USC is All About Growth

USC’s School of Cinematic Arts educates all its Production students – not just editors – in editing both picture and sound on Media Composer and Pro Tools.

LOS ANGELES – The roster of Hollywood luminaries involved in the founding of USC, in 1929 the first school to offer a degree in film, mirrors today’s firmament of cinema giants -- think Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, Zemeckis and plenty more USC grads. And it gets you thinking about who the people wandering these halls today might develop into in 10 years. Or in one year for that matter.

Over 80 years the school has kept pace – and even led the charge – with developments in production technology and techniques and today USC is both launching a new Masters Degree program for its Production Division and preparing to move into its newly constructed facility in January 2009. The new building is part of a $175 million grant from alum George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Foundation.

USC’s School of Cinematic Arts ( was recently renamed to better reflect its mission, and to embrace all the moving-picture artistry that today’s technology enables. Besides real film, of course, there’s a wide range of creative options and delivery modes open to digital video producers. CG animation, a relatively newer art, also gets its due at USC, as does video game development and, in the school’s Production Division, editing and audio post production.

 It is really important to our students that we are current and state-of-the-art.

 It all needs to be posted. Meri Weingarten is Director, Post Production at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She originally taught editing and is now mostly responsible for overseeing the school’s post production curriculum and management of the school’s post production facilities, film lab activities and areas under the creative computing and creative network “umbrella” -- and that includes animation. Weingarten also consults with USC’s managers and technical personnel on the strategic planning of film and video technology.

All this means she is largely responsible for the “relationship” with the school’s largest supplier of post production equipment and licenses – Avid.

The Avid Relationship

“Right now we have over 100 seats of Media Composer,” she says. “When we move into our new building [in January], it will be close to 150.” That’s just for editing. Weingarten also deals with Avid regarding USC’s Softimage licenses for its CG animation division. “The industry has become cross-disciplinary, and so have we,” she says.

By definition, a relationship should work two ways. From a large supplier of software and equipment, you’d expect fair prices set low for products in non-profit, educational use. You’d expect regular, solid upgrades. But what does a company like Avid get in return from a school where virtually all the users are unknowns?

“We work very hard at the Avid relationship,” says Weingarten. “It is really important to our students that we are current and state-of-the art. We are a prominent cinema school, but we don’t expect a ‘free lunch.’ If we can be a showcase for Avid, we’re really open to how best to showcase their tools,” she says, suggesting that the school can help with new product launches (the Editing Track often beta tests new upgrades) and general product “visibility” in the school’s post production program. “We’re constantly looking at the give-and-take because we need a lot of gear to keep ourselves going and, as a university, we can’t afford what a post house can afford.” This is understandable when you are running 150 seats of Avid at a not-for-profit post facility.

“Over the years we have given Avid a lot of very good feedback,” she adds, citing the school’s advice on software upgrades, bugs and “new things people want.”

“Over the years, especially with the emergence of Final Cut Pro, we’ve given Avid a lot of input as to what our students want, and what they need to do to compete. I think Avid realizes that the buyers of the future are at the universities. That’s the leverage we have.  We want students walking out of here knowing Avid, and that’s the crux of the Avid relationship. We can help Avid understand what the filmmakers of the future want!”

Sophisticated student body

“Our students are quite sophisticated coming in,” Weingarten says. “We joke that they come in here with better cameras than we have!” Indeed some students are self-equipped with HD cameras. But USC’s cameras are about to get a big boost up to HD as the school moves into new digs, funded by alum George Lucas, in January. But meanwhile USC’s post production operation is still quite slick. “You will see that our equipment, tool set and what we offer is quite sophisticated,” she adds. “More than most schools, we really look like a post facility.”