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October 12, 2016

Faculty Profile: Amanda Pope

What are the main differences between creating documentary films vs. other types of films?

Well that’s the big secret. There aren’t as many differences that people think there are. The same critical elements apply both to fiction and nonfiction. It’s all about your characters, who are the individuals whose stories you plan to make a film about. What are the issues, what’s at stake, what’s at the heart of your film? And I think that this all applies to fiction as well. Why are you making this film? Why are you telling this story? That’s the question you ask for both fiction and non-fiction. Then, you see another area of clarity and structure, there are the same issues and challenges of structure in fiction as there are in non-fiction. What’s the best point of interest in your story? What’s the beginning? How does it build? Where does it end? The central question of filmmaking, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, is “What is the journey?” You see any film, whether it’s a feature film, or in production, and ask yourself “What is the journey?”

Although, each genre has its own challenge. The challenge of nonfiction is that you are working with real people, and you are documenting their particular life journey. You have very special responsibilities. There are very real ethical issues in documentaries; asking real people to share their lives with you. When you do that you have this responsibility to be true to their story, to no exploit them for some secondary purpose. To know starting in on your project that you will probably have a relationship with your subjects for the rest of your life. There’s a reason you make a documentary film, so these people already have a special relationship with you.

What was it like, filming your first documentary?

Well, for my very first documentary I was not the director. I was the research artist, working for ABC News. The job was to follow the roots of American popular music. That was great. I was in New Orleans; in places you cannot believe. Filming people, like Smokey Robinson. That was my first documentary, working with these incredible musicians. Some were very famous, others not yet.

If you could give any advice to an aspiring filmmaker, what would that be?

Get involved. Be one-on-one with what engages you, with what interests you. Whether it be sports, politics, or social change get out of the car and get personally involved in that activity. So that you have on the ground experience with whatever interests you. Don’t just watch it on your cell phone.

What’s your favorite part about teaching at USC?

The students. Being able to meet a student coming into USC and following them years afterward. I love Facebook, it’s so great to have former students checking back in and telling me to watch their feature films and stories. I also really enjoy my colleagues here. It’s such a rich community having so many of us working on different films and projects. We are a community. What they say about the Trojan community definitely applies.