2nd Year USC School of Cinematic Arts MFA Student, AMA

sharkb8

iAmB84AshRk
Thank you for these candid responses. Absolutely helpful.

I plan to live about half an hour from campus. Is the parking situation pretty bad at SCA? Is it tough to get a parking pass? And do those who live some ways off campus come to regret it or feel at a disadvantage academically/socially?
There are a few parking structures on campus. If you get your parking pass early enough, you can park at the Jefferson street structure, which is about a 3-5 minute walk from SCA. But if you wait to get your permit, or you have to wait for loan money to come through so you can purchase the pass (my situation) then Jefferson will likely be full, so you can get a parking permit for Royal street structure, which is an 8-10 minute walk from SCA, or Shrine structure, which is probably a 9-11 minute walk. There are a few 1 hour parking spots right outside SCA, but they're nearly always full, and they're only for 1 hour anyway. There's also street parking off campus but it's like a 15-20 minute walk.

As far as living off campus, nearly every grad student does, but most of us are in apartments pretty close to USC. There are some people who live downtown or in Koreatown or out in the suburbs, and they seem to do perfectly fine, but I wouldn't recommend doing that unless you have a car. Also, just make sure to be aware that LA traffic is terrible. If you're trying to get to a 9AM or 6PM class, "half an hour off campus" is probably at least an hour away.

And if you live a ways away, but have a car or other means of transport, you should do just fine academically/socially. Since you'll be spending heavy amounts of time with your trio, you'll hear about chances to go get food together or go to an Escape Room or whatever activity your team wants to try. You'll likely have a day where there's class from 9-11:50 and then another class at 1, so you'll wind up finding classmates and eating with them. We all wind up doing that, so even if you live far away, there should be more than enough opportunity to socialize, and as long as you've factored in the driving time, you'll be fine academically too.
Oh, since you're doing this AMA and are planning to respond to us future applicants, I have a question that I'd love to ask. When applying for grad school, are you allowed to apply to more than one discipline or do you have to commit to ONE program and apply to it alone? I want to apply to the producing program AND the tv writing program and am hoping I can submit two apps.

Thanks!
It looks like truffleshuffle already got to this one. I believe you can apply to multiple programs. There's a general application you submit to USC, and then there's a separate application you send to your school of choice. Then you'd just submit two separate applications to the Producing/Writing programs. There's different people reviewing the materials for each of the different programs so you might get in at one and not get in at the other, or hopefully you get accepted at both :).

That being said, if you were to get into both programs, I don't think you can actually take both programs at once. I do know that there are opportunities for Production Students to take Writing classes and we sometimes have Crit Studies students in our classes, so if you were to get into writing or producing, the opportunity to take some cross-segment courses would very likely be available at some point.
 

truffleshuffle

Member
Supporting Member
You are the freaking MVP right now, man. That is really valuable information to know ahead of time (if one were to be accepted).

Two more questions:

1) I see the first year is 8 credits and 8 credits of required courses, for a total of 16 credits. That results in a surprisingly low tuition cost of around 35k for the first year. Now is that the bare minimum for "full-time" that year, leaving room open for us to take one or two electives if desired (I'm really interested in taking an acting course)? Or is that first year a set curriculum that will not be added to or detracted from?

2) For electives, can we cross-register into other schools (such as the theater department), or will we be confined to departments within SCA (writing, producing, etc.)?

Thanks in advance!
 

Chris W

As You Wish
Staff member
What's been your favorite thing so far? Least favorite?

Any cool projects?

I'm loving your insightful answers. Thank you so much. It'll be so helpful to everyone.
 

sharkb8

iAmB84AshRk
You are the freaking MVP right now, man. That is really valuable information to know ahead of time (if one were to be accepted).

Two more questions:

1) I see the first year is 8 credits and 8 credits of required courses, for a total of 16 credits. That results in a surprisingly low tuition cost of around 35k for the first year. Now is that the bare minimum for "full-time" that year, leaving room open for us to take one or two electives if desired (I'm really interested in taking an acting course)? Or is that first year a set curriculum that will not be added to or detracted from?

