Hold onto your knickers, my jellybottoms. It’s about to get real.
I’m working on my masters degree at the University of Southern California. It is very, very expensive. Almost all of the revenue I make online goes to paying my tuition, and that doesn’t even cover half of it. Sallie Mae supplies me with the rest. So, I work as a TA in the undergraduate equivalent of our first production class. Here at USC, we go by numbers. The grads’ first production class is called 507, for the undergrads, 290. 290 is very, very intensive, and for an assistanceship, the pay is not that great compared to some of the others versus the amount of work you have to do. But if you had to ask me my honest answer about what the best part about it is, I’d say it’s the students. Going off the ones I know in my class, I feel like the undergrad cinema students here get a bum rap; they’re quite intelligent, quite perceptive, and I find them quite easy to get along with. But moreover, they’re finding their voices and they enjoy what they do. For the most part, filmmaking is a joy to them, not a requirement they need to go through to get their degree.
This is one of my students. His name is Sandy.
From the first time I met him, I noticed that not only did he have a more evolved sense of humor than his peers (or me… or most people, for that matter), he was also generally kinder, more tolerant, theatrical but not obtrusive. You could kind of tell he’d been through some shit in his life; how else could he have evolved such a sharp sense of humor? And yet, he held almost no bitterness, and this lead people to gravitate towards him. On top of all this, he was also remarkably talented. His first two films in 290 were enjoyable in any right, let alone for a first year film student.
The first week of class, when the professors and I sent them into the wild unknown to film… whatever, Sandy asked me if I thought it was realistic to find a restaurant that would let him film. I remember when I was producing McCracken’s second 507 (you might recognize him as my Michael Bay)- the abject hell we had trying to sniff out a restaurant that would let us film there, followed by our eventual failure and settling for a banquet hall on campus. I told Sandy not to hold his breath, so imagine my surprise when he called me later in the weekend with a message of victory, and with little effort at that! As for the film itself, I was amazed by what that restaurant allowed him to get away with. If nothing else, it was a testament to his people skills.
One of the last times I ever spoke with Sandy was during the story conference for his third 290 film (290 students are expected to make four on their own over the course of the semester). His subject was regarding the story of a happy couple who find themselves in a car accident, leaving the woman crippled and the man at fault. He rose the question of how, and even if, their relationship would continue after that. This would have been his first venture into drama; initially his idea was that the woman would leave her husband, but our professors suggested the idea that perhaps they find ways to adapt. Perhaps though they often went dancing before the accident, maybe after the accident you could show the husband picking her up and carrying her, finding a new way to dance. Maybe that’s your resolution. That idea wasn’t mine, it was my professors, but he loved the idea, and wrote it down immediately. That’s how open he was.
Last night I was on a podcast for a show on TGWTG called Nerd to the Third Power; I got the e-mail telling me about Sandy’s death during that podcast. I actually gasped, causing everyone else to get confused and even prod a little. I rode it out, then started to get in contact with my students and professors. Talk about life immitating art immitating life; Sandy was killed in a car accident while driving back from Santa Barbara. His girlfriend was driving.
I haven’t even begun to process this; Sandy excelled at everything he did. His potential was enormous. And I’m not just saying that in the way people always speak reverently about the dead; he really was one of the most talented, entertaining kids in that class. My very first class of people that I can consider my “students”. My student. TA’s in this school often form professional relationships with some of their top students, and Sandy was most definitely one of mine. He had such a unique voice, entertaining and deliberate, humorous and yet focused. It’s gone now. I believe he was nineteen years old.
I’m trying to find meaning in this, but frankly I have none. I guess in cases like this, this is where the spiritual life comes in handy, that suffering and death gives meaning and purpose to human existence. But I’ve got nothing. All I see is a tremendous loss of unique potential that will never be gotten back. Maybe when I’m older and more mature I’ll have something, but all I know now is he’s gone, and my brain doesn’t believe it. Like the movie’s over, but the credits haven’t started rolling yet.
And that’s all she wrote.