The James Franco’s short film “UNDERGRADS – Episode 1″ met with great controversy last Friday when it screened in his CTPR 241/290 section. The room buzzed with feedback from his fellow students in the introductory filmmaking class, but professors Doug Banks and Mary Ford were grim in their analysis.
“Well, I enjoyed the film,” said professor Mary Ford. “Twice. Once in class today, and once yesterday on your website.“ Franco violated the strict School of Cinematic Arts policy that student films must never ever never be distributed outside of the classroom.
The film consisted of a brief montage of partying USC Greeks, followed by a girl studying for a test to an inspiring death metal/black metal/screamo piece. Franco concluded with a directorial cameo, also without approval: the university feared that his imperial screen majesty might prove lethal in close quarters.
Speaking only of aesthetics, Franco’s SA called the project “successful.” When pressed for comment after the class, however, he admitted that “successful for your first 290 means you successfully picked up a camera and turned it on.”
His professors were more open in their criticism. Banks felt that Franco’s cameo was unnecessary as well as dangerous. “That impersonation of the animated Joker was funny, but you could have achieved the same effect with a SAG-registered actor or even a talented theatre student.” Ford dismissed Franco’s assurance that he is SAG-registered: “Franco, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Both professors, however, praised Franco’s cinematography and the “documentary/reality/scripted/sarcastic” feeling he described in the description of intent he submitted at the start of class. Banks was most enthusiastic in this regard. “You really subverted our expectations from your treatment last week. The opening montage really convinced me that you were going to continue with your uber-douchey-frat-life concept, and you had great humor when you disrupted that with the studying.”
Student opinion was more positive, though many offered constructive criticism on the story and editing. “I think that Anna’s character is really true to life,” one student opined, “but you could give her a better arc. She goes from hating studying to hating studying, and I think it would be really awesome if you gave her some more development.”
Avowed Francophiles in the class, easily distinguishable by their blue and yellow berets, dismissed all critiques as petty, Trojan, and bourgeois. We caught up with one smoking in front of the Cinematic Arts complex. “James is a new auteur to rival Truffaut,” she said, “with a new message: study is meaningless.” She paused to puff on her cigarette. “And not as much fun to watch as parties.”
Franco was asked to stay after class and discuss the consequences of his distribution violation. The video’s continued presence on the web could bring Franco to the attention of the School of Cinematic Arts Academic Violations Committee, which has the power to suspend him, expel him, or, worst of all, send him back to UCLA.