Alumna Yana Gorskaya: In her own words

Editor: Alum Yana Gorskaya isa prolific editor in both documentary and feature films. She took time out of her busy schedule with the 2013 Sundance film Valentine Road to talk to students about her experience.

I had the pleasure of coming to Sundance this year as consulting editor on the moving and tremendous first feature documentary by Marta Cunningham, Valentine Road. The film examines the middle school shooting of Lawrence “Larry” King the day after he asked his murderer to be his valentine. The shooter, 14 year old Brandon McInerney, was tried as an adult.

HBO lunch in honor of Valentine Road

Marta set out to make the film some four and a half years ago, driven by a passionate need to understand how something like this could ever happen in Oxnard, CA.

She received a standing ovation at our Sundance Premiere, and I’m glad I forgot my makeup bag in LA –because I would have been a mascara stained mess by the end of it all. Viewing the film with Marta, editor and fellow USC alum Tchavdar Georgiev, and mentor, friend and documentary goddess Kate Amend was unforgettable.

With director Marta Cunningham and editor Tchavdar Georgiev

Tchavdar had the bizarre experience of trying to explain the film to some fest-goers on a bus. They assured him “don’t worry, we keep our guns away from our children.” So did Brandon’s family, by all accounts.

The fabulous folks at HBO picked up Valentine Road based on an early version of the film. Their faith had everything to do with getting us to the finish line, and they treated us with loads of TLC at the fest.

Perhaps the most surreal Sundance moment for me this year was catching up with filmmaker Martha Shane of After Tiller. Martha was my editorial intern once upon a time, and everywhere I went people were raving about her fantastic, sensitive documentary feature. Having known her as a college student just starting out, I’m completely unsurprised. You can catch a glimpse of Judith Helfand’s arm in this photo of us — another documentary fairy godmother. Judith co-hosted the Chicken & Egg party, honoring Sundance documentaries they co-funded and supported — including Valentine Road and After Tiller. It was a marvelous group of folks and I left thoroughly inspired. 

Now back to the real world.

With Martha Shane of After Tiller

Nicola Marsh: In her own words

Editor: Alumna Nicola Marsh is an alum long time supporter of the School of Cinematic Arts. Her wisdom as a DP was featured in the 2010 InMotion Magazine’s profile of Women Alumni and she always takes the time to help her fellow Trojans. Nicola’s film 20 Feet From Stardom is making its debut at Sundance this year and she took the time to email in her thoughts.

I graduated from USC in 2006 and I now work as a freelance cinematographer in LA. I shoot pretty much everything from reality shows (Vanderpump Rules – Bravo), to scary movies (Smiley – AMC theatrical) to documentaries. The documentaries have gotten the most attention as I shot two of them for Cameron Crowe and the bulk of them are about famous musicians (Pearl Jam, Elton John, Iggy Pop, James Taylor and Carol King – my mother has heard of none of these people. It’s a tricky thing to balance all these genres of cinematography as your ego needs to be like an accordion. If you’re shooting a narrative feature or worse a commercial you’re expected to demand the world and think you’re God; If you are shooting a documentary with an uber famous musician, you essentially need to be invisible and cow into submission if someone famous looks at you.

This year I shot a documentary about the unheralded back-up singer – Twenty Feet From Stardom. It’s an amazing look at the successes and failures of the incredible men and (mostly) women who have sung on some of your favorite songs. Musically they all have what it takes to be a star, and the documentary looks at why that never happened for them. It’s a inspiring, sometimes sad look at ambition, talent and luck. As well as profiling the back up singers themselves, we also shot interviews with Bette Midler, Mick Jager, Sting, Bruce Springsteen who all talk about what it takes to be in the spotlight. As a young(ish) artist (of sorts) myself, it is humbling to watch an awesomely talented 60 year old woman reflect on never having realized her dreams.

I flew into Park City from LA and I am immediately overwhelmed by thousands of filmmakers from all over the world gathered in one tiny airport. And not necessarily in a good way. They guy in front of me at the baggage claim is in a camo onesie complete with giant moon boots. The guys next to me are talking about “data points” and “making imbd obsolete”. And then there’s me wondering if I’m supposed to be networking yet, but fantasizing about going to me hotel room to read my new scifi book.

