Business and film merge

Students, faculty and film industry professionals gathered in the Radisson Ballroom last Sunday for the grand finale of the Southern California Business Film Festival. The Competitive Event was the culmination of a week-long celebration of cinematic storytelling and the industry behind it. SCBFF, both the name of festival and the student team that makes it all happen, treated the USC community to a semi-formal lunch and 11 thought-provoking and laughter-inducing student films throughout the week.

SCBFF has been bringing together the cornerstones of the film industry — innovation and creativity — since 2007, with the support of the Marshall School of Business. The events were open to all types students, however, not just those in Marshall and the School of Cinematic Arts. One of the goals of the festival is to give the rest of the school a taste of what the USC film students are really working on.

This year, the events included the Smartphone Film Festival on Feb. 9 and the Creative Development Panel on Feb. 18. The Competitive Event required student filmmakers to submit their work in advance, but other than that there were only two submission requirements: the movie had to be 25 minutes or shorter and produced after March 2013. The panel of judges included Evan Daugherty, screenwriter of Snow White and the Huntsman; Michael Renov, professor of critical studies and vice dean of Academic Affairs; Jon M. Chu, director of Step Up 2, Step Up 3-D and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Aaron Godfred, director of John Dies at the End, starring Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown.

The Competitive Event featured the distinguished keynote speaker, Professor Jason E. Squire, who teaches film business and screenwriting. He spoke about his current research on DIY filmmaking, a model that is gaining traction in the industry and is also an accessible way for students to make movies.

Squire began the dialogue by stepping off the podium to ask the audience, “How many people have seen The Lego Movie?” Speaking to the different generations of the audience in the room, Squire explained the success of The Lego Movie. His new focus is this “potential emerging business model,” the process of making and distributing movies under the radar. Our society is entangled in systems of entertainment: live theatre, games, web series, even televised sports such the Olympics, where the cycles of business are converging.

“This is an area of entertainment where you don’t know where it is going to end up” Squire concluded. As the SCBFF Smartphone Contest demonstrates, DIY filmmaking enables auteurs to go out, create a piece and upload it immediately.

To make the festival happen, each member of the small SCBFF team had many responsibilities. As SCBFF Co-Director of Competitive Event Augusto Vighy, a freshman in the World Bachelor’s for Business program said, “every single detail counts.” The team was responsible for tasks that were as major as renting the ballroom to as minor as the flower arrangements. The SCBFF team has been streamlined over the years, shrinking from 60 members to around 30 since it’s inception. The small group is passionate about each other and what they are doing, however.

“We were excited to have them, to have their dream and their vision come to fruition,” said Austin Mora, co-executive director of SCBFF.

On Sunday, screenings began with Sheltered Love, a tongue-in-cheek love story set in 1950s suburbia, which won Best Production Design. It was followed by You and Me, the story of a nerd turned voyeur, filmed in Hong Kong.

Though it was not as accessible to audiences, it was Vighy’s favorite film, and he confessed that, “I fought for that film to be showed … because it was different from the others. That’s what I want to find in films, something that makes me feel an emotion and that stands out from the crowd.”

Co-Executive Director Leora Weinstock said her favorite film was Cherry Pop, which received the award for Best Actor. Directed by Assaad Yacoub, the film was a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a night in the life of eight drag queens. Yacoub, who was born and raised in Dubai, had never met a drag queen until he came to the United States to study film. Cherry Pop was his thesis.

“I know eight drag queens, but I know 16 different people, because they’re different as boys, and they’re different as girls,” Yacoub said.

Through the process, Yacoub said he learned the drama and the fun of working with drag queens.

“They’re all all actors. They’re very natural comedians,” Yacoub said

Similar to Cherry Pop, SCBFF celebrates two split personalities, but those of film and the other side of the curtain — both the business and creative sides of entertainment. The group celebrated this by giving out both awards for the professionals in front of the screen, such as Best Actress, which went to Mellie Nolen for Curtains, an exploration of the line between art and reality. Momentum received Best Editing.

This year’s festival was characterized by diversity and variety. The film Marcel, the story of thieves fighting to steal a mustache, was a big winner, sweeping Best Picture and Best Director. So was Hotel Vernonia, a surrealist psychological thriller, which received Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Sound.

As the festival was winding down, the audience applauded the caliber of the submissions to the festival.

“It’s been a little bit of a rocky start … but our festival has gone very well this year,” Mora said.