2) For electives, can we cross-register into other schools (such as the theater department), or will we be confined to departments within SCA (writing, producing, etc.)?

Thanks in advance!
1. You can take electives if you'd like. However I wouldn't recommend it. Looking at things in terms of "credits" is very misleading. Both 507 and 508 are absolutely exhausting classes. You are making projects every week, because you're working in a trio, so you make a film, then produce your partners, then DP your other partners, and each of you are switching off in different roles, so you're working on a project basically all the time. It's manageable, but it's a LOT to handle. A lot of people have mental breakdowns or anxiety (I had panic attacks during 507). So I wouldn't recommend adding any more stress on top of what you're already doing.

After the first year is done, you get to choose the classes you'll take, so it'd make more sense to plan your schedule around those electives after the first year is out of the way.

2. You can cross register within the SCA, but not into other schools. Ergo, you can't take law school, or theater school, or philosophy classes. That being said, there is an acting class available for cinema students. CTPR 454, with Anne DeSalvo. I hear good things about it so if you wanted to give it a shot that one could be worth doing. Also, in our directing classes, especially early on, we'll be directing our classmates, which means you'll get some chances to act there. Aaaaand, since there are so many projects, if you let people know you're willing to act, they'll sometimes cast you in their projects. I've been cast in several, enough that I probably could put together a reel if I wanted to. So the opportunities will be there :).
What's been your favorite thing so far? Least favorite?

Any cool projects?

I'm loving your insightful answers. Thank you so much. It'll be so helpful to everyone.
Favorite Thing: I think my favorite thing has been a feeling. I don't get it all the time, but there are a few moments when my mind is on fire and my body is fully engaged, like I'm "in the zone". I've felt it occasionally while producing, AD'ing, or directing. There's a mess happening around me, there's a ton of stress and nobody knows how it'll all turn out, but just when it feels like it's not gonna work out, my brain zeroes in and comes up with a solution, and then we make it happen. I remember noticing the feeling during my first semester when it looked like we weren't gonna get the location we needed, but on the last day, I finally broke through and got ahold of the contact person we needed, and then I had to scramble to fill out all the forms just before the deadline, but I did it, and it was so incredibly satisfying to feel like I'd accomplished the impossible. I messaged my friend that evening "This makes me feel so alive". That may just be an individual thing for me, but it's what comes to mind when I think about what I've enjoyed most about this process so far.

Least Favorite: Ugh, when teammates drop the ball. I won't get too specific, but man it hurts when you throw hours and hours and hours of work and stress and pain into a project and then one person let's you down and it causes the whole project to lose the quality it could have had. It's a great learning experience, because that's going to happen in this industry, but it still hurts.

Cool Projects: Tons! They're all short films, but a lot of them are very exciting to be part of. Tbf, none of them are mind blowingly amazing, but they're fun to work on and I feel like I learn/improve every time I take part in a new project. So far I've been part of a friendly ghost story, a demon haunting story (I acted in that one) a monster horror short, a sexy vampire shoot, a documentary about sex and spirituality, a documentary about real life sorcerers, a film about a girl who kills her husband with poisoned brownies when she finds out he cheated on her, a story about a Priest who meets a beautiful girl, and a story about a WWII vet who gets his painful memories erased. And that's just scratching the surface there are a ton more projects I've been part of, all in just the first year.
 

jcho13

New Member
Hi!
I'm going into USC this Spring and was looking at the laptop requirements. But I couldn't help but notice that the laptops requirements, although under the same configurations as those on the Apple Store, cost way more on USC's website and at the USC store. Do I have to get my laptop at the USC store or can I just get it online at the Apple Store? The configurations aren't really different at all. Also, where do I get the necessary programs, such as Adobe Creative Cloud from? Do they make you pick between AVID or Premiere Pro, etc.?
Any help would mean the world,
I really appreciate it.
 

truffleshuffle

Member
Supporting Member
@sharkb8 Thank you for preventing me from possibly making a serious error my first semester. That does sound intense and I'm glad you made it through. And while I do plan to definitely take that acting class you graciously mentioned, I'm more interested in improving my writing and directing by becoming familiar with the language and processes of their craft.

