January 6, 2012
CELEBRITY SC: SCA Power Player
Matthew Quandt, Critical Studies
By Joe Snell, Celebrity SC
Celebrity SC is an independent blog produced by USC School of Cinematic Arts students. For more information, please visit - http://celebritysc.com/
Matthew Quandt wanted to be a fighter pilot.
Raised in Peachtree, Georgia, the current Critical Studies senior left high school a year early to fly to LA (albeit in an airplane he didn’t pilot).
Entering his freshman year, Quandt chose the Critical Studies program over Production. He first became involved in The Southern California Business Film Festival (SCBFF) as the Director of Industry Relations. His role of getting in contact with high-profile creatives in the industry helped Quandt develop a tough skin.
“In my dresser, I still have a letter to Ron Howard asking him to come to our festival, which was totally inappropriate.”
Through SCBFF, Quandt met Alex Kefalos (his future business partner) and Hollywood producer Dean Devlin (Godzilla, The Patriot).
Devlin was on a panel for a Red Digital Cinema event Quandt put together, and offered Matt his first unpaid internship at his production company Electric Entertainment.
Matt continued working at SCBFF in his sophomore year, and produced a handful of commercials and short films. In his junior year, Matt was applying to all of the major studios for internships. He particularly wanted to work at Disney, and applied for a handful of jobs on their job board.
“I was naïve. I thought, ‘They’ll call me. I’ve got a good resume, I go to USC, they’ll call me.”
Alex Kefalos, by now a close friend of Matt’s, had worked at Fox Searchlight and Paramount, and set Matt straight, advising him that without an inside contact or recommendation, he would not receive any response.
“I found out The Walt Disney Company yearly, nationwide has 250 internships they offer. ESPN, Disney, Disneyland, all of those are 250 total. During the summer they have something like 10,000 applications for internships for 250 positions. That’s the data I heard. It made my eyes really big, like dinner plates.”
So what did he do? He did a cross-reference search on LinkedIn.com of all the USC graduates that were currently or had been employed at The Mouse. He found a list of hundreds of employees.
From there, he Googled and discovered that all of the Disney email addresses are formatted the same way. So he cold-emailed 50 Disney employees from his LinkedIn list asking for a connection to the HR department.
“One guy emails him back, ‘Let me get back to you.’ I didn’t think he’d get back to me. A week later I get a call about an interview. Two days after the interview I got the job.”
He later found out the guy he emailed knew no one in the HR department and even worked in a separate building, but was impressed Matt had sent over an email saying he was a USC student. He got out of his department, walked over to the HR office, found a stack of resumes, and said he wanted to refer Matt for a position.
“Disney probably fills those 250 positions off [internal] company referrals alone,” Quandt mentioned.
The summer between his Junior and Senior year, Matt was interning at ABC Studios and simultaneously produced independent short film Dinner with Fred. Working on the film out of the ABC offices, he used their phones and copier whenever ABC didn’t have any work for him to do.
“We started pre-production in the Spring,” Quandt said. “And we filmed 10 days over the summer and posted through the Fall, and we were done in December.”
The idea to produce an independent short film originated between Alex and Matt.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m bored and I’m tired of not having produced anything – I’d rather have something in the can than just sit here on my butt.’”
So the pair put advertisements around campus saying, “Come pitch us your screenplay.”
Matt and Alex turned down around 20 pitches. They decided to approach their close friend Ben Proudfoot to create a pitch for them. Ben came up with a bound presentation of five scripts to pitch to the producing duo.
“A couple of them were ok: one was a period pirate story that would have taken millions to make right.” But Matt and Alex turned down all five projects.
And then the three were drinking lemonade in front of Ben’s house, and decided they would not leave the table until they had an idea.
By the end of the night the three had a short film.
With a budget of $50,000, Matt wanted to make sure the film had all applicable legal and insurance protection. So during the development stage in the Spring of 2010, Matt formed an LLC called “Written in the Stars Productions, LLC”.
“We severely under-budgeted the picture. We originally budgeted it at $20,000. Many costs were due to previously unplanned creative changes. Some was due to our inexperience. And some was due to buying things we didn’t need. For example, we bought a 5-ton grip/electric truck that we hauled to our location, which is completely unnecessary.”
Nonetheless, the film has since garnered a lot of attention. After the premiere of the film in January of this year, the film has won a host of major awards, including the Best Short and Best Director awards at the Tulsa International Film Festival and an official selection bid at the Rome International Film Fest.
Matt hopes his talent in producing will lead him to a career as a studio executive; but he realizes a lack of business-sided classes in the film school.
“One of the things I think USC could improve on is producing classes. Classes on Marketing and Introduction to Finance and Business 306 in the [Marshall] Business school are very different – they’re about running businesses, not about running a film studio. The best classes I’ve found at USC, the hidden gems if you will, are [in the Business of Entertainment certificate program] – they’re grad classes any undergraduate film student can take with a simple piece of signed paperwork”
“The Cinema School does a very good job of educating the creative aspect of the film industry. If you want to be a director, [that’s great], USC is very much a directing school. Production is very director heavy… There aren’t a lot of kids currently at school who say they want to work in the studio ranks, but there’s a good slice of the pie who graduate from here who work at a studio.”
Now that Dinner with Fred is on the festival circuit and his Miramax internship complete, he hopes to land a job at his internship company and continue to produce films.
Matt is a far cry from the kid growing up in Peachtree, Georgia, with flying dreams and no relation to Hollywood. But in a way they are still one-in-the-same, yearning for something bigger, flying towards success and never looking back.