Long-time School of Cinematic Arts professor Mel Sloan, whose time at USC spanned more than 50 years, passed away earlier this month. He was 86.
Though Sloan devoted much of his life to film, his love of the craft did not begin until he was a teenager. As a child, movies were among Sloan’s least favorite forms of entertainment.
According to Sloan’s sister Irene Golden, when Sloan was young he watched the movie Frankenstein and, thereafter, became scared and skeptical of films for a long time.
“If he ever did anything wrong, my mother would say, ‘I’ll take you to the movies,’” Golden said.
But eventually Sloan began to develop an interest in photography and later decided he was going to move to California to study film.
“He wanted to go to ’SC,” Golden said.
Sloan graduated from USC and joined the faculty in 1946. He taught until his retirement in 1997.
Sloan pioneered the course cinematic communication (CTPR 290), an integral part of the film production curriculum. One of the first courses cinema students take, the class emphasizes hands-on participation in all parts of the production process.
In his time at USC, Sloan worked with students including George Lucas, Irvin Kershner and Robert Zemeckis, all of whom later credited Sloan with helping them become successful in the industry.
Sloan’s long-time friend and colleague Woody Omens, who was a student of Sloan’s, said it wasn’t the content of Sloan’s classes that affected his students but his method.
“It wasn’t about technique, it wasn’t really about film,” Owens said. “It was about what’s in your soul; can you get at it [through film] and can you get it to affect somebody else?”
Sloan’s wife, Rita, said her husband always pushed his students and helped foster a love of film, often screening films for his students at his house.
“He always said to his students, ‘If your work is something you like, then you get paid twice,’” Rita said.
Omens said Sloan encouraged his students to develop not just a love of film but also a love of life.
“He made his life interesting,” Omens said. “And he thought that there was no reason students coming to him couldn’t be awakened to making their lives more interesting too.”
When he wasn’t teaching, Sloan worked on feature films such as Stakeout on Dope Street with Irvin Kershner, Haskell Wexler and Gene Petersen, all of whom developed close bonds with the cinema professor. But, Rita said, Sloan did not feel the same passion for Hollywood as he did for the art of filmmaking.
“He wanted to be his own boss,” she said. “He wanted to deal with things he felt were more important.”
Fellow emeritus professor Ken Miura, who described Sloan as more of a friend than colleague, estimated that he taught more than 2,500 students during his time at USC.
Rita said Sloan will be remembered “not just because of the legacy he left at USC but because of the person he was.”
Sloan is survived by Rita, his wife of 60 years; their three children, Jeff, Len and Barry; three grandchildren; and his sister Golden.
No memorial service has yet been announced.