And regarding the team member letting you down, is tarring and feathering still frowned upon by the administration?
 

Avec Love

Member
Hi!
I'm going into USC this Spring and was looking at the laptop requirements. But I couldn't help but notice that the laptops requirements, although under the same configurations as those on the Apple Store, cost way more on USC's website and at the USC store. Do I have to get my laptop at the USC store or can I just get it online at the Apple Store? The configurations aren't really different at all. Also, where do I get the necessary programs, such as Adobe Creative Cloud from? Do they make you pick between AVID or Premiere Pro, etc.?
Any help would mean the world,
I really appreciate it.

I'll fill in for sharkb8 on this one (Sounds like I'm a semester ahead of him). There's a lot of stress on the website and in the onboarding documents about getting the laptop and getting the right configurations for the laptop but I have yet to hear about or encounter a class that requires it. I believe the increased price at the USC store is due to the added Applecare warranty but I could be wrong. The main purpose of the laptop beyond normal word processing and access to the internet is going to be for the editing software (more on that later). If you think you're 100% positive that you'll do most of your editing off campus then you can go ahead and get that exact laptop. Otherwise, the requirements aren't so stringent as they make it seem. With that said, if you go through the bookstore you can probably very easily appeal financial aid for an increase in aid to match the cost of the laptop.

A word on the editing labs: the editing labs on campus are pretty nice and they usually don't close until midnight. On the one hand that means they aren't 24 hours, but on the other hand you'll almost always have a computer for editing available to you at all times. They are nice and quiet, there are lockers you can purchase to store your drives and quite frankly it's a good place to meet people too. Even if you have a laptop and prefer to edit from your laptop, you will inevitably be in the Lab several times during the semester.

I'm not aware of any need for Creative Cloud, but all software is purchased at the student's expense. With that said, you can appeal to financial aid to account for the expense of that software, and the appeal will be granted to you - just like any other expense that you incur over the course of a class.

And finally, USC is an AVID school. All of the editing workstations use AVID, all of the editing professors pretty much only use AVID, the school retains the services of certified AVID instructors and in many cases your films will be screened directly off of the AVID timeline instead of from an export.
 

jcho13

New Member
I'll fill in for sharkb8 on this one (Sounds like I'm a semester ahead of him). There's a lot of stress on the website and in the onboarding documents about getting the laptop and getting the right configurations for the laptop but I have yet to hear about or encounter a class that requires it. I believe the increased price at the USC store is due to the added Applecare warranty but I could be wrong. The main purpose of the laptop beyond normal word processing and access to the internet is going to be for the editing software (more on that later). If you think you're 100% positive that you'll do most of your editing off campus then you can go ahead and get that exact laptop. Otherwise, the requirements aren't so stringent as they make it seem. With that said, if you go through the bookstore you can probably very easily appeal financial aid for an increase in aid to match the cost of the laptop.

A word on the editing labs: the editing labs on campus are pretty nice and they usually don't close until midnight. On the one hand that means they aren't 24 hours, but on the other hand you'll almost always have a computer for editing available to you at all times. They are nice and quiet, there are lockers you can purchase to store your drives and quite frankly it's a good place to meet people too. Even if you have a laptop and prefer to edit from your laptop, you will inevitably be in the Lab several times during the semester.

I'm not aware of any need for Creative Cloud, but all software is purchased at the student's expense. With that said, you can appeal to financial aid to account for the expense of that software, and the appeal will be granted to you - just like any other expense that you incur over the course of a class.

And finally, USC is an AVID school. All of the editing workstations use AVID, all of the editing professors pretty much only use AVID, the school retains the services of certified AVID instructors and in many cases your films will be screened directly off of the AVID timeline instead of from an export.
Thank you! Would you also know if there's a student discount for AVID or am I paying out of pocket for that as well?
 

