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A photo I took of the entrance to Amblin Entertainment - the production company for Steven Spielberg which is on the back lot of Universal Studios. What was amusing to me is that the Universal tour trams would go right past Amblin and not even make mention of what it was or who was there.
Upon arriving at Amblin we were given a tour, met director Robert Zemeckis and ushered into a private screening room. Where we were told by producer Frank Marshall that Steven Spielberg was busy editing Empire Of The Sun and he probably wouldn't get down to see us. They did have a screening set up for the outtakes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom which we enjoyed. Outtakes included footage rarely seen like Barbara Streisand taking over the Temple guard part and whipping Harrison Ford much to his surprise - don't you wish that would have made the DVD/Bluray. I was sitting in the middle seat in the very front row of the screening room when the door opened and in walked Steven Spielberg. He came down in front of the us and sat maybe five feet away for what was to be a 10 minute question and answer session. Spielberg ended up being extremely gracious and despite a busy schedule stayed and talked with us for over 90 minutes.
This was not something he had to do. It wasn't something that was being publicized. He cared enough to take the time with some film students even though his schedule was extremely busy. All of this from a chance meeting I had with him in front of the studio commissary where he could have easily blown off the offer of coming to Amblin. But he made sure it happened. That's the one thing that really stuck with me - despite the huge level of success and fame he had achieved, he was genuinely interested in meeting with the class. I get the impression this wasn't the first nor the last time he has gone out of his way for others. A real class act and a legend in film whom you would not be disappointed to meet.
He simply could not have been any more pleasant. I told him it was too bad that he wasn't filming on the lot as my USC class would love to observe. Steven Spielberg then told me to have my instructor call Amblin Entertainment (his production company on the back lot of Universal Studios) and perhaps they could set something up. He smiled and shook my hand before continuing on with his busy day. To make a long story short, I informed my instructor who contacted Amblin and our USC Cinema class was invited to come down for a visit at Amblin.
I'm often asked about the meeting with Steven Spielberg so here are the details as USC Cinema had always wanted him as a guest speaker but he had eluded them. It was July 14, 1987 and I had taken a short lunch that day to sit out in front of the commissary at Universal Studios on the back lot. This is an area not open to the public and far from the famous public tour area of the studio. I just happened to look up to see a bearded man in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts walking past me. Much to my surprise, I recognized him instantly so I said "Hello Mr. Spielberg" and he responded with a friendly "Hello!" He continued walking into the office building directly across from the commissary. One of my classmates was sitting across from me and she looked up and asked "What did you say? Was that Spielberg?" I had to laugh. It was. About ten minutes later Steven Spielberg came back out of the Universal offices and was walking in my direction so I approached him and asked for his autograph which he happily provided. He immediately asked if I was working at the studio or interning. We chatted for a few minutes. He was extremely personable. Below is a image of the autograph that hangs in my office today.
One of the opportunities that the USC cinema program offered was meeting film industry guests on a regular basis either at USC or usually at one of the various Hollywood Studios. Students would have meetings in a variety of locations, classrooms, theaters, within filmmaker's production company or studio, or even during a post production sound mix. While I was at USC, here is a list of just a few of the talented people which I had the opportunity to meet and experience unique production opportunities.
Steven Spielberg - at Amblin Entertainment (Back lot of Universal Studios) during post on Empire Of The Sun
Robert Zemeckis - at Amblin Entertainment (Back lot of Universal Studios) Director of the Back To The Future trilogy
Bob Gale - Writer / Producer of the Back To The Future trilogy
Frank Marshall - at Amblin Entertainment (Back lot of Universal Studios) Producer of the Indiana Jones / Back To The Future trilogy
Randal Kleiser - Director of Grease and Producer of North Shore / during post sound mix of the film North Shore at Glen Glenn Sound Studios.
Michael Mann - Executive Producer of Miami Vice
Tony Denison - Crime Story
Peggy Robertson - Assistant to Alfred Hitchcock
Paul Verhoeven - Director of Robocop / had early screening of Robocop at USC
Luis Valdez -Director Of La Bama /had early screening of La Bamba at USC
Sheldon Kahn -Academy Award winning editor (Ghostbusters / One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest / Out Of Africa)
Universal Studios - Stage 43 blocking and rehearsal "Out Of This World" (Burt Reynolds / Doug McClure / Donna Pescow from Saturday Night Fever.
Ralph Sariego - V.P. Television Production Universal City Studios
Howard Kazanjian - Executive Producer Raiders Of The Lost Ark / Producer Star Wars Episode VI Return Of The Jedi
Universal Studios - Dubbing Room 1 dialogue replacement for the TV version of the John Hughes film "The Breakfast Club"
Henry Erlich - Marketing Consultant at Paramount Pictures
Post Production Sound Seminar - with Peter Berkos (Sound FX editor and Oscar winner for The Hiddenburg", Jim O'Brien (looping), and Arnold Schwarzwald (music editor)
Set Time on "Private Eye" - John Brolin and Don Calfa (Return Of The Living Dead)
Showscan - with Don Pittman
Paramount Pictures - Taping of "Marblehead Manor" with Linda Thorson (Avengers), Michael Richards
Paramount Pictures - On the set of Star Trek The Next Generation
Burbank Studios (Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures)
Jon Parre 1st Assistant Director and Gary Brown A.D. - Jon Parre (Producer Charmed / Sons Of Anarchy / A.D. on The A-Team and The Dukes of Hazzard). Gary Brown (Co-Executive Producer Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, Producer Prison Break TV series, A.D. on Tales From The Crypt, 2nd A.D. on Miami Vice)
Max Lamb - Writer / former story editor for Robert Wise Productions
Universal Studios Wardrobe Department - with Al Leeman (President of the Costumer's Guild)
The same building being demolished in 2009 to make way for a large expansion in the Cinema department. This included renaming the film program from The USC School of Cinema-Television to The USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Jeff Carney outside the entrance of the George Lucas Instructional Building (1987) University Of Southern California, Los Angeles. This was the first day at the USC School of Cinema-Television.
As part of the curriculum, your time consisted of attending film classes on campus, making films (you had two make 2 shorts), screening films, and participating in their internship (USC Universal Studios course) which gave the students access not only to Universal Studios but we also visited Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers. Your classmates were your cast and crew. So we all assisted each other on our various film projects while you lived, breathed, and slept films 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While I directed, shot and edited two short films of my own which can be seen below, I also assisted several classmates after being asked to be their cinematographer on the films they would direct. My professor at USC was Don Zirpola along with instructors William Sabados, Christine Colgan, and teaching assistants Mark Williams and John Parsons. I highly recommend the Cinema Program at USC. It's the best in the world for a reason. The instructors and atmosphere are fantastic and you simply won't find a better film school.
While I received my AA degree in Mass Communications for Television Production from Black Hawk College and my BA degree in Mass Communications from St. Ambrose University - neither had any film classes. Black Hawk had WQPT (a PBS TV station) and St. Ambrose had their own TV station (SAUtv). I decided the best course for film would be attending the University Of Southern California in 1987 for their summer film course which involved weekly visits to the inaccessible back lot of Universal Studios where you would meet filmmakers, visit film sets in production, and have opportunities to spend time with guest speakers. USC Cinema's past graduates include John Carpenter, George Lucas, and Robert Zemeckis among many others. The main film classes would be in the George Lucas Instructional building on the USC campus.