Looking through old posts, I ran across this one, written just before I was laid off my teaching job at a for-profit art school and began my career as a full-time filmmaker. Just as relevant today as it was in 2011.
Unless you can get into a top program like NYU or USC, you’re making a big mistake racking up $60,000 of student loan debt to go to film school. Trust me on this.
Oh, it’s fun. You get to check out fancy equipment and get all your friends together and make a movie, sort of like those old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films where all the neighborhood kids get together and have a show.
While your fellow students are struggling with organic chemistry and political theory, you’re taking classes in cinematography and lighting and scriptwriting. You turn in videos instead of term papers. How exciting!
Truth is, most film schools are locked into a model of filmmaking where everything is big, expensive, and involves a lot of people with esoteric job titles like gaffer, key grip and clapper loader, where even assistants have assistants. This bureaucratic, hierarchical model of filmmaking is still practiced, of course, but on a shrinking number of productions each year.
Meanwhile, technology has opened the doors to anyone with a good story to tell and the entrepreneurial skill to build an audience. Not only has good equipment gotten small, cheap and easy to use, but do-it-yourselfers can also take to the Internet to raise money, book screenings, get into festivals and sell tickets to their own events.
If you really have to have a college degree, major in English and work on your writing skills. Major in psychology and learn what makes people tick. Major in anthropology and master ethnographic fieldwork. Or think about business school.
Producer Rebeca Paramo suggested in a recent blog that future producers, in particularly, would be well served by a course of study that included finance, accounting, business networking, and, most importantly, pitching your ideas to investors.
And there are plenty of ways to learn basic filmmaking skills without the high cost of film school.
Michael Rosenblum has held down some of the top jobs in network TV, was one of the first mainstream producers to bring shows shot on MiniDV cameras to broadcast television, and organized video journalism activities for the Guardian, New York Times, and the BBC. His New York Video School offers intelligent, practical training in video shooting, editing, writing and storytelling for a low monthly subscription.
Over at Focal Press, long a leader in publishing eductional resources for filmmakers, there’s a new program called Filmskills. Whether in school or out, you can purchase modules through an iTunes-like pricing structure and learn at your own pace. The video lessons and accompanying documentation are first-rate, and supervising publisher Elinor Actipis is adding new modules all the time.
I’ve also heard good things about Dov Simens’ Two-Day Film School, offered in live sessions all over the country as well as on DVD. If anybody has attended, please let me know, I’d be interested in some reviews by actual participants.
And, I can’t emphasize enough how much you can learn by watching a lot of movies. Work your way through the American Film Institute list of the 100 best American movies. And don’t be afraid of movies from England, France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Romania, China, India, Africa. A lot of great movies are being made outside of Hollywood.
Point is, you don’t need to go massively in debt for the rest of your life to learn how to be a filmmaker. Check out the links in this post, and then look in my “favorites” box for more suggestions.
Do what Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and many others did. Skip film school. Make your movie.