February 12, 2020

Nine Days Screens for SCA Students

By Jesus Nunez

(Left to Right) Edson Oda, Jason Berman , Zazie Beetz, and Arianna Ortiz.

After premiering to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, 2015 alumnus Edson Oda’s directorial debut Nine Days was screened for students in Leonard Maltin’s Theatrical Film Symposium Class. An incredibly ambitious and personal project, Oda’s inspirational science-fiction drama was met with enthusiasm from the students who attended the class. It felt like a celebration of the film’s emotional authenticity and creative narrative ideas.

Nine Days imagines a world where souls are audited prior to being selected for life, and depicts a touching story about the inherit joys and heavy burdens that come with living. The screening elicited tears, laughter, and cheers throughout the entire Norris Cinema Theatre auditorium where Maltin’s class is held, connecting with the audience. Inspired by a personal tragedy, Oda’s film reminded audiences about the responsibilities of living as well as the purely ecstatic experiences that can be found in even the simplest aspects of life.  

Following the screening, professor Maltin led a panel and Q&A with the film’s cast and crew, giving students an opportunity to inquire further about the film’s nuanced themes and independent production process. On the panel were writer-director Edson Oda, his producing partner, SCA alumnus Jason Berman '06, along with actors Zazie Beetz, Ariana Ortiz, David Tysdahl, Benedict Wong, and editor, Jeff Betancourt. 

Leonard Maltin interviews the cast and crew of Nine Days

An SCA alumnus, Oda provided some insightful advice to the aspiring filmmakers in the audience. Speaking specifically about the challenge of getting accepted into the Sundance Film festival, Oda recalled “submitting to the Sundance lab like, I think 5 times. I submitted my 508. I kept submitting my scripts and getting rejection letters, ‘we regret to inform you that… you suck.” Taking his rejection with a sense of humor, Oda emphasized the need for perseverance in order to succeed in this field or to even have your ideas considered. “I just kept writing, and trying to get better and better. And every year I had a new script. And with Nine Days which was the most personal of them all, I got accepted to the labs.”

After the screening Oda explained that seeing Ryan Coogler ’11 (Fruitvale Station, Black Panther) succeed at Sundance helped him persevere. “Being at Sundance was such a magical experience to me. Since I started making short films I’ve always dreamed about having a movie at Sundance, but it seemed like an impossible dream to me. Things changed after I watched Fruitvale Station in 2013. As a USC SCA student it was so inspiring to see - through the experience of a former USC SCA student - that the dream was possible. I think that’s one of the best things of being at USC SCA - to be inspired by so many other talented people and to be constantly reminded that as long as we have something important to say, someone will listen.”

The film is driven by a close personal tragedy involving depression and the death of a loved one. Oda emphasized the importance of telling an honest and extremely personal story in order to find the truth within the narrative. “This story, even though it has a very surreal premise, comes from a very personal side of me,” Oda said when asked about the inspiration for this story. “Will, the main character, is based on an uncle of mine, a very sensitive person, very kind, artistic, and talented. When he was 50, I was 12, he committed suicide. The thing is when he did, for me and for many people he becomes a figure of failure, someone who wasn’t ready to face this war. I started feeling the same things he felt, finally understanding what he felt. This is very hard, and I finally have empathy for him. We often feel compelled to be strong.” 

Oda also emphasized the integral role of telling a personal story in order to achieve a unique vision. “Something very interesting about Sundance is about how you can connect to the story on a very very personal level. In a way to tell a story that only you can tell. But they emphasize the craft as well, because it doesn’t matter if you have a personal story if you don’t have the tools.” Speaking more about his experience getting mentorship within the Sundance Labs, Oda stated, “what’s great is they give you the tools so you can tell the story only you as an artist can tell and no one else can.”

When asked about his advice for working on his first feature, Oda quipped “don’t panic.” He went on to emphasize the importance of communication and collaboration, a sentiment echoed by the cast and crew on the panel.

Speaking about her experience working on this project, actor Zazie Beetz explained, “I came into this loving the script and loving what we did on set. You know, I really trusted our team a lot too. I came in obviously more excited than nervous. The premiere audience is also a really friendly audience in a way, half of it is crew and family and loved ones and the other half is people just really excited to see it. So it was really a phenomenal experience to share with everyone, and also to see your reaction, Edson, was very moving for me. Because that was a huge moment for you and for all of us. It is beautiful to experience it all together. 

Towards the end of the discussion, Oda and producer Jason Berman teased an upcoming distribution deal announcement, suggesting they had multiple offers with the goal of securing a release somewhere around October, 2020. “The plan is for it to come out, theatrically- which is key- this coming fall,” said Berman.

Oda’s imaginative debut is continuing to garner acclaim after each screening. For producer Jason Berman, a Film & Television Production Division graduate, the reception of the film the icing on what has been a very rewarding experience. “Producing for Edson Oda to help him bring his vision to life for his masterpiece NINE DAYS has been the most profound, unique and rewarding experience of my fourteen-year professional career,” he said after the screening.

“Edson created something that was not only incredible on screen but the environment of making it was also equally as amazing. To share the experience at Sundance with Edson and our dream cast and crew, family and friends is something I will never forgot. It was truly magical!”

With its unique narrative Nine Days seems uniquely positioned to make impact when it hits theatres.