USC Cinema-Television School Has Close-Knit Ambiance of Mini-Studio : New Facility Is Replacement for Old Bungalows

Times Staff Writer

The new, $15.2-million plant of the USC School of Cinema-Television had an unusual conception.

It occurred over lunch in the Faculty Center. Disappointed with each of a series of architectural designs--inadequate to the school's needs and dreams, the faculty felt.

"We pushed all the glasses aside, flipped over our place mats and started to draw," said E. Russell McGregor, the school's interim dean.

" 'Where should everything go?' we thought. 'Well, the sound stages should be there, and they have to be this big; the classrooms should be here, the courtyard. . . ." '

The result was a design concept that, with administration approval and an incentive gift of $5.7 million from alumnus and writer-director-producer George Lucas, was transformed into actual plans by the architects, E. Quincy Jones & Associates--a low-scale, mini-studio centered on a patio.

The patio is important; the reason is lodged in the school's history.

Oldest in Nation

What is now the cinema-television school is the oldest film school in the nation. It offered its first course in 1929, was organized as the department of cinematography in 1932, became the Division of Cinema within the School of Performing Arts in 1966, added television to its curriculum and title in 1977, and became a full-fledged school in September, 1984.

Its "temporary" quarters were a group of bungalows built with lumber from a World War I Army barracks and first used by the School of Architecture. They were once described by Steven Spielberg as "a cinema ghetto--the film equivalent of housing in the South Bronx." Yet they were pervaded by a spirit of camaraderie and a family feeling that faculty, students and alumni felt should not be lost.

Herbert Farmer, professor and associate director of the school, said the main consideration was that the new center should in no way become "a big factory" but that it should be humanely and accessibly proportioned. (Dean McGregor commented that one of the rejected plans was for "a huge, humongous building, not totally unattractive but with five or six stories.")

McGregor added that the ramshackle grouping of little bungalows "coincidentally, and only coincidentally, looked like a lot of movie studios. It had the feel of them, with its little corridors and wings and adjacencies. The story department was here, the editing department there, the sound stage around the corner, and so on."

Importance of Patio

The "heart" of the old school was a patio where students and faculty mingled between classes, sat at picnic tables around a ragged banana tree, bounced ideas off one another and argued their favorite topic--movies. "Just as much learning went on in the patio as in the classroom," Lucas once commented.

The school's new quarters consist of five buildings:

--The George Lucas Instructional Building, four stories, 32,000 square feet, with classrooms, screening rooms, faculty and administrative offices, a faculty/alumni conference room, facilities for the critical studies division, rehearsal and camera demonstration rooms and a support center for production classes and film projects.

--The Marcia Lucas Post-Production Building, three stories, 21,000 square feet, housing such functions as film and video editing, special effects, sound effects, dubbing and synchronization, and the animation/graphics department.

--The Harold Lloyd Motion Picture Sound Stage, two stories, 8,000 square feet, containing a 50-by-70-foot sound stage soundproofed by a huge concrete sliding door poured on site; 10 dressing rooms, carpentry shop, scene dock, the film distribution center and a still- and film-processing laboratory.

--The Steven Spielberg Music Scoring Stage, 2,200 square feet, a free-standing building shaped like an elongated octagon and with special acoustical treatment.

--The Carson Television Center (named for TV host Johnny Carson), with a three-story wing housing video control and a tele-cine room, a 50-by-70-foot television sound stage abutting the control room wing, a rehearsal stage and the master computer room for the entire complex.

And, in the middle, the patio where the learning takes place.

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