Avec Love

Member
Thank you! Would you also know if there's a student discount for AVID or am I paying out of pocket for that as well?
The student discount offered on the AVID website is quite substantial actually. The school doesn't offer anything more competitive than AVID itself does.
 

truffleshuffle

Member
Supporting Member
AVID school huh? Well looks like I need to shift away from Premiere Pro. Sucks, since I have so many 3rd party tools and effects that are PP/FCP compatible but not Avid-friendly. Great to know that in advance so thank you.

What kind of out-of-pocket budget is the range for 507 and 508 projects?
 

Chris W

As You Wish
Staff member
AVID school huh? Well looks like I need to shift away from Premiere Pro. Sucks, since I have so many 3rd party tools and effects that are PP/FCP compatible but not Avid-friendly. Great to know that in advance so thank you.

What kind of out-of-pocket budget is the range for 507 and 508 projects?
I'm an editor and producer in television now. A very well known and popular show for Discovery. 95% of ALL television and film* is still Avid so it'd be good to learn it.

The more you can learn and use the better though.

*Completely made up number but it feels right. At least all the GOOD paying jobs for real stuff is avid.
 

Avec Love

Member
AVID school huh? Well looks like I need to shift away from Premiere Pro. Sucks, since I have so many 3rd party tools and effects that are PP/FCP compatible but not Avid-friendly. Great to know that in advance so thank you.

What kind of out-of-pocket budget is the range for 507 and 508 projects?
I think they've changed the curriculum for both classes since I've taken them but when I was in 507 we directed 2 films and in neither film were we allowed to spend more than $300. I believe now students do 3 films in 507 but I would be surprised if the budget cap was much higher. In 508 you direct 1 film whose budget is $1200 (can be raised to $1500 on individual basis upon appeal) - you also work on two other films in different roles.

Unfortunately, during the times that students are taking these classes, everyone is new, untested and there is a tendency to try and impress one another. Lots of people unknowingly try to make $3,000 movies for $300. I'll echo Sharkb8 above and say that it's best to look at these projects as exercises and experiments in applying the techniques that hopefully you are learning.

Since I'm already on the topic of the first year curriculum, it warrants mentioning that 507 and 508 are broken up in to segments by specialty. Depending on the day of the week you will be in either a cinematography, producing, direction, editing or sound section. For 507 the directing section is considered the "core" class and for 508 the producing section is considered the "core" class. For 507 there is also a directing "lab" that meets one day a week in which you will learn mostly about script analysis and directing actors.

In addition, 507 and 508 also have companion "writing" classes. First semester is a short screenplay writing workshop and second semester is a script analysis lecture. I felt like I got a lot out of these classes and I even had a writing background already.

You can see how the first year can be quite a handful.
 

oreillyoa

New Member
Hey mate, thank you for all the super useful information! I'm going to be starting in Film & TV production next semester and was wondering what most students do during the summer? Do most find internships in LA? Do they find work overseas? Do you know if the internships paid or generally unpaid? If it's not internships, what else do students take part in?

I'm trying to figure out how I can offset the cost of attending with work or with internships that could possibly help later on!

Any help is hugely appreciated!
 

Avec Love

Member
Hey mate, thank you for all the super useful information! I'm going to be starting in Film & TV production next semester and was wondering what most students do during the summer? Do most find internships in LA? Do they find work overseas? Do you know if the internships paid or generally unpaid? If it's not internships, what else do students take part in?

I'm trying to figure out how I can offset the cost of attending with work or with internships that could possibly help later on!

Any help is hugely appreciated!
Here's the reality: In no uncertain terms, unless you've got alternative sources of funding (ala parents are willing to contribute, huge scholarship, etc), it's inevitable that you'll be paying a bulk of your costs by taking on debt. Here's some things that I know exist that may help.

1. scholarships: the school offers a lot of scholarships and there are scholarships outside of school as well. As alluded to above since there are a lot of scholarship opportunities then you should definitely apply but do you research and apply to other graduate scholarships as wel.

2. Student Assistantships. Production students (you will be a production student) are not allowed to TA classes but they can be Student Assistants. Student Assistants either assist an instructor with a specific class OR they can work in one of the several equipment centers handling rentals and returns. The basic pay for this is minimum wage but for classes with a significant workload you can also get an additional stipend that essentially acts as a scholarship.