The movie I shot – Twenty Feet From Stardom – screens that night. It was shot on multiple formats (red, 5d ex3/letus adaptor with cine lenses). It was quite a treat to see it projected on opening night of the Sundance Film Festival on a beautiful 2k Christie projector in a 1270 capacity theatre. There is also nothing quite like seeing your cinematography set to the sound tracks of Gimme Shelter and Walk On The Wild side. I hadn’t seen or heard the final cut and as the credits rolled I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt so lucky to have been part of making it and sort of not worthy of it in a weird way. The movie closed and the entire audience rose to their feet clapping as the director and our back up singers took to the stage for a Q and A. I love the communal experience of watching a good movie in a movie theatre. At Sundance that feeling is on steroids as everyone in the audience knows they are the first people to ever see the movie. Suddenly I don’t feel like reading my scifi book anymore and all I want to do is watch as many of these movies as I can.


One of the other main activities when at Sundance (after trying to score tickets to movies) is to try and get into any or all parties that you can. If you’re famous or affiliated with some prestigious network like HBO, this is fairly easy. For the rest of us you have to rely on conning your way in. For once I had remarkable success at this. I tried to blag my way into the AFI party (I know treason but free food and alcohol can corrupt even the strongest Trojan). Luckily for me they had lost their guest list just as I was approaching. It was incredibly cool inside with lots of beautiful svelte people dressed in black, which made me seriously reevaluate not going to AFI. It took me about half an hour to realize I had inadvertently crashed some Annie Lebowitz party. Nobody seemed to care.

The night continued and I bumped into my old 507 buddy, Meagan Keane. She now works for Adobe and they sponsor the festival so it became increasingly easy to talk our way into anything (plus Meagan is much more persuasive than I). We finished off the evening at a party for the documentary Pussy Riot (Russian punk band Putin had arrested). It’s heaving inside with a weird mix of hard core documentarians, anarchist punk rockers and really attractive people (AKA actors), all listening to aggro girl punk bands. Meagan introduces me to Barbara (as in Kopple – legendary documentary filmmaker I spent most of USC studying). I’m totally tongue tied. I try to alert her to the fact that I am a documentary DP but it’s loud and there is no real opening for me to segue into bragging. Finally she turns to me and says “what time is Peaches coming on?” Peaches is a techno punk DJ singer most famous for her song “F*ck the pain away”. Barbara, perhaps in her sixties, is clearly excited to see her perform. I am in awe. Of everything.

JONATHAN LANGAGER: In his own words.

(EDITOR: Many students imagine their work after School someday making it into the festival circuit. What many don’t realize is that, with the right dedication and hustle, their work AS STUDENTS can make it all the way to Sundance/Slamdance. Director Jonathan Langager’s thesis film Josephine and the Roach is premiering at Slamdance today. Below are his notes.)

Greetings from Park City. I’ve just arrived after a day of traveling (the last stretch being a very long and chilly shuttle trip from Salt Lake City).
I’m here screening my thesis film “Josephine and the Roach” at Slamdance. The first screening is tomorrow (January 18th) at 12:30pm, the second is on Monday at 2:00pm.
I’ve been looking forward to this trip for quite some time. Well, for me “looking forward” resides in the blurred boundary between nervous excitement and abject terror. Park City, after all, is to filmmakers what the Vatican is to priests. It’s holy and somewhat mysterious– a place where powerful people gather to do powerful things. Saints are canonized. Films are financed. Drinks are imbibed. Hence the anxiety. “Networking” does that to me.
But, I’ve packed my screeners, postcards, and business cards. I am ready. If I hand these things to all of the fancy people that I meet, I will have done my job. And so, now that I’m actually here and somewhat prepared, my nervousness- the clammy palms and knotted stomach- has subsided. “Looking forward” has become just that. I am looking forward to the screenings, the Q&As, the Filmmaker Sled-off, the Hot Tub Summit, and the countless hours spent talking with filmmakers about film. I will simply ignore all of the “networking” and just make a few friends.
Until next time…