I recently found out that Mel Sloan, one of my instructors from film school passed away in January. I hadn’t thought about Mel in awhile but the news still took me by surprise. I started thinking about Mel, my time at film school and where I am now. Then it hit me.
Mel Sloan was a huge influence on me and helped to make me the filmmaker I am.
Mel had this way of driving you crazy. He questioned you on everything! I remember one 3 hour meeting when I was getting ready to shoot my graduate project at USC where Mel took the “devil’s advocate” side on every question, even what we were going to have for lunch! My crew and I walked out of the meeting totally beat up. Even though it was barely noon we hit the nearest bar, totally drained and drained a couple glasses.
I ran in to another film student who had Mel the previous year (and had made a great film) and he asked if we had had our three hour meeting with Mel yet? I said yes. He told me from that point on our dealing with Mel were going to be great, and he would go to bat for us at every turn. We were now “Mel’s Boys”. Mel just wanted to see how badly we wanted to make our film. Once we passed his test then we were going to be just fine. Boy was he right!
Mel did go to bat for us (and rumor had it that some faculty members were very unhappy with us over a few things, but those stories will be saved for another day). He supported us and gave us great advice and guidance. We finished the film and at our final session with Mel he told the editor (Harry B Miller) and I that our film was good, but too long. He told us we could lose 5 minutes easily. We disagreed and Mel just said to us, “Watch you film again after 6 – 12 months and then tell me what you think?”
Once again he was right. A fact that I got to tell him when I ran in to him a few years later. He smiled when I told him. Not only did he remember my film, he remembered what needed to come out.
When I got out of school and needed some editing equipment to start my business Mel called a former student and got me what I needed, at a reduced price! The fact that he continued to help even after I left school was huge.
I read where Mel taught at USC for over 50 years. Amazing. I know there were people who didn’t like him, but I don’t think they understood his teaching method. Was he rough on us in the beginning? Absolutely! Did he care about us and our film? Very much. And I think that was what set Mel apart. Whether you agreed with him or not, he truly cared about his students and tried to make them better filmmakers. Mel worked us hard, gave us deadlines and truly prepared us for what it was going to be like outside of school.
I have taken a different route than a lot of my peers. I left LA years ago and make my films up in Oregon. I am also obsessive, stubborn, and am always going against the grain. But I love what I do and I got that from Mel. There are times when I am stuck, broke, and trying to figure out how everything will come together. I sit back and I think about it. I work at it. I figure it out, for better or for worse, and I move forward. That was something else Mel taught me to do.
There were times when I thought about Mel and wondered what he was doing. Knowing Mel, I was sure he was teaching some one, some where, whether it had any thing to do with film or not. That was the kind of person Mel was. Always willing to share his knowledge on any subject to anyone.
I can picture Mel at this very moment trying to explain something to God. Hopefully God is listening to him.
Thank you Mel for all you taught me. I am lucky to have been one of “Mel’s Boys”; your lessons are still very much alive.