3. Internships: I'm not at the point where I'm doing much with internships but there are an innumerable amount of internships in LA. The classic rule of thumb is that interns are unpaid and it has been this way for a long time. There's been a big push to change this industry, especially since internships aren't the only way to get connected or make films anymore, so there's that. Still, for students choosing to work over the summer - this is typically one of the better options.

With respect to summer, at least one summer session will probably be taken up by a class just because of how the graduation requirements and course maps line up. It's not inevitable but you also shouldn't assume that your summers will be completely free of school.
 

oreillyoa

New Member
Thank you so much, that's an incredible amount of information. Very interested to learn that a summer will be taken up by a summer session.

I wondered about the social atmosphere amongst students? Do people ever go out at night or do fun stuff on campus? It sounds like every waking moment is filled with film stuff (which I agree is what I signed up for), but do students find things to do outside of class work or is there just no time?

Does the work load change in the second year? Does it become more specialized and focused? Do you end up working on less films but of better quality?

Also, Happy Holidays to everyone!!! 🥳
 

Avec Love

Member
Thank you so much, that's an incredible amount of information. Very interested to learn that a summer will be taken up by a summer session.

I wondered about the social atmosphere amongst students? Do people ever go out at night or do fun stuff on campus? It sounds like every waking moment is filled with film stuff (which I agree is what I signed up for), but do students find things to do outside of class work or is there just no time?

Does the work load change in the second year? Does it become more specialized and focused? Do you end up working on less films but of better quality?

Also, Happy Holidays to everyone!!! 🥳

These are all good and important questions. The answer to the first question is that yes, although there is a lot of pressure and a lot of work, students do find time to hang out and (try) to relax. With exception to the notorious second semester where you don't have much time to spend outside of your assigned trio, most of the time who you interact with socially is determined by class schedule. Then again, it's also important to note that this is Grad School and so students have more obligations and social interests outside of the program. Some will be married, some will have children, etc.

As for how the program changes in the second year: there are two important changes (I think). The first is that with the exception of CTPR 506, which you can take at any time, what classes you take are nearly entirely up to you. Because of this, how busy your semester is is probably up to you. No matter what though, you'll probably still be busy. The second thing that happens is that classes get a bit more specialized, not just around a discipline but around a specific topic in that discipline. For example, intermediate directing classes tend to focus on directing actors, as opposed to camera. The first year is more about getting your feet wet by just making movies, any movie. The latter semesters are about honing specific skills.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be making more or fewer films, nor that the films will be higher quality or lower quality. For example, in Advanced Directing you probably make more films than in 508 and they are of similar quality. In Visual Expressions you make only one film and it's probably much lower quality (this is up to you). In Production III you make a single film at a semi-professional quality. It's also notable that after the first year you could spend the rest of the time without ever directing another film - it's up to you.
 

truffleshuffle

Member
Supporting Member
It's been awhile but I have a couple more questions. :D

1) Attending Admitted Students Day is strongly encouraged for anyone fortunate enough to be admitted or waitlisted. But other than the cool aspect of seeing the facilities and faculty for maybe the first time, and mingling with your future peers, is there any significant disadvantage for those unable to attend? (I would definitely try to go if I got in, but I'm just not sure what my midterm/paper situation will be like around whatever weekend it falls upon!)

2) The First Year curriculum seems pretty set, and for good reason. So from what I've been hearing from you guys and others is that electives aren't generally done until Second Year. Tuition actually seems pretty cheap (relatively) the First Year (~$35k for 2019-2020) compared to other major film schools ($50k-70k). But the Second Year, I guess we're given a bit more breathing room to take more credits (and thus our tuition will shoot up accordingly). Do people tend to load up on the cool electives they've always wanted, or are people still keeping a trim credit load at around 8 units per semester? If I were to be accepted, I'd be really keen on taking intermediate and advanced directing, AND a TV pilot course (which I hear is a year long sequence?), AND a screenwriting course. Not to mention a pitching class that I hear is pretty valuable and 506 which is required. Is that just like way too ambitious of someone in their Second Year? I'd definitely want to be the type to do one thing really well rather than put mediocre time and effort into too many endeavors. And yes, I know these questions are like waayyy down the line for someone who hasn't even been accepted yet, but that's just how I am lol
 

