Bryan Singer might have majored in critical studies, but he’s not just an academic.
The USC alumnus, for whom the School of Cinematic Arts’ Bryan Singer Division of Critical Studies is named, graduated in 1989 and has since gone on to direct films such as The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and four of the films in the X-Men franchise.
Singer transferred to USC after spending two years at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He decided to attend SCA because of its connections to the film industry and history of successful alumni.
“There were a number of graduates like George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and people like that that came out of USC who I grew up being enormous fans of,” Singer said. “I knew it was one of the most prestigious film schools in the world and it was in Los Angeles. Having done two years in New York City, I really felt that if I wanted to move into mainstream filmmaking, I would have to start setting my roots in Los Angeles.”
Singer originally intended to study film production, but after being rejected from the program three times, settled on critical studies. Though it wasn’t his original plan, Singer said he values the experience and that the things he learned have helped his career as a director.
“The surprise was that it ended up being the best decision that ever happened to me. Critical studies provided me with this enormous overview of cinema, that I might not have gotten in production or more of a narrow major,” he said.
An overarching view of the film industry and a deep knowledge of cinema history were the most valuable takeaways from the critical studies major, Singer said. He said the technical knowledge needed to be a director can be learned on the job and through experience instead.
Singer also cited his time at USC for helping him make connections and meet like-minded students who would go on to work in different aspects of the film industry. John Ottman, an editor and composer, attended SCA with Singer and the two have since collaborated on many films, including the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.
“You learn far more on the job than you’ll ever learn in school. What serves the person entering into the professional realm most is knowledge,” Singer said. “College is all about an overview and relationships. I always say that the classes and the screening experience is 20 percent of what I got out of USC. The other 80 percent is John Ottman.”
Since graduating, Singer has continued to be a presence at USC. He has returned in the past to speak to students and share his experiences. Recently, he donated $5 million to name the Bryan Singer Division of Critical Studies.
“Dean Elizabeth Daley and I agree that having this particular division named for a film director reminds incoming students that it’s not just a major for future critics or academics, it’s also a major at a division that also prepares students for all aspects of the film industry,” Singer said. “It’s the basic knowledge of cinematic language and history that can contribute to any future career, not just what the name ‘critical studies’ implies.”
Singer hopes that his donation will allow the division to give all cinematic arts students the opportunity to continue to watch the best films and learn from the best professors.
“It’s exciting to be involved in this division because every other major at the School of Cinematic Arts takes courses in critical studies,” he said.
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