March 13, 2015

Career Week Makes a Splash

By Katherine Vu

As career week comes to a close here at SCA, students will be walking away from the events with a firmer understanding of the highs and lows of breaking into the film industry, covering everything from how to make a great pitch to crowdfunding a new film project. The event was produced and hosted by the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Office of Student Industry Relations. Each day of career week featured new events and informative lectures from writers, directors, producers, managers -- many of them SCA alumni -- who shared their perspectives on finding success in the ever-changing world of new media.

One highlight of career week took place on Monday, when SCA Alumni and directors, Joe Nussbaum and Ari Sandel, talked about how the success and influence of their first short films changed their careers in the industry.

Sandel, whose short, West Bank Story won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film, spoke at length about the unpredictable nature of filmmaking and how winning the Oscar opened up unexpected new career paths, such as a short stint in public speaking while he worked to get feature length films off the ground. “Because of [my Academy Award speech], that turned into a 2 and a half year career into public speaking, which was another thing I did not plan on doing,” he said to the audience on Monday. He also described the frustrations that many feel in the film industry, citing that despite gaining “a lot of success from [his] short,” he also experienced “a long doledrum of not being able to get a movie made.”

Nussbaum shared a similar experience in the industry. After leaving SCA in ‘96, he went from working low-level jobs in Hollywood as a development executive’s assistant to a PA at a post-house to creating and writing his wildly popular short film, George Lucas in Love. He credits his work as a post-house PA as being what enabled him to take greater chances in his filmmaking aspirations. “Because I was comfortable in my day job, that enabled me to take the risk. So I got together with some friends, got the idea for the short… I basically spent $25,000 dollars of my own money making this short, and it just took off to an extent that was unbelievable.”

Tuesday’s events featured visits from prominent film festival executives, visual effects designers, and directors, including acclaimed filmmaker, David Zucker.

David Zucker speaks to students at Career Week.

Zucker, who is best known for his work writing and directing Airplane (1980) in addition to the Naked Gun series in the 80s and 90s, discussed the importance of patience in the world of film, offering students evergreen advice on making it in any industry: “Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he intoned to a capacity crowd, adding that his small theater group, Kentucky Fried theater, performed “for five years before anything came from it.” That patience ended up paying off in the form of a movie, Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), which allowed him to get funding and exposure for Airplane.

At an event later on in the evening, Academy Award winning director, Norman Jewison, also spoke to students, providing the crowd of students with advice on being ego-less in an ego driven industry. (Read more about our conversation with legendary director, Norman Jewison here:

Hanelle Culpepper gives a talk at Career Week

Director Hanelle Culpepper, whose projects include the TV shows Parenthood, Revenge, and Criminal Minds, gave a talk later in the week encouraging students to network, make the most of their connections, and maintain a strong work ethic. In order to create a career in TV, she stressed the importance of interning, shadowing, giving yourself stretch goals, following through on commitments, and most importantly of all, remembering that TV is an ongoing team project where it’s essential to keep your creative ego in check. “TV has, to me, the hardest gatekeepers to pass,” she explained in her talk on Thursday. “Features, you can make your own feature and you can get out there and start doing it. TV, you have to get someone to let you in.”

Career week concludes today with classic USC shorts screenings from 10:00 AM to 6:30 PM  such as the 1966 George Lucas original, 1:42:08, the short film A Field of Honor by Robert Zemeckis, and Locks by Ryan Coogler. Those films will be followed by a reception party in the SCA Courtyard at 6:30 tonight.