USC has a reputation for attracting talented artists across all mediums. Notably, student filmmakers make up a large portion of the University’s creative population. Whether it’s a feature film or a short film, the creation of a work includes many components and the process almost never begins with the simple handling of a camera.
“There’s no better art form than film, because there are so many different sides to it,” said Lexi Brandt, a sophomore majoring in writing for screen and television. “There’s sound, there’s lighting, there’s cinematography, there’s so many different art forms rolled into one.”
With all of these different pieces in the process, filmmakers have to decide where to start. Almost always, the process begins with a script.
“I like to know what I’m doing a movie about, why I’m doing it before I start writing the script,” said Cameron Kostopoulos, a senior film and television production specialist. “I start with a very abstract, very large image.”
Scriptwriting can be a long process, with different creatives having different ideas on how to do it. Since all the workers are students with busy schedules who often donate their time, developing an idea and writing the script can be one of the most tedious parts of the process. Often, students can collaborate on a piece to combine time, effort, and creativity.
“I love being part of the construction world…I love collaborating with other people, bouncing ideas off each other and it feels like a melting pot of creativity,” said Taylor Crawford, a graduate in film and media studies.
So the writers become the overall determining factor in whether a script can even go to production, because if a writer doesn’t like his own script, he won’t pass it on to a producer. So, to fill these positions, many creatives end up relying on clubs or personal connections.
A creative team formed through personal connections is student film company 4085 Productions. Kaleb Manske, Alex Nimrod, Maximus Jenkins and Jordan Rice started this production company, and although they write their own material, they often outsource scripts to others in the field.
“Our next short that we’re going to release is going to be written by someone else. One of the things we found was someone we wanted to write it to. We had the idea, but we’re outsourcing the writing of everything. the script, and it’s going to be done by someone else,” said sophomore Kaleb Manske, co-founder of 4085 Productions.
Although writing or researching a script is the first step in the production process, the film is not yet complete with what the filmmakers call the “pre-production” phase.
“Pre-production is everything, from starting an idea to writing the script, going through its revision, the search for actors, the search for locations, the search for material, the rehearsals, everything up to what the cameras turn on,” said Maximus Jenkins, co-founder of 4085. Productions.
But when it comes to the equipment, the prices are not exactly adapted to the budget of the students. Fortunately, many students taking courses at SCA can borrow materials. And, if they can’t get it in class, many students borrow it from other classmates or outside sources.
Along with figuring out the equipment, students are tasked with creating sets that are as realistic as any big-budget production. “Set building” can be as complex as setting up a soundstage or filming on location, but often with student budgets it can be as simple as having actors embody the world of film in the chosen filming location and move around a few chairs and tables. What traditionally means building a scene from scratch can just be a high quality wrap for students.
With all the different stages in the filmmaking process, even for student films, there are many things to consider. Some of these aspects include lighting and sound elements.
“Especially if you have a low-key film… the lighting and the cinematography and all of that is very important to how you tell a story,” Crawford said. “Films are a visual practice. If it’s not fun to watch, if it’s not visually pleasing, that’s really the whole point.
Lighting and shadows can be changed using different types of light angles and positions and can range from lighting already existing in a given space to specific lights configured to achieve a certain shot. Many productions use a Gaffer to help bounce light around for a visually pleasing image.
Productions face complications throughout the process, from filming to lighting issues, with some even occurring during writing.
“When there was a conflict, I had to learn, trust my instincts,” Kostopoulos said. Like other creative students, Kostopoulos must work with his peers to solve a problem quickly so the production doesn’t fall apart.
Throughout the process of making a film, challenges and triumphs, artists are able to learn and grow to create future productions and change the industry, including industry representation.
“I’m a black woman in film and would love to see more diverse stories about us,” Crawford said. “A lot of our Black movie is traumatic, just because the story is, so it’s naturally going to be traumatic, which is good and bad at the same time. That’s fine, because it’s true, but no one wants to be oppressively beaten over the head on TV when we can just hang out.