Alex McDowell, Michael Fink, George Lucas

Alex Stedman

“The reason this is happening is because I’m pursuing my own agenda about the school and what I think it should teach,” said George Lucas, who endowed three new chairs in a dedication at the USC School of Cinematic Arts Thursday. The audience laughed, but he drove his point home.
“Don’t forget the basics. Don’t get enamored with new technology, because it’s not new. Just the medium we’re working in is new, but that doesn’t change anything. The art of what we do is exactly the same. It’s beyond technology. It’s the art of movies.”
The younger attendees in the audience tittered with excitement as the “Star Wars” creator – who was perhaps the most casually dressed that night in jeans – spoke.
Professors and film pioneers Bruce Block, Michael Fink and Alex McDowell were all named chairs. Dean Elizabeth Daley hosted the program, and paid tribute to the filmmakers the chair categories are named after: Sergei Eisenstein, George Melies and William Cameron Menzies.
“Today, their names connote innovation still and that is exactly what these chairs represent and celebrate: The latest wave of innovation in our school and in our industry,” she said, and compared the three honorees to “three brass rings.”
Block was the first to be honored as the new Sergei Eisenstein endowed chair in cinematic design. His producing and consulting credits include “What Women Want,” Something’s Gotta Give” and “The Holiday.” He has also been teaching filmic expression at the school for 37 years, which was evident as he taught the components of film in his speech, using a film strip as a prop to imitate classic photos of directors.
“At the beginning of a new semester, my students often say to me, ‘So, the curtain goes up on another class!’” Block said. “And I always say ‘No. When my class begins, the curtain comes down.’ The audience can’t see us and it’s the time for us to learn about the practice and the structure of visuals.”
Fink, who is also vice-chair of the Visual Effects Society, is the new George Melies endowed chair in visual effects. His credits include “Batman Returns,” “Avatar,” “Life of Pi” and “The Golden Compass,” for which he received an Academy Award for achievement in visual effects.
“This past year, films ranging in scale from ‘Fruitvale Station’ to ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ to ‘Gravity’ have shown us that the wide scope of visual effects is a driver of compelling stories,” he said.
McDowell was the third to be honored, a new William Cameron Menzies endowed chair in production design. The narrative designer worked on films including “Fight Club,” “Minority Report” and “Man of Steel.”
He acknowledged that film today is facing its own great change.
“At the start of the 21st century, we find ourselves in the eye of another revolution of our medium: The entirely acknowledged transition from analog to digital has had a more significant effect than even that of silent to sound, black-and-white to color,” he said. “It’s beginning to fundamentally change the nature of the medium to the extent that we can no longer clearly predict the next iteration of our craft.”
After all the newly endowed chairs were honored, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception which included exhibitions of the honorees’ work.

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