Fruitvale sweeps Sundance
USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) alumni have a reputation for sticking together after they graduate.
Fruitvale, the winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, is a prime example of this practice. Written and directed by SCA alum Ryan Coogler ’11, the film features seven other Trojans — who either attended or graduated from three different USC schools — in key creative roles, four of whom actually met during the production of an SCA student film.
“USC was the place where I learned how to make films,” said Coogler, attributing much of his success to studying at SCA. “It’s the place where I met most of the crew that [worked] on this film. I learned so many things [in SCA production class] 546 that I used later on in the feature filmmaking world.
“Pretty much everything I learned about movies, I learned at SC,” he added.
Developed by the Sundance Labs, Fruitvale is the first film to win both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize since Precious in 2009. Fruitvale tells the story of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old Bay Area resident who was fatally shot by a transit police officer in Oakland, Calif., on New Year’s Day in 2009.
In addition to Coogler, other SCA creatives responsible for Fruitvale include co-producer Sev Ohanian MFA ’12, associate producers Haroula Rose and Gerard McMurray ’11, and editors Claudia Castello MFA ’11 and Michael Shawver MFA ’12. The film featured music by Ludwig Goransson (USC Thornton School of Music) and was produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi (USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism) and Forest Whitaker (USC School of Dramatic Arts). Mahin Ibrahim was the office production assistant and Ephraim Walker JD ’09 (USC Gould School of Law) served as the Bay Area consultant. David Turner, Kimberly Patrick and Matthew Breault helped with additional post-production sound.
Transitioning from the student-film level to the big screen can be intimidating to many filmmakers starting out. Ohanian, however, didn’t find the switch to be as difficult as expected, thanks to his time at SCA.
“Honestly, it’s not as different as you might think,” he said. “Pretty much every situation that we would come across, we would ultimately look at each other and think, ‘Wait, how did we do that in [SCA production course] 546?’ or ‘What was that like in [SCA production course] 508?’
“Personally, I’m always hearing my professors’ voices in my head when I’m dealing with situations on set,” Ohanian continued. “USC really, really prepared us for this experience.”
While students at USC, Coogler, Shawver, Castello and Goransson worked on the short film Fig, which won the DGA Student Film Award in 2011. Fig was also honored with a faculty award for Outstanding Producing at the SCA-produced 2011 First Film Awards.
Fruitvale was purchased for distribution by The Weinstein Company and will be coming soon to theaters.