October 26, 2015

James Franco Enters The Labyrinth

SCA Anthology Plays on Campus

By Kaiti Williamson

Professor John Watson (center) with the student filmmakers

The Labyrinth, a feature film produced in the SCA class co-taught by Academy Award nominated actor James Franco had its premiere SCA screening Friday and was followed by an open-floor Q&A with the directors. This is the second premiere of the film, which had it’s international debut at Screamfest on October 18.

Eight short films were written by students in the SCA Writing Division and directed by students selected from various divisions of SCA. The shorts were compiled to create the cohesive feature, with animated interstitial sequences created by USC Animation student Einar Baldvin.

“This process was really an interesting ride for all of us,” said John Berardo, director of Strings. “We all put our blood, sweat and tears into this movie and it’s really great to actually see it on the big screen in front of a group of people and get feedback.”

The other films included Vincent by Kaushik Sampath, Cliffside Bend by Quyen Nguyen Le, The Sweet Taste of Redemption by Tarek Tohme, Alchemy by Katrelle Kindred, Mandroid by Victoria Rose, Oak by Camila Tanabe, and Shortage by Jessica Kaye.

USC Professor, John Watson, who both supervised and coordinated the project on behalf of SCA, explained the motivations behind the development of the project.

“One of my original goals going in when James said he was interested in teaching here, I saw a way to solve problems that I have within the school,” said Watson. “One is there really aren’t enough opportunities to direct.”

Of the directors, two were undergraduate students at the time and six were graduate students, while five of the directors are women and three are men.

The next problem Watson hoped to solve through this course was to increase the collaboration between the various divisions in SCA.

“We’re a terrific film school,” said Watson. “We have eight completely separate units that very rarely interact with each other, so this [film] has the writing division, the production division, the animation division, we even had the experiment which wasn’t quite so successful perhaps of running the movies by the critical studies division before we locked picture.”

To create this collaboration, a prompt was initially assigned to the writing department to develop stories dealing with “the unknown, the unexplained or the unimaginable.” SCA students were then asked to submit their reels in the hope of securing a spot as a director for one of the eight scripts that had been selected. The directors were chosen in November 2012 and quickly began filming in February 2013.

In addition to the collaboration between divisions, the last intention for the class was to provide the talented SCA alumni with jobs. Many of the core crew positions were filled by recent USC alumni or SCA students, including the Producers, Directors of Photography, Production Designers, Editors, Composer, and Sound Editors.

Ultimately, the collaboration not only took place between divisions throughout SCA, but between the directors of the films, who each visited one another’s sets and critiqued one another’s work.

“It was a huge collaborative process for all of us,” said Alchemy director, Kindred. “I think it shows in the overall picture, connections we didn’t even know existed until we got into the post process, but I think that’s because we were so involved in one another’s process in a very supportive way.”

The directors all expressed how valuable this experience was for them, not only learning from Franco and Watson, but also from one another, gaining experience working with professional actors, and being faced with tough decisions to pick and chose their battles regarding vision versus practicality. Although the directors were students at the time of filming, their talent and professionalism was highly regarded by those they worked with.

“I love working with USC students,” said actress Lindsay LaVanchy, who performed in Strings. “It’s the cream of the crop and I think everyone is very passionate about their individual position and their part of making the film, which I think is very supportive when you have an emotional soul that you would like to embody, honestly.”

While the select group of students were the first to take part in this experimental course, they have since played a part in the continuance of the class, having helped select the directors of Don Quixote: The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha for the following year. Additionally, Tomhe produced the feature film and Tanabe filmed a behind-the-scenes movie.

Although many of the directors admitted they still intend to pursue directing in the future,  some have found the collaboration between divisions has helped them gain a better understanding of the various roles in film.

“When you’re producing you learn more about directing, you learn more about acting, it’s all interconnected is what I’ve found,” said Tomhe.