USC Science Film Logo (Medium)
University of Southern California

Competition Rules, Procedures, and Notes

Note that this is not an official course of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It is important that ALL students  please see note (1) at the end of this page for important clarification regarding this point. Note also that this is not connected to any of the USC SCA Sloan grants.


(1) Eligible participants are teams of USC students only (undergraduate and graduate students).

(2) Competition entries must be from teams collaborating across disciplines, pooling talent and expertise, sharing ideas and learning from each other. Key roles and responsibilities in the film-making must be played by each member of the team. At least one team member has to be from a science/engineering/medicine area (in Dornsife, Viterbi, or Keck) and at least one other must be from the School of Cinematic Arts, or from the Annenberg School of Communication. Therefore teams must be a minimum of two members, and as many as desired. (Teams may use consultants, as long as they are not involved in primary aspects of the filmmaking, and the role of the consultant must be explicitly credited in the film and explaind in the submission.)

(3) The film must be strictly no longer than 7 minutes duration, including titles and credits.

(4) Virtual Reality Films are eligible (for the first time this year!)

(5) Films must be the team’s own work. (See the end of point (2) about consultants - ask for clarification if unsure.) The film's primary objective must be to explain and illustrate a scientific concept, principle, or issue, for a wide non-expert audience. Established science only, please, not science fiction. Narrative and genre may be chosen from a wide range, from traditional documentary, dramatic, fiction, non-fiction, romantic, comedic, etc... Films may be live action, animated, or any mixture thereof.

(6) Teams are encouraged to use in the film only music that they have explicit written permission to use. They might consider using their own music (teams have included students who composed music and had it performed and recorded for the film, and there are several potential collaborators in, e.g., the Thorton School of Music for this!), or get permission to use music of others. Note that there are many large libraries of free music available to filmmakers. As of 2012-2013, submitted films for which all music has not been permissioned (and appropriate documentation provided to prove this) are ineligible.

(7) The remarks above made about music also apply to other materials incorporated in the film such as extracts from other films, performances of others' material such as plays, poems, readings, etc. Permission must be obtained for their use, and documentation provided when the film is submitted, or the film is ineligible.

(8) Teams must register their intent to submit an entry by  6:00pm of 15th February 2016 (deadline extended from the 12th). Only one film per team may be submitted. Details of registration are given below. (Note: See the sciencefilm blog and learn how to get on it and connect with other students looking to make teams. Students found this a useful way to connect last year.)

Along with submitting registration, teams may apply for a small grant to help with film production costs at the same time of registering. The maximum grant will be $350. Details are given below. Funds are limited, and so grants will be given out on a first-come-first-served basis until they are all gone.

(9) Final deadline for submission of entries is 11:59pm on 8th April 2016. Details of how to submit the films will be communicated to registered teams later in the semester.

A jury of USC faculty and members of the wider community will select the winners.

Registration details:

Teams must register their intent to submit an entry to the competition. Registration must include one (8.5x11) page with a description (summary, treatment, or outline) of the proposed film*, and a list/breakdown of the expected roles to played by each member of the team (e.g., writing, directing, editing, production design, etc.). It is likely (and encouraged) to have team members involved in several aspects of the film-making. On a second page,  the name and email address of each team member must be given in a list of contacts, with the name of the primary contact highlighted. A separate one page curriculum vitae of each team member must also be submitted.

(*We recognize that the final film submitted will not neccessarily be exactly as the proposed description outlines, so be as accurate as you can at the time of registration, but don't feel too bound to follow it to the letter.)

Please submit your application by email as a single pdf file to sciencefilm [ at ] usc [dot] edu with the subject line "Science Film Competition Registration". For other inquiries, please contact Prof. Clifford Johnson at the same address, with a clear indication of the subject of your inquiry in the subject line. Registration must be by  6:00pm of 15th February 2016.

Grant application details:

A small grant can be applied for (one per team) at the time of submitting registration. There is a limited amount of funds for this available, so once it is all gone, no more grants can be awarded. You may apply for up to $350. Submit a paragraph or two (no more than 200 words total) describing the specific needs for  which you intend to use this grant. While a relatively small amount, it can help with things like camera rental, editing software, transport, costume, studio hire, etc.

Grant applications must accompany registration.

Important Notes:

(1) Note that this is not an official course of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Therefore, use of SCA equipment, insurance, filming permissions, and other production privileges cannot be assumed to automatically apply. SCA students should seek permission to use such facilities for this competition (many professors and administrators know about and support this competition, and even might encourage you to do a class project that can also be entered for the competition - but do check first). Of course ALL students should ensure adequate liability coverage during film production, as well as obtaining appropriate permission for filming on location. There is no liability coverage or automatic permissions through this competition.

(2) We reserve the right to reject teams as ineligible if they are not in the spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration outlined in the rules.

(3) Entering the competition means that all team members consent to their submitted film being uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo (and therefore that the content satisfies those sites' uploading criteria with regards content,  copyright, etc) for public viewing, being shown in the film festival, and being made available on publicly viewable USC websites. The team retains all other rights to the film.

(4) There are several faculty members from Dornsife, Cinematic Arts, and Annenberg to chat with and seek advice from about your competition entries during the course of the semester, or for advice on making teams, or finding students. Email Prof. Clifford Johnson for more about this at sciencefilm [ at ] usc [dot] edu.

More information and other resources will be announced from time to time. Please check out regularly. Connect via facebook and twitter to stay informed. See the sciencefilm blog and learn how to get on it and connect with other students looking to make teams.

Stay tuned to and the sciencefilm blog for more!!!

Connect via facebook and twitter to stay informed about the competition and connect with others.

The competition is made possible by the generous financial support of the Anton B. Burg Foundation
and the many faculty, staff and students of USC who have enthusiastically got involved in numerous ways. Thank you!