January 23, a panel of judges gave David and Amy Wenzel the Grand Prize. Tim Ferriss’s Digital Lifestyle emerged as the People’s Choice Award with 23 percent of the 25,000 total views. The winners received $5,000 and a $2,300 respectively.

All the entries were screened and the top films announced and at the Saturday night gala hosted by alumnus Randal Kleiser, director of such films as Grease, The Blue Lagoon, and Love Wrecked.
The School of Cinematic Arts has a long history of collaborating with groups such as Coca-Cola, Heineken and others to support student productions.

“What was unique about this contest was that it was very similar to a real world pitch situation, and the students had the opportunity to work with a real client but in a safe student environment,” said Senior Lecturer Brenda Goodman, who oversaw SCA’s participation in the contest and served as a faculty mentor, along with Associate Professor Norman Hollyn.

Award winning student director Jeremy Cohen; senior lecturer Brenda Goodman; student producer Ross Cohen;  and Cisco Director of Consumer Marketing Mike Kisch.
Beyond supporting higher education, Cisco Director of Consumer Marketing Mike Kisch described how the contest presented a unique experience for the firm. “The partnership with USC was an opportunity for us to work with one of the most premier film schools and it gave us an opportunity to work with their students and see them take the concept of Digital Cribs and tell their own unique story,” Kisch said.

In addition to Cisco and SCA, the event was also supported by the USC Entertainment Technology Center. The Entertainment Technology Center studies developments that are critical to the creative community, production companies, content owners, distributors, exhibitors and technology companies.