Sydney Key got one week’s notice that she'd spend her summer sleeping on a couch and waking up before 5 a.m. every day.
Last year, the third-year media arts student went from living her life in South Carolina to working on the first feature-length film of her career in the middle of Minnesota.
“I’m a very go-with-the-flow kind of person, which is not OK for life-planning,” Key said, but this spur-of-the-moment decision paid off.
The film was “Witch,” an adult fairy tale where the main character is tripping on LSD and a little girl’s stories come to life. The production was on a shoestring budget, so there weren’t many people working on it. O.K. Keyes, a graduate student and teaching assistant at USC, asked Key to join the team, and Key said yes immediately. Sleeping on a couch for a few weeks would be well worth the experience she’d get working on a set.
On the “Witch” set, Key was a production assistant, one of the lower roles on the film set totem pole. But after her work with Keyes last summer, Key got the chance to move up. Keyes saw the opportunity for their once-production assistant to move into a more artistic role for a film called “Alienography,” and Key scored her first director of photography gig.
“I figure out shot compositions,” Key said. “You know, figuring out the most effective way to shoot that costs the least."
“Alienography” is a sci-fi film about four friends who find a peculiar rock with alien inscriptions on it. The aliens start taking over, and the government drops a bomb to try to kill the alien-human hybrids.
Key is a fast-talker and a self-proclaimed scatterbrain, so her explanation of the film’s plot isn’t too vivid.
“I didn’t write the story,” she said. “I just figure out how to tell the story.”
Key is getting lots of experience, which she hopes will give her an edge when she enters the highly competitive film career field. She’s had her eye on an NBC internship for years. After all, she said, “television’s where the money’s at.”
She knows she’s a perfectionist, and she knows that isn’t ideal on a film set. Time management is important when you’re depending on certain lighting and coordinating schedules with several people. But there are few things she loves more than getting a great shot with the perfect lighting and great colors.
Which is what makes her favorite television show so strange: Key is a huge “Shark Tank” fan. The girl who dreams of being in charge of every visual element of a film is the same girl who loves the quick cuts and harsh lighting of a reality show about patents and funding inventions.
“I watch it, and I’m like, ‘Why are they zooming so hard?’” she said. “And then I’m like, ‘I don’t care.’”
She may not care what the shots on “Shark Tank” look like, but you can be sure you won’t hear Key saying she doesn’t care when she’s on set herself.
Correction: The original version of this article said that Alienography was a student film. It was brought to our attention by Picture Media Group that Alienography is not a student film. However, several USC students, including Sydney Key, were employed to work on this film. Garnet & Black magazine regrets this error.