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February 12, 2021

The Caucus 38th Annual Awards Gala Honors SCA Professor Gail Katz

By Jesus Nunez

On March 4th USC School of Cinematic Arts Professor Gail Katz was recognized by the Caucus for Producers, Writers, and Directors with its Educator of the Year Award at its annual fundraising awards gala. Professor Katz is the Interim Chair of the Film and Television Production Division, Professor of Cinematic Arts and head of the producing track at School of Cinematic Arts. She is a veteran producer, known for blockbuster hits like Air Force One (1997) and The Perfect Storm  (2000) that have earned more than a billion dollars at the box office, as well as the television series Cashmere Mafia and The Agency. She also heads her own company, Gail Katz Productions.

The Caucus is an organization that provides thought leadership on the future of television and counts some of the industry’s most influential creators as members. It also has a foundation that provides grants, scholarships, and mentorship to up and coming storytellers. Over the years. the foundation has given more than two million dollars to help film students complete projects and plans to expand its giving, with the goal of helping develop the next generation of breakthrough artists. “We want to help discover and mentor the next John Singleton; Shonda Rhimes or Chadwick Boseman; Alfonso Cuarón; Alejandro González Iñárritu; Guillermo del Toro…or even the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese,” foundation leaders said in an announcement of this year’s awardees that also included Aaron Sorkin (Writer of the Year); Susanne Bier (Director of the Year); Vin Di Bona (Caucus Legend Award); Marsai Martin (Inaugural Rising Star Award); and Jeanne and Tom Townsend (Humanitarian Award). The gala also celebrated the past year’s recipients of Caucus funding for student films, including Damon Laguna, Mel Orpen and Kathryn Boyd-Batstone, all 2020 graduates of the School of Cinematic Arts’ Film and Television Production program. 

The Caucus Awards Gala was virtual this year, hosted by Grey’s Anatomy actor James Pickens Jr. In accepting her Educator of the Year award, Katz praised her SCA students for making her work fun. “You work hard, you experiment, you open yourselves up to critique and you grow. You impress me every day. I know you will lead us all tomorrow and I thank you so much for making every day at USC fun. You rock.” Katz said the experiences she has working with the students is exactly why she loves to teach. “What brought me to the USC School of Cinematic Arts was the notion that I could help others find their way into a life and a career in the business that I love,” she said.

Katz is a tenured Professor who teaches CTPR 486/479, known as the Straight-to-Series Television Course. The two-semester class creates polished limited episodes television series, with high production value. Past shows include Coventry, about a former soldier who learns that her memories of wartime experiences in Iraq have been scientifically altered and Side Effects, about a powerful family in the Big Pharma business, both of which have won Caucus awards in the past. The next show being created in Katz’s class is Sugar Land, about an African American family from New York City who have been resettled in the Witness Protection program in Houston. It will be ready for air in the summer.

Professor Katz was also instrumental in developing the School’s Virtual Production protocols when COVID-19 hit and in-person filming had to be suspended. Her efforts were profiled in USC News and Deadline. Ironically, one of Katz’s blockbuster thrillers is Outbreak (1995) in which Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo are caught up in the fallout as a deadly virus spreads in a California town.