Avec Love

Member
It's been awhile but I have a couple more questions. :D

1) Attending Admitted Students Day is strongly encouraged for anyone fortunate enough to be admitted or waitlisted. But other than the cool aspect of seeing the facilities and faculty for maybe the first time, and mingling with your future peers, is there any significant disadvantage for those unable to attend? (I would definitely try to go if I got in, but I'm just not sure what my midterm/paper situation will be like around whatever weekend it falls upon!)

2) The First Year curriculum seems pretty set, and for good reason. So from what I've been hearing from you guys and others is that electives aren't generally done until Second Year. Tuition actually seems pretty cheap (relatively) the First Year (~$35k for 2019-2020) compared to other major film schools ($50k-70k). But the Second Year, I guess we're given a bit more breathing room to take more credits (and thus our tuition will shoot up accordingly). Do people tend to load up on the cool electives they've always wanted, or are people still keeping a trim credit load at around 8 units per semester? If I were to be accepted, I'd be really keen on taking intermediate and advanced directing, AND a TV pilot course (which I hear is a year long sequence?), AND a screenwriting course. Not to mention a pitching class that I hear is pretty valuable and 506 which is required. Is that just like way too ambitious of someone in their Second Year? I'd definitely want to be the type to do one thing really well rather than put mediocre time and effort into too many endeavors. And yes, I know these questions are like waayyy down the line for someone who hasn't even been accepted yet, but that's just how I am lol

1. Admitted Students day is a transparent sales pitch - they're trying to convince you to attend and because they get good results when people go through the whole Admitted Students day thing, they try to make it sound all but mandatory with the "strongly encouraged" bit. There's a little bit of lunch, a small info session, a tour and a lot of ego stroking.

If you can get past the artifice, there are a lot of legitimately great reasons to attend. First, if you are trying to decide between schools you should definitely go to this event. The most important thing about going to film school are the people you meet along the way, and because USC is so good at capitalizing on FOMO, a lot of prospective students attend this event. You get to mingle with all of them, get a sense of the cohort, not just production students but also interactive design students, animation students, etc.

Additionally, even if you're sure you want to go to USC there are lots of relationships that get formed on this day. One of my closest creative relationships is with the first person I met during accepted students day. Furthermore all of the department heads show up for this day and they are encouraged to go around and mingle with the students during the event - again the one on one time with a department head is worth the price of a plain ticket.

Probably the least important reason to go is that it's legitimately pretty fun. Our cohort had lunch in one of the big sound stages, with the elephant doors open and the trappings of physical production all around. I had never been on a sound stage before so I was in love.

2. I'll break this in to two parts - money and time:

money: So keep in mind there are three years. Tuition is relatively constant throughout those three years and more importantly - you'll probably be taking somewhere around 54 credits total regardless of how busy one semester is over the other. Most of the cost of tuition is basically the same for everyone. The variance in cost comes from self-funding projects. Some students get by with paying very little for their projects (or none at all after their first year) and some end up putting absurd amounts of money up to self-fund their films. With some of the more advanced projects the school is actually pretty good about helping you find a way to raise the money you need but at the end of the day, it's up to you.

time: the courses you describe being interested in are very reasonable - you won't get to them all in your second year but that's not really important anyway, you've got probably another 5 semester to take classes after your first year. Most classes are somewhere around 2 credit hours (advanced production classes can be up to 6), that means about 4 classes a semester. More than likely you will find yourself take more than one class that you're not that interested in just to fill out the 8 credit hour requirement. There's plenty of room to explore it's just a matter of fitting it all within your academic map and making sure that you'll be able to graduate on time with all the classes that you really wanted to take. The academic advisement at SCA is pretty great and there are mandatory meetings every semester to make sure your map makes sense so there shouldn't be any fear there.
 

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