March 11, 2014

Sequoia @ SXSW

Film with Five Trojans in Key Positions Debuts at Festival


From day one, students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) are taught that success is about collaboration. The films, games, animation projects, scholarly works and all other works produced at SCA are built on the backbone of cross divisional work between the seven divisions of the School. On March 9th at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Sequoia, a film with five Trojans in key positions proved this point brilliantly. Sequoia features five students from three divisions who came together to make the lowbudget dramedy. Sequoia started out as alum Andrew Rothschild’s thesis script in the Writing for Screen & Television Division.

“I had gone to Sequoia national park while visiting Northern California over the summer,” said Rothschild. “Somehow the idea came into my head of somebody realizing  the finitude of life in this place full of long-lived, ancient things. From that sort of general idea, gradually over the course of the year, it turned into the movie that came of it. That came through trial and error and the workshop process and that was certainly through feedback from my thesis committee. [Professor] Howard [Rodman] dissuaded me from certain directions which saved me heartache in the end. He really helped this become the film that it is.”

Sequoia tells the story of Riley, a girl with terminal cancer, traveling to Sequoia National Park to commit suicide who is disrupted by a young man she meets on her way to the park. The script was produced by Trojans Ashleigh Phillips and Giles Andrew from the Peter Stark Producing Program. Phillips also graduated from the Screenwriting Division for Undergrad.

“Giles and I knew that we were looking for a project to do together,” said Phillips. “I knew Andrew [Rothschild] through my time in the screenwriting program and he knew that we were looking for a script. It was the middle night when he sent it to me and I thought, ‘I’ll just read the first five pages of this’ and I ended up reading it twice! I sent it to Giles and said, ‘This is the one we need to make.’”

With the development process well under way, the team of Trojan producers and writer decided to add Trojan director Andy Landen who graduated from the Film & Television Production Division. The film is Landen’s debut feature.

“Andy [Landen] got involved right around when we were going to start shooting,” said Phillips. “We had the financing and the script and we had our shooting date  when Andy got on board. The project was full steam ahead. He and Giles had been talking about it for awhile and he was a great fit.”

The films was edited by Trojan Franklin Peterson and Color Corrected by Trojan Chris Hall who both graduated from the Film & Television Production Division.

Sequoia is Phillips, Giles Andrew, Rothschild and Landen’s feature debut. The film opened to positive reviews.

Having a script written in School produced is a rare accomplishment. When asked for advice for current students, Rothschild said, “The people who got the most out of [USC] were people who maintained a balance of being open to new ideas and approaches while still being mindful of their voice and what they’re setting out to do. The people who are the most stubborn or the people who are willing to do whatever people suggest - they lose some of themselves. If you can maintain a balance, you become your best self in the program.”

It’s common for students from Stark, Writing and Production students to come together to make films within the walls of SCA. Sequoia proves, it’s becoming common for Trojans to come together in the real world as well.

To see the trailer for Sequoia, please visit: