April 2, 2020


An SCA virtual challenge for USC students and alumni

By Jesus Nunez

In an attempt to relieve some tension among students during these turbulent and confusing times, the School of Cinematic Arts faculty decided to organize an exciting virtual challenge for USC students to continue expressing their creativity through filmmaking. Acknowledging the limited resources that student filmmakers have in their ability to express themselves, and inspired by the restrained filmmaking style of the 2018 hit film Searching—a thrilling mystery which takes place entirely within the confines of a computer screen— the faculty issued the Zoomanji challenge which invites filmmakers to use technological limitations to their advantage. The Searching-inspired challenge asks students and alumni to film a three to five-minute short film taking place entirely through the Zoom app. Recognizing the rather stressful transition students have had to face as a response to the fast spreading Covid-19 virus, SCA organized this challenge both as an opportunity for students to vent their frustrations and share their experiences regarding this new form of education, and for the social interactions it would inspire.

To provide further inspiration, Director of Programing Alex Ago hosted a live Q&A through Zoom with alumni Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, the creative team behind Searching. In an informative and rather fitting webinar on March 31, Chaganty and Ohanian spoke at length about their creative process in making the film, proving unique insight in all stages from development of concept, pitching, casting, filming, editing, and distributing. Ohanian spoke at length about the unique writing process the two developed, praising the need for a concise narrative structure, especially when dealing with unorthodox narrative styles.

(Left, Sev Obanian. Right, Ageesh Chaganty)

They ultimately reminded the students that regardless of what visual medium they choose to tell or the technical limitations they are faced with, “it’s never about the tech, it’s about the story.” While acknowledging the visual limitations that the filming of this project entailed, Ohanian and Chaganty ultimately empowered student to seize the opportunity to both challenge themselves and express themselves during these times. Following the webinar and Q&A, Alex Ago went on to outline the specifics for the short film challenge. 

(Poster for the 2018 hit film, Searching)

Both students and alumni are invited to participate in this fun filmmaking exercise, which challenges filmmakers to create a story entirely within the restrictions of the Zoom app; mirroring the many social and educational limitations that the current pandemic situation has imposed on the world and the USC community. Participants are allowed and encouraged to explore any narrative genre within the three to five-minute window. To participate, filmmakers need to send their film to Alex Ago (at aago@cinema.usc.edu) on any standard video format (.mp4, .mov, .mpg, .mpeg). The deadline to upload one’s film is Monday, April 6th at 5:00pm Pacific Standard Time. Students who missed out on this incredible webinar are still invited to participate and simply need to follow the same competition restrictions and deadline. The films sent will be reviewed and compiled for a special Zoomanji film premiere that will stream live on Zoom on Tuesday, April 7th at 7:00pm Pacific Standard Time.