April 1, 2008

Key To Success

Music Videos Provide Creative Paths For Production M.F.A. Teams

By James Tella

When Heineken USA sponsored a contest last fall to create short music videos, the event turned out to have a long-term effect on the graduate students who took part, exposing them to production possibilities they might not have previously contemplated.

“I knew where I wanted to wind up when I left the school, but I didn’t really know how or where I was going to start.” said Claire Sullivan Tailyour, whose initial goal when she came to USC was to make documentary films. Serving as the director on the video for the Low Stars’ song Just Around the Corner, which finds the musicians performing their song against a multitude of changing Los Angeles backgrounds, Tailyour added, “It’s been a great testing ground with experiences that we can later apply to larger projects. Working on this production has really helped set me on a tangible path in the industry.”

Joined by her classmates and producers Coyote Marino and Jon Miller, the three graduating
Director Tailyour admits the video shoot helped her discover a new avenue for her talent.
M.F.A. production students’ pitch was among two out of 150 proposals submitted by Film & Television Division M.F.A. students. The other winning team, composed of soon-to-graduate director John Thompson, producer Tess Ortbals ’07 and cinematographer Matt Eagan ’06, created the haunting and visually alluring experience for The Gift, by the band Rocco and the Burden. Brenda Goodman and Jeffrey Obrow served as faculty advisors.

“All three of us advanced our skills and really grew professionally in a way that we wouldn’t have on a larger project,” said Marino, noting that he was extremely grateful for the opportunity to get his group’s work in the public eye. “Five years ago you made something and no one ever saw it. With the demand for short projects only going to increase, music videos are a great place to try new things and build our skills.”

Marino, Miller and Tailyour at the Paley Center video premiere last December.
“Learning what you love to make has been a really good experience,” added Miller who was also the video’s director of photography. In fact, Miller was so taken by the format that he recently formed his own video production company, House of Waterman where Tailyour is represented as a director.

“This experience has been exactly what USC has taught us, and that is that you can’t make a film alone, not even a video,” he added. “It’s a collaborative art form and that’s key.”
“This was the first time I really let my imagination go wild,” said Thompson as he described the making of The Gift. “In terms of a director it was an important step because I’m now more confident about doing larger projects. This felt like the last bit of training wheels that I needed.”
Thompson along with producer Tess Ortbals.

“In the cluttered media world we live in, you have a choice to grab someone’s attention for three minutes or for two-and-half-hours, and it’s especially important with short format that you engage people really quickly,” added Marino. “Music is a great way to do that. If people like the song, they’re going to stick with it.”

“The Internet is such a saturated market,” said Tailyour, who noted she was up for the challenge especially after finishing her thesis film Silence, which recently showed at the school’s First Look 2.0 festival. “There a lot more videos to watch and ensuring that people remember them is so important.”

“We definitely felt the pressure of doing a great job simply because why watch anything when it’s all a click away,” offered Miller. “You’ve got so much more media to choose from, but it’s still hard to find content anyone wants to watch. I mean, you can only look at just so many cats playing piano.”