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USC classes lift the curtain on Hollywood’s wheeling and dealing

Looks at talent transactions, movie marketing and much more give students a taste of what life is like beyond the industry’s glitz and glamour

The Business of Cinematic Arts curriculum offers courses that focus on two professions.

Show biz is serious business, which is why two USC schools are grooming students to be up for the challenge.

Now in its 15th year, the Business of Cinematic Arts (BCA) program at the USC Marshall School of Business offers students the opportunity to complete coursework in both USC Marshall and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Upon completion of all requirements of the four-year program, students receive a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in cinematic arts. Graduates of the joint program will be equipped to apply their business skills specifically to the entertainment industry — from cinema to TV to gaming.

“The curriculum is specifically designed to develop future leaders in the entertainment industry,” said Bonnie Chi, senior director of student industry relations at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “It is truly a unique program and very selective in who it admits.”

That’s entertainment

Participants enter the program as freshmen, undertaking a curriculum designed to teach them about the business of entertainment. Students take nine courses at the School of Cinematic Arts, including classes that are specific to the program such as “Business and Management of Games” and “Film Business Procedures & Distribution.”

“This program evolved out of the highly successful graduate certificate in the business of entertainment that we offered MBA students at the Marshall School of Business,” said Larry Auerbach, associate dean of student industry relations for SCA and creator of the BCA program. “We knew we had the best business students and the best entertainment art students: Why not pair the two in a formal degree program?”

The program’s success has drawn teachers from across the entertainment industry.

Danny Sussman, an industry veteran and manager at Brillstein Entertainment, the talent management, TV and film production agency, teaches a class on the business of representation.

The movie and TV industry is all about sharing stories about life and the human condition.

Danny Sussman

“The class is called the business of representation, but really it’s a whole lot more,” Sussman said. “The movie and TV industry is all about sharing stories about life and the human condition.”

Sussman’s class combines business aspects of the industry — how to cut talent deals, television ratings, movie marketing and promotions, for example — with a broad schooling in the liberal arts. He exposes sophomores to great essayists and storytellers such as Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, classic broadcasts from journalists Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, films like Serpico and The Network, all in an effort to give future entertainment executives a broader context.

“I’ve been a manager and agent for 27 years, so I’m putting a lot of blood and treasure on the floor here,” said Sussman, who has been teaching his BCA course for 10 semesters.

Inside track

BCA students enjoy access to an industry that is notoriously hard to break into. In her internship class, Chi brings students to the Creative Artists Agency to meet agents and learn how the field works. She created the BCA Alumni Network, a group of industry veterans. Open by invitation only to BCA seniors and graduates, it is the ideal forum to find a foothold in the industry.

“A recent grad might ask about spending time on a particular movie set, and they will be personally invited,” Chi said.

Tim Phillips ’04, an agent at United Talent Agency, credits BCA for helping him get his foot in the door.

“It was really helpful in identifying agency training programs as a great first step toward my career working in television and ultimately the company I’ve worked at for the last 10 years,” said Phillips, who represents writers, directors and producers for some of TV’s most successful shows, including The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.

Giving back

Dallas Sonnier ’02, a graduate of the first BCA class, looks back at his USC education with pride.

“The BCA program was the start of something truly special. We were exposed to all aspects of the business side of the film industry, including representation and deal-making,” he said. “That led me to a career-defining job at the United Talent agency, where I found my passion for independent cinema.”

“I love keeping in touch with my students,” Chi said. “There’s nothing like the BCA out there. I’m just so proud of them all and what they are accomplishing.”

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USC classes lift the curtain on Hollywood’s wheeling and dealing

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