I produced, wrote, directed, and edited this short film for my senior year at U.S.C. Cinema which was easily among the most ambitious films ever attempted in cinema 486 class until that time.
Waaaaaayyyyy before High School musical, this features actors' real voices and was shot on the U.S.C. sound stages as well as locations like Santa Monica High School. Unlike everyone else, I choose to spend my savings on shooting it in 16mm and having that transferred to 3/4" videotape for editing. I was taking an editing class at the time, and was able to use the equipment in my off hours to cut together this musical.
I could only afford two or three takes, and limited coverage -- the different shots available to choose from. The scene in where Debbie and Skip sing in the classroom was filmed inside a simple box-like set and we painted the walls to match the pastel color scheme of the protagonists. I opted for a primary color scheme for the antagonists.
The music was produced by a great team, Tom Bajoras and Jeff Fair. Tom wrote and performed keyboard which was sequenced by a revolutionary computer-based sequencer program he wrote distributed by classic Hybrid Arts software. It was the early days of digital recording and sequencing keyboards together to build complex tracks using midi.
For the musicians, we had the luxury of Jeff's lovely wife being the keyboardist on the Arsenio Hall show. And with Jeff's connections we landed a professional bassist, guitarist, and drummer who'd do it for free.
I co-wrote the music with Tom, and we'd toss ideas back forth ad nauseam over strong coffee making it better each pass. I was 22 at the time with a big mullet and drove a small red Honda back and forth from a condo my brother Rob shared in Playa del Rey by LAX. My brother Rob went on to invent DirectTV and has over 60 patents.
Jodi Williams was the choreographer, introduced by my girlfriend Carolyn -- who also let me into the world of the leads of the cast and many of the dancers who had all worked on a touring Christian stage musical. For most it was their first experience on film, but everyone took their roles instantly. Jodi tirelessly worked with the dancers and in short time, we had the original dance numbers you'll see here.
Mark Walton and I went on to shoot every film project I could give him after SPATS. He was super tall, which I learned was a trait of many camera people. As the Director of Photography, he utilized the U.S.C. equipment including lighting the sound stage. Because 486 was more of a conception class than a production class, we were allowed to use whoever we wanted to crew -- unlike classes like 480 the famous senior film class.
I chose to shoot it on film because in the day, video was embarrassingly limited and poor quality for capture. All of my classmates (and prior students) didn't have the burden or results of shooting on 16mm, but I wanted to throw all my chips on the table. This competitive class was designed to select the two directors who would go on direct the prestigious "thesis" project, which had junior students as crew, which would be shot on videotape. The other two selected directors (chosen by staff) would direct the "thesis" film shot on film.
Although the only difference was the medium upon which the two sets of elite directors acquired footage upon and one would be screened on TV, while the other in a big movie theater, which do you imagine students of 1986 preferring?
So, that explained why I wanted to shoot my 486 project on film. I wanted the experience whether I was chosen to go on and direct or not.
Finishing post production is always difficult, but back then, nerve racking. I rented a Hollywood editing bay to "conform" my cut to the time-code burn in rough cut, taking note of each frame and cutting the original to match. The final mix was permitted to be performed by students in the new audio soundstage Lucas and other legacies had built. As I was in the very first class to use the "new" cinema school facilities, everything was brand new. The cinema school was a palace compared to the shacks George Lucas used when he was a student. My cinema school buildings were then replaced by the monoliths at U.S.C. now.
Written and directed by Richard Arsenault
Music by Thomas Bajoras
Choreography by Jodi Williams
Director of Photography Mark Walton
Music Produced by Jeff Fair