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February 12, 2009

In And Out

Students Compete in the 2009 Ed Wood Film Festival

By By Jimmy Kelly

Twenty-four hours. That’s how long over 40 teams of students had to complete five-minute short films for the 2009 Ed Wood Film Festival. Ed Wood, the infamous B-movie director, best known as the titular subject played by actor Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s 1994 film, earned his legend in part as a relentlessly optimistic filmmaker undeterred by low budgets, limited time, staff or a questionable, at best, degree of talent.

USC students participating in the Ed Wood Film Festival have shown over the last 13 years that they share Wood’s determination far more than his limited abilities. That’s why on February 2, even competing against the Super Bowl, this year’s crop of student filmmakers were able to draw a crowd at Norris Theater to view their work.

It was a night of classic Hollywood style, from the suits and gowns, the ever-flowing (non-alcoholic) bubbly and even a handful of industry pros, all USC alumni, who stopped by to assist with the judging and hand out seven awards amongst the 20 finalists.

Best Picture Winners at the 2009 Ed Wood Film Festival for the short film Stone Jones pose with their awards.  Back Row (from left):  Gehan Cooray, Giordany Orellana, Brendan Fortune, Silvija Padjen, Magnus Magnusson, Wynton McCurdy.  Front Row (from left):  Cindy Aguilar, Rocky Collins.
The big winner this season? Stone Jones, a tribute to the blax- ploitation era pitting its hero against the apocalypse, was not only named Best Picture by the judges, but Audience Choice as well.

“This year, it was no contest for Stone Jones,” said judge Logan Burdick, B.A. Production ’07, a veteran not only in judging the festival, but a former participant. “It was definitely the most entertaining and had the highest production value,” which Burdick cited as the two key elements that the judges look for when singling out the best of the best.

Another big winner was Theater senior Ray Chase, whose team, Commedus Interruptus, took home the prize for Best Use of Theme for their film, BINGO. Every Ed Wood Film Festival has its own theme that filmmakers must integrate into their work. This year’s was 'In and Out.'

“We had a gang of old people rob the Bellagio,” explained Chase. “They went in and out. It was an in and out job.” The casino heist fit in well with a new feature of the festival, an annual prop. This year’s? A deck of playing cards.

Chase, a native of Las Vegas, and his team decided to take their concept a step further than the already ideal theme and prop and spent part of their 24 hours driving through the desert back to film in Chase’s hometown, shooting their exterior scenes live on the Vegas strip.

Toni Natalizio, a junior Critical Studies major at SCA and cinema floor resident assistant at New Residential College, was one of the coordinators of the festival for the second year. When describing the unique success of Ed Wood contests Natalizio pointed to both the continued involvement of students and grads from numerous backgrounds and how 'outside-the-box and creative' the now 40 to 50 annual student entries are. For Natalizio, those strengths all relate back to the festival’s raison d’être.

Stone Jones Vs. the Apocalypse directed by Giordany Orellana.
“The general purpose of the event is to challenge students to think outside the box, network and of course have fun. What is so great about Ed Wood is that it is both a very polished and business-like event, but also embraces the 'Spirit of Ed Wood’ by adding a lot of personality and quirk. It is very put together, but never and I hope will never give out a pretentious vibe. It is one of the few festivals out there that has given filmmakers a chance to vote films into the festival or give out a prize for ‘The Most Ed Wood Ed Wood.’ We love the personality of the festival and want students to work hard, but also really enjoy their craft.”

Chase, a former festival coordinator himself, had his own interpretation of what makes Ed Wood such a special event. “I’ve gotten a lot of filmmaking experience, I’ve made a lot of friends,” Chase said. “And I lost a lot of sleep.”

All Winners:
Best Picture: Stone Jones
Audience Choice: Stone Jones Cinematography: Carwash
Best Directing: Cue Cards Editing: In Love/Out of Love
Writing: Go Fish Best Use of Theme: BINGO