Scribes scrapped

Ploy by USC students rankles peers, profs

A half-dozen USC screenwriting students have incurred the wrath of their dean, professors and fellow students by sending a mass mailing to the industry that falsely suggested they were at the top of their class.

The purple-bound brochure, titled “Smash Cut: An Unofficial Guide to Emerging Writers,” effectively undermined a mailing that the School of Cinema-Television sends each June to 1,200 industry professionals highlighting the work of its best students. Although “Smash Cut” is not a replica of the school’s brochure, an agent or producer could conceivably mistake it for the USC publication or assume it had the school’s blessing, especially since USC’s address was printed on the envelopes.

“Meet USC’s top feature and television writers,” the brochure said. It described USC as “the oldest and most exclusive training ground for film and television,” and gave droll biographies of the writers. The 13-page brochure contained 41 script ideas with titles like “The Aging of Aquarius,” “Spec Killer,” “Creeper” and, perhaps appropriately, “Brilliant Mistake.”

The students were reprimanded in a meeting Tuesday with professor John Furia Jr., chairman of the writing program. The students’ work, he said, will not be included in the school’s June mailing, no matter how good it is. Further punishment is being contemplated.

“This was an unauthorized approach by six students,” Furia said. “It has no connection with USC, and has not been through the rigorous scrutiny that we apply to the material that we send out in June. We don’t condone what they’ve done, and believe it was improper that they did it.”

Five of the students attended a reception Tuesday for graduating students — commencement is Friday — and apologized to their 24 classmates, who were described as “up in arms and angry.” One of the five spoke for the others.

“They acknowledged it was wrong, and said they didn’t want to undercut their fellow students,” Furia said. “They were quite chastened.” The professor then asked them to leave the party.

One Hollywood agent said the brochure “pre-supposes an official endorsement” from USC, and described the six as “wallowing in ethical squalor.”

Another said the incident would hurt the students’ reputations, “unless they get agents, and then they won’t care.”

“You’ve got to be innovative in this town,” she added. “It would be interesting to see if they were actually good screenwriters.”