Thursday, May 17, 2012

USC Moment #1 - MANGINA (or the Most Important Thing I Took Away from Film School)

So it has come to this. It has taken me nearly a year since graduating to finish this thing I originally said in Feb 2011 I'd have done "before graduation."

But I think it may have taken 365 days-ish to be able to at least get a sense of what the most important thing I have taken away from USC film school is. And now I can truly say I know what that is, and can sum it up in one word:


Now, you can head to the Urban Dictionary if you don't know what a "mangina" is, but to get the gravitas behind this seemingly crude term you have got to know the story behind my #1 USC Film School Moment.

It was second semester, fall of 2008, and we were finishing our 508 films. This was back when each of us thought our 5 minute shorts shot by complete amateurs was going to be our one-way ticket to Sundance (granted, it kinda was for some, but mostly everyone ends up with a five minute kinda-blurry movie that just screams "first film").

This had been a long semester and an even longer year. Take the fun stress of moving to a new city and add it to a ridiculous production schedule and mountains of pressure heaped upon yourself to make the next "Songbird," and by the time the semester is over all you want to do is bathe in river of whiskey and cigarettes and never hear about the 180 degree line as long as you live.

That was my mental state when it finally came time for the class to screen our films in a big, fun, blow-out screening at USC's Norris Theater. It was a great feeling, to be DONE. And to all be done together. Everyone made their own individual films, but we had all accomplished something.

That night we did what we'd been doing all semster: we DRANK.

Like.....a lot.

Norris has hosted some of the biggest names in cinema, from Hitchcock to Spielberg, and is a pretty classy spot. But that night the back row looked like New Orleans after Mardi Gras. We had gotten a little boozy at the screening earlier in the semester, but this was a total party. Everyone was excited and thrilled to be done.

Like this.... x50

Yeah, it was great. Some folks had films that really impressed and showed the promise of future projects. Some.....didn't. And one film terrified and confused the hell out of people. After each film, each director gave a little speech where they either totally embarrassed themselves or whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and somebody was always screaming "NEWMAN."

Because that's just what we did.

I gave my speech and all I remember is that I had quite a bit to drink and don't remember anything else. I think I was either funny or well above the legal limit to be speaking in public. Either way, people laughed.

Totally shitfaced here. Now an MFA graduate.
After the films screened, we took the reception outside and the party continued. But after the hands were gladded and compliments bandied about, it was mostly classmates who were left. At this point, we engaged in a tradition that had started when the first half of students screening in October.

The tradition....was Mangina.

See, there's this statue in the area around the Norris Theater. There are actually many statues, but there is one in particular that is officially called "Reclining Male Nude" (I looked it up).

But as you view the picture below, you'll see this "Male Nude" doesn't seem to be much of a man at all- at least not by Michelangelo's "David" standards.

"Reclining Male Nude"

And so we called it Mangina.

But we didn't just call it Mangina...where is the dignity or respect in that?

It was christened "Mangina" in a ceremony of the utmost grandeur and solemnity.

Or, to be me more accurate, somebody smashed an empty liquor on the statue's crotch while we all hoot and hollered like Brits at a mongoose fight.

It was fucking hilarious. And if you fail to see the humor, let me explain it again: we smashed an empty liquor bottle onto the groin of a nude statue.

The act really speaks for itself.

And what was special is this was the second time it was done, so it wasn't just petty vandalism anymore. Now, it was tradition.


For years to come, for documentary shorts and narrative films, when enough of the class comes together.... Mangina gets hit like chicken wire at Bob's Country Bunker.

Now, yes: hitting works of art in their vaginal areas with whiskey bottles is a great story and an amazing moment in anybody's life. But, the #1 moment from all of USC film school?

Better than Favreau? Better than Coca-Cola?

Better....than Spielberg?


When we smashed the shit out of that Jameson bottle on Mangina, we did it as a collective class. Or, some of our braver, more inebriated members did it while everyone else watched and laughed.

I'll forever remember Mangina because it reminds me that the greatest takeaway from film school wasn't  learning how to set up a shot or hearing advice from a working Hollywood director or getting a degree that could (supposedly) open doors.

The greatest asset of film school was people.

Specifically: classmates.

Classmates who held boom poles on your set or gave you notes on a script. Classmates and--really: friends--who helped you blow off steam on the worst days and told you, honestly, that something worked on a good day.

My classmates and friends fostered my creativity and ambition more than any single teacher ever could. They help you out, you pitch in for them, and you all come up together.

USC was and is amazing because it does an especially good job (in the grad school) of bringing together all kinds of creative types from all over the world and gives them an opportunity to work and make movies with one another.

Not everything always works out, but having to work with people you don't agree with is part of the process as well. I learned just as much from my bad film school relationships as I have with the good ones.

Not that I had too many bad ones, especially with my incoming class, the class of winter 2008, which may come out looking like the 1927 Yankees of film school classes. Seriously, not to #humblebrag, but my class is out in the real world kicking ass right now.

We've got a Nichols Fellowship Finalist, successful independent producers, some exceptional thesis film directors, a TV associate producer, a struggling blogger, and a rock star guy and director who is about to shoot his first feature with an Oscar-winning actress.

That's about as impressive as it gets post-film school.

Could there be some kind of mystique to the Mangina?

Something is definitely going on with that group of fifty or so students who awkwardly met one another in the old Lucas Building lobby some half-decade ago. Now, I know of plenty of good folks and success outside of our class, but there's always something unique about those people you first got to know.

So as different classmates pursue individual career and life goals and separate and move away more over time, and as some reach dizzying highs of success and validated parking while others sink into a well of despair and broken meters, it is nice to know that there is a unifying figure that stands out as a monument to how fresh and nervous and stupid we all once were.

Something that reminds us of our one-time confidence and uncertainty.

Something that binds us as having all started at roughly the same place.

Something that is really just an over-elaborate dick joke.

I'll always have the classmates.

And we'll always have Mangina.

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