Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stories, True and Otherwise

Two Stories of the USC Film School:

Many people I talked to in California seem to think USC is Steven Spielberg’s alma mater. In fact, he got turned down from USC, but seems to have done OK for himself after getting his degree instead at Long Beach State.

That’s not to say Steven hasn’t given USC money. In fact, there’s a sound stage named after him. Which you built for USC after losing a bet to George Lucas, who is probably the biggest single donor to the film school. We’ll get to him in a minute.

So, 1980s: Lucas and Spielberg are on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Indy!) And Lucas smells a huge hit, but Spielberg thinks it’s going to bomb. So they make a bet; the winner has to put up a building at the others’ alma mater.

Hence, the Spielberg Sound Stage.

George Lucas just gave USC $175 million dollars. I was told on tour that that is the single largest gift ever gift as a lump sum to any university. Suck on that, Ivy! $100 is for endowment and $75 million for buildings; USC just opened, in fact, a four story office and classroom building designed in the style of an old 30s movie set.

A U shaped building with a courtyard, at its very center stands a statue of Douglas Fairbanks holding a fencing sword. As with everything Lucas, there’s a story behind the decision. Fairbanks used to fence with the guy who was the president of USC. And after one such duel, Fairbanks noted that there were no schools in the entire country that studied motion pictures. This was in the 20s, and Fairbanks had the prescience to suggest USC start a department, saying film was going to be the art form of the 20th century.

The USC president listened, and today USC has one of the preeminent film production programs in the world.

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