Headed to USC Film School High Tech senior gets into top program in country

Even when he was a youngster, Ryan Woods was always fascinated with movies. One of the first movies the High Tech High School senior saw was “Toy Story,” and even then, Woods was more interested in how the movie was made, rather than the entertainment value for a 7-year-old.

“I wanted to know how the movie was done,” Woods said.

As he grew older, Woods’ fascination with film, especially filmmaking, continued, as he became enthralled with the “Star Wars” series of movies.

Five years ago, when Woods was an eighth grader, he made a video for his hometown of Harrison entitled “Freedom is Not Free,” a documentary involving World War II veterans as they visited the new WWII memorial in Washington.

“I had a basic video camera and did interviews with the veterans as we went on the trip,” Woods said. “I did the editing and everything. When I got home, I made copies of the documentary and gave the copies to the veterans I interviewed. I think it went well. One of the proudest moments I had was when the widow of one of the veterans I interviewed called me and asked for a copy as a memory. He passed away a few weeks after I finished the documentary.”

So when it came time to attend high school, Woods had to attend High Tech, which provides a special program for students who want to learn about film and television production.

“It was a natural move for me to come to High Tech,” Woods said. “I really wanted to pursue a filmmaking career.”

The first project Woods worked on was a television series at High Tech, entitled “Southern Gothic,” which High Tech teacher Mark Gutmann wrote and directed, about two families involved in the Civil War.

“I worked as a camera person and editor,” Woods said. “That’s when I got hooked. That’s when I knew I had to do this for a career. It got me into the whole thing.”

Woods chose to major in television and film production at High Tech. He also got involved with a host of different projects, like other documentaries and music videos.

One of Woods’ most interesting documentaries is about the Hudson County Schools of Technology’s Teen Parent program, students who are already parents of young children. Most of the teen parents that Woods interviewed are participants in the KAS Prep program that is housed in the same facility as High Tech.

“They are really interesting people,” Woods said. “I’ve been trying to explore more serious subjects. The Teen Parent program documentary turned out to be a pretty good one.”

So when it came time for Woods to apply to colleges earlier this year, he was shooting for the moon. He applied to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, perhaps the toughest film school in the country to enter.

The famed USC School of Cinematic Arts has produced some of the greatest directors in the history of motion pictures, like Oscar-winners Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Taylor Hackford, as well as George Lucas, John Singleton, and animation genius Lee Unkrich, who directed “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

“The school has a great reputation with a lot of good alumni,” Woods said. “That’s probably the biggest reason why I applied there. The school has a great reputation and it’s so close to Los Angeles, so it would provide an opportunity for me to get into the business.”

So Woods sent in his application and hoped upon hope.

“I felt my application was strong,” Woods said. “I sent a great videotape that featured some of my work. I felt pretty confident when I sent in the application, but then, when I didn’t hear anything, I started to second-guess myself.”

Woods was a little encouraged when he received acceptance into the NYU Film School, which represented Woods’ second choice.

“That cheered me up a little,” Woods said. “At least I had something to fall back on if USC didn’t work out.”

Last Thursday, Woods was eating lunch at High Tech when he received a phone call from his father.

“He told me that there was a packet at the house from USC,” Woods said. “When I heard ‘packet,’ I had a good idea. I figured that getting a packet couldn’t be too bad. They wouldn’t send me a packet to give me the bad news.”

So Woods had to wait until he arrived home to officially receive the word.

“When I got home, my mother ran out with the packet and said, ‘Open it already,'” Woods said. “She was more nervous than I was.”

Woods opened the envelope and among the paperwork was the letter that offered congratulations.

“I got into their film program,” Woods said. “It’s pretty awesome and pretty sweet. Of course, I was happy to get the letter.”

Because USC operates on a trimester schedule, Woods won’t actually enroll until next January. But he’s in and that’s all that matters.

“It’s pretty amazing when you consider where I was five years ago and what I was doing,” Woods said. “To get accepted in the best film school in the country is just so amazing. I thank my teachers [Doug Macauley and Rob Meyer] for getting me through the tough times. I attribute a lot of my success to them.”

Bagpiper and goalkeeper

Woods is also an accomplished soccer goalkeeper, having earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last season, as well as being named as The Hudson Reporter’s Defender of the Year.

“Unfortunately, my soccer career ends, because I can’t play at USC,” Woods said. “I’ll keep in shape, playing club ball, but I won’t play soccer in college.”

Woods is also able to play the bagpipes and performs all over with his father, who also plays the bagpipes.

“Wherever the opportunity arises to play, I’m there,” Woods said. “I’m taking the bagpipes with me.”

It was only natural that Woods receive word of his future right in the middle of his busiest season playing the pipes, with all the variety of St. Patrick’s Day parade going on recently.

“It was pretty timely,” Woods said. “It’s really one of the greatest moments of my life. It’s truly a dream come true. It’s a great opportunity for me. It’s going to be great to get this chance.”

And who knows? There may be a day in the future that the Ocsar-winning director hails from High Tech. Ryan Woods is well on his way.

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or jhague@hudsonreporter.com


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group