Lauren Rothman is a filmmaker from Los Angeles, California. She enjoys writing, directing, cinematography, and doing anything in the art department. She has directed several documentaries on a variety of subjects including the Cuban embargo and mental health systems on college campuses. Besides documentaries, Lauren is interested in narrative fiction and music video. She is a big fan of dogs and tries to make sure that there’s a dog in every film she makes.
I grew up in a community where “college” means everything to everyone. Every conversation starts with, “Hi, great to meet you! And where did you go to school?” and plays out based on the resulting answer. When I was young, I didn’t know a lot about what college actually was, but I knew it was very important. Perhaps that sense of childlike wonder influenced my impression of USC when I became a film production student. I expected college to be a magical place, and in many ways, it was. Or I thought it was. That changed with the Fall Semester of 2019, when at least 9 students passed away at USC.
One of the students, John Moore, was one of my film classmates. I was pretty outspoken about the rigor of the schedule in our class and the ways in which support for my peers was lacking, so much so that my name was passed along to a journalist who was writing about the deaths and needed insight into the School of Cinematic Arts. I met Natalie over the phone and gave her all the information I could on the details of the curriculum and the grueling schedule we were subjected to. We had an immediate connection, and I promised to be there if she had any questions in the future. 10 days later, another film student died. That was when I knew I needed to get a camera out and start recording everything. I called Natalie and our film was born.
I intended to create an investigative documentary detailing the pressures that SCA students face and the lack of resources provided to them by the school. I did not expect to be discussing any of my personal history — it seemed completely irrelevant, and besides, don’t we all go through angsty periods in our early teens? However, as I spoke with parents of students who passed away and listened to testimony regarding the abysmal mental health system set up at USC, I realized I was listening with a pointed ear. I was weighing all those stories against my own story, and it pushed me to dig deeper and helped me empathize when I otherwise might have been confused as to why depression can have such an impact in so many ways. Looking back, I’m not sure how thrilled I am that I ended up driving the narrative of the documentary. It forced me to discuss things that I had no desire to make public, and still do not particularly want to have public. But I also think it was necessary for me to include my own story in the film because it was my personal connection to the material that pushed me to continue, even when faced with filmmaking in a pandemic and a crew made up of students who all had personal connections to the 9 who passed away. Sitting in the world of this film for almost a year has been incredibly difficult for all of us, but I hope the product is able to touch at least one person who watches it, because then it will be worth it. And if it does anything at all, I hope it allows viewers a tiny picture of who these amazing students were and just how much the world lost with their passing that Fall.