May 22, 2008

Commencement Day

School of Cinematic Arts Honors Over 500 Graduates

By Mel Cowan

Jessica Brownell, Writing B.A., with fellow grads.
Despite searing temperatures outside, spirits were high at the Shrine Auditorium on May 16, as the School of Cinematic Arts, with the help of industry giants Robert A. Iger and Brian T. Grazer, lauded its most recent graduating class and celebrated the next generation of entertainment artists and professionals.

“We hope that you will always strive to create something original and honest, to fight for ideas you believe in, and to tell the truth as you see it,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, addressing the graduates. “We hope that you will forever continue to struggle to advance this art form whether it is through your scholarship, your creative endeavors, or your leadership as executives.”

“It is art and commerce rolled together and it combines tremendous individual achievement with real collaboration,” said Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, acknowledging the complexity of the industry the new graduates are entering. “But what an interesting concept: teamwork and individual achievement existing in one place.”

Joking that this might sound strange coming from a “studio head who’s been watching the box office for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian  all morning,” Iger also encouraged students working in a success-oriented business to look beyond the numbers. “A great film will not always be a great commercial success, but it will hold its value over time, and success in the movie business cannot and should not be measured in box office results.”

“One of the great lessons that I have learned is there is always room for great quality and great quality will always deliver great value,” said Iger.

Robert Iger, left,  presenting Brian Grazer with the Mary Pickford Foundation Alumni Award.
Iger, who gave the university’s commencement address earlier that day, was also in attendance to introduce Oscar- and Emmy-winning producer, Grazer ’74, and to present him with the Mary Pickford Foundation Alumni Award, which annually pays tribute to an alumnus or alumna whose extraordinary achievements bring special distinction to the school and to the industry.

“He is insatiably curious,” Iger said of Grazer, the producer of critical and commercial successes like 24, A Beautiful Mind and Arrested Development. “Curiosity is one of the great underrated traits required to become a success in this business. Curiosity breeds great ideas. It enables discovery. It teaches you things. It frees you from doctrine.”

Grazer took the podium, accepting the Mary Pickford Award and returned Iger’s encomiums, describing the Disney head as an “expert on almost everything: sailing, international relations, business, wine, classical music, people; you name it.”

“I believe Bob is who he is today because he has never stopped challenging himself,” said Grazer. “Challenging yourself constantly lets you know what makes you tick inside. I believe knowing what you like, why you like it, and how you like it will be the key to your success.”

Grazer spoke about a process that he began when he started in the business: he made a list of people he wanted to meet. “Not people who could give me a job or a deal, but people who could shake me up, teach me something, challenge my ideas about the world.”

Having now met with over 3,000 people, including Fidel Castro and Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, Grazer said that, “by getting to know some of the world’s most interesting and sometimes controversial people and by submerging myself in new worlds and sub-cultures, I was not only forced to learn new things, but I discovered feelings I would not otherwise have known.”

The SCA class of 2008 celebrates at the Shrine Auditorium.
Grazer became visibly emotional speaking about his personal connection to the Ron Howard-directed film, A Beautiful Mind. “Someone who is very close to me has a disability. By taking care of this person and visiting countless doctors in search of an accurate diagnosis, I developed feelings of what it was like to experience that. Feeling that experience as deeply as I had opened me up to understanding John Nash and the humanity of his struggle.”

Even though this was the second SCA commencement for new Ph.D Michele L. Torre, who also has a Critical Studies M.A from USC, she was "pleasantly surprised by the butterflies that settled in my stomach as we began our walk into the Shrine. You would have to be pretty jaded not to be awed by the history of the building and its connection to film history, not to mention all the hard work and accomplishments of the students entering the room."

Dustin Johnson, graduating with a B.A. in Critical Studies with an Institute for Multimedia Literacy Honors certificate, spoke warmly about Critical Studies Chair Anne Friedberg’s introduction of the graduates. “She did a fantastic job of summing up what it means to be a critical studies major. We’re using the tools of cinema and that language to examine who we are and our perception of reality.”

Production M.F.A. and student Academy Award-winning producer Charles Uy described his commencement experience as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have graduated from such a prestigious film school. This is the beginning of our journey.” 

Uy was matter-of-fact when asked what his plans were post-graduation. “Well, the next goal is to get the Oscar. That’s the plan.”