Chris Sheridan Would Like To Thank The Academy

So would Scottsdale Community College, where Sheridan made his Academy Award-winning student film

When he at last freed his supermedicated appendages from the hospital, Sheridan decided to settle in the Valley, an area he remembered fondly from his rock touring days. "I couldn't go back to Ohio. I mean, there's people in wheelchairs there, I'm sure, but . . . I wanted a nice place to heal. Plus, the Phoenix, the bird that rose up from the ashes, was a strong metaphor for me." Once he had established Arizona residency, Sheridan began working toward a Communications/Performance Studies degree at Arizona State University.

He became interested in Performance Therapy, the channeling of personal trauma into theater works, in the manner of Spalding Gray's monologues or Julia Sweeney's And God Said Ha!

"A friend of mine did his master's thesis with a performed narrative about the death of his sister," says Sheridan. "That's the first I ever heard about performance therapy." When the time came for Sheridan to prepare his honors thesis, he knew what form he wanted it to take: film.

Some years earlier, another ASU student named Penelope Price, a candidate for a Ph.D. in English Literature, did her thesis on the effect of film on 20th-century literature. Weary of the endless paper writing, she says, "I decided it was time to pick up a camera and play." It quickly became her career. Thirteen years ago, Price was hired to teach film production part-time at the tiny film department of SCC, and three years ago, her position became full-time. During that period, the department has grown to the point that it now offers, in Sheridan's words, "a world-class film program."

Scottsdale apparently agrees. The department is currently housed in a few cramped offices in the music building, but a bond issue was recently passed to build the school a new studio in 1998. "We're gonna have two sound stages, a recording studio, and editing bays," says Price, gleefully displaying the blueprints.

"But even now, we have two AVIDs, which are the big, nonlinear editing systems, which no other community college has. It's amazing that we have them. To research the new facility, I went over to USC and toured the whole place. They were really nice to me; the dean took the whole day out and took me around. But they have the stuff we have--the same cameras, the same flatbeds, the same editing systems. We just have fewer. But, then, we have under 200 students.

"The thing that we have going for us," says Price, "is that all the students have to pay for is the courses--$33 a unit--and a course fee that helps pay for the equipment--$25 for the lower classes, and $100 for the higher classes. That's phenomenal compared to USC, where it's $10,000 a semester."

Of course, when making their films, the students must put their own money into stock and lab fees--about $300 a minute, Price estimates. But so do students at University of Southern California.

"I don't mean to suggest that we're not still struggling, but the administration has been very supportive, and we are able to keep up. We're still growing. In fact," Price adds, "I don't want to grow any faster; I'm a little worried about this article. Every time we get something written up about us, we get all these phone calls."

About 35 courses are offered, taught by Price and her associate Ed Everroad and a variety of part-time faculty. The core of the program, however, is the production of a reel of 16- and 8-millimeter work, made with SCC's equipment. Says Price, "A lot of the kids don't care about the degree or anything, they just want to make their film."

This was the case with Chris Sheridan, who says, "It's sort of on the chopping block now, but ASU had an animation class in connection with a sculpting professor, Lew Alquist. One little course, and they're trying to slash it now, I hear." (Currently, animation classes are scheduled for the fall term; however, Alquist confirms their future is uncertain.) "Anyway, that got me interested, so I moonlighted at SCC because they had the cameras and faculty to make films. Then I transferred the credits to ASU, what credits would transfer." Price even campus-hopped to sit on Sheridan's thesis committee.

Price displays a rather den-motherish pride in her students, noting that several have gone on to finish their degrees at schools like USC, Cal-Art and Loyola Marymount. Others have made forays into the nonacademic film world. Two have made features--Rhea Crossland's The Candidate Kid and the lively slackerbabble comedy Whatever, by Sheridan's friend Karl Hirsch, are both in various stages of postproduction limbo--and another former student is currently "editing with Coppola."

Still, Price readily admits that the Student Academy Award given to Walk This Way is by far the most prestigious honor yet to befall an SCC film alumnus. Of the 10 awards--gold, silver and bronze medals, plus an honorary prize to a foreign student--two of the winners were from New York University, one from University of California-Los Angeles, one from Stanford, two from USC, one from Columbia, one from the School of the Visual Arts in New York, one from the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany, and one from SCC. The Academy's press release inserts "Arizona" in parentheses after "Scottsdale" in the school's name.

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