USC Film Dean Reveals "Most Important Thing" in Prospective Students (Hint: It's Not GPA)

Emily Berl
Elizabeth Daley

Elizabeth Daley also weighs in on the film industry's biggest challenge and how that's impacting what students are taught.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

When Elizabeth Daley took over as dean of USC's film school in 1991, the campus was crumbling, the equipment was ancient and the school was operating at a deficit of $8.8 million a year. Today, USC operates out of a gleaming compound and has a budget of more than $80 million a year. No wonder alum Robert Zemeckis calls her "the greatest dean the film school has ever had."

What's the biggest challenge facing the film industry?

Trying to understand how to monetize our content, making sure that we understand the business we're in. Because we've watched other industries not understand that. You know, the train companies thought they were in the train business, but they were in the transportation business. We're in the content business. No matter what, we are in the business of giving people interest­ing, dynamic, entertaining, compelling content. And it doesn't matter what platform it's on. We should be just as concerned about delivering great content on the phone as we are about delivering it on the movie screen.

How is that impacting what you do at USC?

We are insisting that students learn how to make media for different platforms, that they don't focus in on only one, that they think of world building, of creating these environments out of which different kinds of entertainment can come.

What do you look for in a student?

Well, we certainly look at SATs. We look at GPAs. But the most important thing is their personal statement. What we most want to know is, who is this person? Is this person likely to make anything that should be foisted off on the world? Ultimately, all movies are personal, whether it's a big action movie or the most personal character profile. So we really want to know who this person is.

You travel a lot for your job. Where have you been lately that's had an impact on you?

I went to Saudi Arabia to consult for a women's university there. Two of the faculty had given an assignment to the young women to do a little film, non-dialogue, on their smartphones about an emotion. And they had to convey the emotion and could not use facial expression. I looked out at two of them running across the campus, with these abayas that they're forced to wear flying in the wind behind them, and their tennis shoes, their blue jeans and T-shirts showing. They looked like two birds just about to fly.

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