Senior directs Walmart’s Academy Awards film

Tracey Aivaz, a senior majoring in production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, found out she would be directing a short film as part of Walmart’s Academy Awards film series “The Box.” (Photo courtesy of Tracey Aivaz)

Filmmaker Tracey Aivaz has already stepped foot onto her path toward being a young, female filmmaker in Hollywood. Aivaz, a senior majoring in production at USC School of Cinematic Arts, was chosen by Walmart to direct their 60-second Oscar short film “The Box” after interning for the Academy Gold Program last year.

Walmart is the Academy Awards’ largest sponsor, and this year, they held three 60-second commercials which aired during the telecast of the Oscars. The commercials were directed by Nancy Meyers, Melissa McCarthy and Dee Rees. Aivaz was chosen as the fourth director — she wrote and directed her own commercial piece, which was premiered at the Bentonville Film Festival in Arkansas this past May.

“What was really fascinating about the commercial was the experience I got with working with professionals,” Aivaz said. “It was a unique collaboration between professionals who are working on features in TV, and students who are at USC. I got to bring in my Gold people and USC people into the thing as well.”

“The Box” follows a young girl who looks to her mother for support in accomplishing her goal to horseback ride.

Aivaz attributes her love of film to her childhood, where she grew up watching and discussing movies with her parents. Her film career began when she was 12 years old and elected to create a short film for a science class.

“I had a natural sense of story and appreciation of story ever since I was a kid,” Aivaz said. “That’s why I volunteered to make a movie for a science project that everyone did on paper.”

Aivaz continued making short films throughout high school until she was eventually accepted to SCA. She applied for as many as 80 internships and was rejected from all of them; Aivaz described those rejections as “the nature of business.” However, those rejections did not deter her — she was soon accepted as an intern for an Academy Gold Program in summer 2017, a dream offer for an aspiring filmmaker.

“[Rejection] kind of shatters you, but also matures you,” Aivaz said. “I think limitations really add to creativity. The more limitations you have, you’re going to find out different ways to get to what you want.”

For three months, Aivaz interned at Panavision’s Iron Office. She attended weekly events at the Academy, where she sat in the same conference as directors Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola and asked them questions. In addition, the program offered some member screenings, including Steven Spielberg’s “The Post.”

“Spielberg was 10 feet away from me and I got to say hi,” Aivaz said. “I just got to hear him in person talk about the movie, and it was really inspiring. Just lovely environment, and the directors at the Academy do everything they can to open up opportunities for Gold interns.”

Aivaz also described her experience walking the Red Carpet at the 2018 Oscars during her Academy Gold internship as “surreal.” One of the moments that resonated with her was a conversation with actress Sandra Bullock, who Aivaz said is an ideal representation of a Hollywood role model.

“The most incredible, awesome, crazy experience I’ve ever had, really. You were in the same theater as all these crazy celebrities and filmmakers you’ve seen on the screen your whole life,” Aivaz said. “It was just really inspiring to see that many talented people.”

Aivaz believes that her education at USC has been crucial to her success. According to Aivaz, SCA immerses students in every aspect of filmmaking and offers a comprehensive education and filmmaking, from pre-production to post-production.

“For me, it gave me experience in every field, and it really proved me that I wanted to direct, I wanted to be involved from the beginning to the end,” Aivaz said. “It really gave me hands-on experience, knowledge about the industry, and it helped me land the Academy internship. If it wasn’t because of SCA, I really don’t think I would’ve had anything related to the Academy or Walmart.”

In the process of making film, Aivaz likes to emphasize two key aspects: to entertain and to send out messages.

“Any movie I make, I want to have those two aspects,” Aivaz said. “I don’t want it to be pure entertainment, and I don’t want it to be purely a message or a moral story. I want it to have both.”

She said the film industry is becoming increasingly more open to inclusion and diversity and she feels proud to be part of a revolutionary era in Hollywood.

“It’s just starting so the numbers aren’t up there, but I’m seeing a lot of movement in different platforms. I feel like it’s going to keep on getting better and better,” Aivaz said. “I just feel really lucky to enter Hollywood in this era where women are respected and diverse filmmakers are respected. I feel fortunate.”

However, Aivaz is still not satisfied — her dream is to one day direct television features and own her own production company with a studio back-up.