March 31, 2009

World Premiere

Cinematic Arts Celebrates 80th Anniversary With All New Campus

By Mel Cowan

With 80 years of history-making experience behind it, the School of Cinematic Arts celebrated the past and launched itself into the future with the unveiling of its new campus at a March 29 gala attended by university leaders, students, faculty, alumni, supporters, including filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Dean Elizabeth M. Daley and USC President Steven B. Sample.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg...
From left, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, USC President Steven B. Sample and filmmaker and alumnus George Lucas at the unveiling of the new School of Cinematic Arts complex.
"This new home for the SCA family is where future generations of women and men will continue along the paths of those who have come before them," Daley, told the crowd after the opening fanfare from the Trojan Marching Band echoed across the facility’s central courtyard. "And like the ones before them, they will go on to redefine the boundaries of the cinematic arts."

"When the School of Cinematic Arts held its first class in 1929, the technology for 'talking' films was in its infancy," said Sample. "Today, the tremendous increase in information and media is redefining the very core of communication. In this rapidly changing world, there is one thing that remains constant: this school's ability to train great artists and leaders."

During his remarks, Lucas reflected on his experience as a student at USC. "One of the biggest parts of my education was from just being here, talking with my classmates," the filmmaker and class of '66 alumnus said. "I'm glad to see that in this new complex, kids are taking advantage of the open spaces to do the same thing I did years ago. You spend time with like-minded people and you talk about the things you love, and in doing so, you make every second you're here a part of your education."

Spielberg posed a hypothetical question to the attendees. "What if every SCA graduate working in the industry didn't show up to work on Monday morning? This town would grind to a halt." Spielberg reeled off a list of impressive statistics: since 1973, at least one SCA alumnus or alumna has been nominated for the Oscar, totaling 256 nominations and 78 wins. In addition, since 1973, at least one SCA alumnus or alumna has been nominated for the Emmy, adding up to 473 nominations and 119 awards. The top-17 grossing films of all time have had an SCA graduate in a key creative position.

"These stats are amazing, but the bigger story is this: there are hundreds, if not thousands of SCA alumni, deeply involved in the industry, who have made it a priority to continue supporting their alma mater," said Spielberg. "The financial help has been important, but just as crucial is the personal support that alumni have provided: teaching classes, leading seminars, mentoring students, and creating job and training opportunities for graduates. This is the lifeblood of the SCA family."
USC Trojan Marching Band
The USC Trojan Marching Band plays a fanfare from the balcony of the George Lucas Building in the new School of Cinematic Arts complex.

In the early years after its formation in 1929, the SCA family was a small, yet devoted cadre of cinephiles who eked out their films on rickety stages and with borrowed cameras. After decades of being housed in "the stables," in 1983, USC created the School of Cinema-Television, making it an independent academic unit within the university.

Over the ensuing years, an emphasis was placed on expanding the definition of what a cinema school should be. The John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts, the Interactive Media Division and the Peter Stark Producing Program gave students a host of opportunities that did not exist at any other cinema program. In 2001, USC inaugurated the first university-based all digital production facility for cinema, television and interactive content with the opening of the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts.

The now-completed portion of the new complex consists of the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg buildings, which flank the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences courtyard that features a bronze statue of one of the school's founders, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

On the ground level of both buildings is the post-production area, including sound dubbing stages, editorial labs and classrooms, and ADR and Foley stages. The first floor of the complex features the 200-seat Ray Stark Family Theatre, as well as two digital theaters and a combination screening room/sound dub stage. Both the Lucas and Spielberg buildings have large open lobby areas named for cinematic greats, Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd, respectively.

Level two of the complex houses the interactive media division, the offices for the Summer Program and Student Industry Relations, and features two screening rooms, five classrooms, a graduate student lounge and numerous rooms for student group meetings. Offices for production, critical studies, writing and the Peter Stark program are all housed on the third level, along with communications & public relations. Two more screening rooms are on the third floor, along with several informal gathering areas for students and faculty. The office of the dean, along with production faculty and external relations, can be found on the fourth floor.

The remainder of the complex is currently under construction, and will include the 38,000-square-feet Animation & Digital Arts building and three additional production buildings, housing four studio-sized soundstages and a Production Services center. Construction will be completed for these remaining buildings in August 2010.

"It's beyond words. It's very regal," said Ari Sandel, M.F.A. Production '05, when asked about the new complex. He also lauded the complex's many open spaces. "So much of film school is people getting together to congregate, collaborate, share ideas. The more space you can create for people to do that, the better, because those spaces become classrooms."

Freshman Ian Manka echoed Sandel's sentiments about the collaborative spaces. "I'm in a class where we're definitely using the courtyard and other spaces to meet before class and work on our presentations, so I can only imagine that as the facility grows, the entire school will be able to utilize it even more."

"It's fabulous to have a home that's commensurate with the status of the school. The building has a real sense of permanence," said Writing Assistant Professor Ted Braun. "The classrooms are truly 21st century classrooms. In my class, I can show clips from the movies we’re studying, then move effortlessly to the students' work, to media files, without a technical hitch. That's the way it should be in the digital age, and I love it. As a teacher, it's the equivalent of an athlete not having to worry about the club or the racquet or the skis on your feet. You just do what you imagine."