Friday, April 17, 2009

To film school or not to film school?

I chose not to go to. I got into a few of them in Southern California but began to think that I had already learned quite a bit about the filmmaking process in high school and realized I would probably end up in Los Angeles at some point anyway. So, I decided to go to Fordham University, a random school I had applied to thanks to a suggestion from a college counselor, and spend four years living in New York City. (Why not apply to NYU where I could go to film school and NYC? Honestly, at that point, I really didn't want to write another essay.)

And I definitely wouldn't trade it for anything. I made some great films, won an MTV Golden Popcorn, met my smokin' hot wife, and now I'm living in LA, working for Anthony E. Zuiker (creator of CSI) and a script of mine was recently sent out wide with Guy Walks Into A Bar Productions (Elf) producing (and I'm only 27!). So, the path I decided to take is working out for me.

However, for every hundreds of successful people working in Hollywood there are hundreds of different paths they took to get there, so don't use me as the only example. On my blog, I do a short 3 question interview where I ask people how they got their start and I haven't heard many "I got my start in film school" stories.

That said, film school could definitely be a huge benefit, mostly through contacts and connections. Who knows what future writer, producer, or director you might meet and become friends with? (David Hayter ended up writing X-Men because he was down on his luck and called his good friend from film school, Bryan Singer, got a job as Bryan's driver, made some suggestions on a particular scene, was asked by Bryan to write it, and ended up rewriting the entire script, with him being awarded sole writing credit.)

Film schools can also be very good for those who want to be cinematographers or editors (working in more of a technical area) and here's why. Film schools are filled with wannabe directors who are willing to spend money to make their films and they need people to shoot and edit them. As a DP, you get the chance to shoot on all these different mediums (35mm, 16mm, HD) without spending a dime and because all you're doing is shooting the film and you can do one every weekend, building up an impressive and diverse reel. Not to mention that cinematography is a very technical process, requiring knowledge on film stocks, processing, printing and so forth, so it's best to learn from teachers who know what they're doing where you're free to make mistakes and ruin film.

As a director, you'll make maybe two to four films (depending on how prolific you are) and could quite possible end up with two to four pieces of crap that you don't want to show your family, much less a potential agent or producer.

I feel that if you want to be a writer or director the best thing you can do is to experience something that has nothing to do with the movies. Sure, watch them, love them, make them, but do it in a place where it's not "film, film, film" all day everyday. Writing and directing is about storytelling, about an audience sitting in a room experiencing a world that hadn't known before. You won't get that by regurgitating what you saw in the movies (only Tarantino can get away with it and I'm sorry, you're NOT Tarantino).

The last three scripts I wrote with my writing partner, including the one currently “out there,” didn't come from watching movies. One idea came from my wife which she heard while studying abroad in Australia, another came from an idea Travis had in college, and the third came from a submission request I did on craigslist when I was in New York (it's an adaptation of a one-act play).

And directing is mastered through experience, something you don't need to go to film school in order to do. Get a digital camera, Final Cut Pro, and start making movies. Not a writer? Find one or take one-act plays and film them.

Now, my point is not to discourage you from going to film school. If that's what you want to do, by all means. There are a lot of great filmmakers that went to film school but there are just as many who didn't. Remember that. Film school isn't the answer for everybody and it's not a guarantee of success. In fact, so many people are going to film school nowadays that it might even become a hindrance. (50% of the industry has graduated from USC).

You don't have to go to film school to make in Hollywood or get noticed. You have to write a great script or direct a great movie. That's all. If you're talented, you'll eventually make it, film school or not.

Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo gives 10 great reasons why you don't need to go to film school at his website

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