Why You Should Go To Film School…

Well, my last post about college caused a stir. I guess that was the point. Just to clarify, I wrote that on April 1, 2007, or, in the free-world April Fools Day. I thought that it would be a fun joke to plan on my family and friends. My mother-in-law, and wife are going to kill me if I don’t finish school, so, I thought I would add this, and give some good reasons to stay in school. As another point of clarification, this is only an argument for Film school, not college in general.

So, without further adieu, here are 10 reasons you should go to Film School:

1. Peer connections.

Your classmates may be the most valuable resource you’ll ever have. Go through the program, make friends, find alliances, and when you get out, stay in touch with everyone. As long as you realize there’s life after film school and don’t burn your bridges while you’re there, you’ll be able to find collaborators for your own projects, or possibly get a job on another classmate’s project. While you’re there you may even meet a writing or producing partner–the Joel to your Ethan Coen. That’s not a good comparison, since they’re brothers, not classmates, but… you get the point. Also, peer connections aren’t the only advantages that come with a film school degree; you’ll also get…

2. Industry connections.

Because film is a so-called “glamour” industry, everyone and their mother wants to work in it; this means the barriers to entry are more prohibitive than they are in, say, the hospitality industry. Breaking in is hard. But going to a program like USC or NYU, (even UVSC) gains you instant connections to an alumni network. This can be in the form of your professors keeping in touch with previous students who now work in the industry, it can be through your school’s career services, or it can even be in the form of finding out at a job interview that your would-be boss also went to your alma mater (suddenly your job prospects are looking up). But for many of these interviews, to even get your foot in the door you need…

3. Technical know-how.

While listing 10 reasons not to go to film school, I asked, “can art be taught?” While that inspired some debate, I don’t think there’s any doubting that craft is certainly teachable. I would even note in support of the “art can be taught” argument that, while at my first semester at the U, I learned how to draw; I would argue that being taught to sketch “mediocrely” [sic] is, in fact, merely an instruction on craft. So while no one can teach you how to be the next Scorcese, they can teach you camera framing, continuity editing, or high and low-key lighting. If you think you want to specialize–that is, if you want to be an editor or cinematographer, for example–then film school can certainly give you the technical knowledge to be proficient in those areas. And while you’re learning the technical aspects of film, you’re also getting….

4. Intelligent feedback.

Your professors and peers, being educated and theoretically intelligent when it comes to film, can give you sophisticated feedback on your own projects and ideas, and help mold you into a better filmmaker. Outside the haven of film school, it’s not easy to get together a group of film-aware individuals, and have them critique your project. Considering that film school typically takes place during your formative years, the collective wisdom and advice you receive during your attendance could help inform your whole career. And much of this advice comes from…

5. Mentors to push you.

Shooting a no-budget DV flick with all your friends in it, and then showing it to that same group of friends and getting their “that’s me on screen, this is awesome!” feedback, may not be the best way to develop your inner auteur. If you go to film school, you may or may not meet a great professor that inspires you in your studies, but if you do, that experience alone can be worth the price of admission. A good professor can push you to work harder and be more daring than you would be on your own; even if you don’t find any particularly great teachers, however, the professors can collectively teach you…

6. History and theory.

Even if you want to make experimental, avant-garde films, you’re still standing on the shoulders of giants. Not knowing theory and history is the equivalent of saying ignorance is bliss. Many young aspiring filmmakers cultivate a belief that “truly” creative films are created in a vacuum–and it’s easy to buy into this, given Hollywood’s current penchant for remakes, adaptations, and other “homages”–but skipping an immersion in history and theory is one sure way of shooting yourself in the foot, not only in terms of your own knowledge of what’s been done before, but in terms of…

7. Credibility.

Diplomas are a necessity in many professions; film is not one of them (I’m still waiting for someone’s “directed by” credit to be capped off with a “Ph.D”). Nevertheless, industry vets looking to separate the wheat from the chaff will often take you more seriously if you graduated from film school; at the very minimum, it shows you’re serious about it (because, as already stated, everyone and their mother wants to be in movies). Of course, what truly matters in film is not where you went to school, but what’s on your reel and what credits you have to your name; that is, what you’ve actually done. And in order to accomplish things, you need…

8. Time for your projects.

If you opt out of film school and do the 9-5 thing, pursuing your own projects on the side can be prohibitively difficult (to a certain extent, this depends on what your day job arrangements are). Working a day job and saving up your money to work on your own blood-sweat-and-tears project has a certain romantic appeal to it, but you’ll need funds, equipment, free time, and last but not least, collaborators. Film isn’t like writing, where you can sit down and do it yourself; for the most part, you need someone in front of the camera, too. And even if you’re shooting a documentary all by yourself, you’re most likely going to need large chunks of time set aside to shoot, which you might not be able to swing with an employer who expects you to show up to work every day. Film school gives you the collaborators, framework, and the time and space to work on your film pursuits (unless, of course, you go to a film program where only one in ten gets to actually produce his or her project, and everyone else becomes crew…). Also, if you stay in film school, you’re more likely to…

9. Stay the course.

If you throw yourself into the working world, you’ll tend to go where the opportunities are, and often times they aren’t always film-related. I’m not saying that you’ll come out of school with your sights set on being a writer/director and somehow end up becoming an air traffic controller, but I am saying that it’s likely you’ll take some detours along the way. If you go to film school, you’re setting aside three years to focus on film alone, and it’s one way of ensuring that you won’t get sidetracked. No matter how focused you are, however…

10. You either have it or you don’t.

Yeah, it’s the same as my #10 reason not to go to film school, but that’s exactly the point; it applies to both lines of reasoning. If you’re truly motivated to express yourself through the medium of film, ultimately… you’re going to find a way to express yourself through the medium of film, degree or not.

Summary

No “10 reasons why” list is ever going to make up anyone’s mind about film school (nor would a “3,457 reasons why” list). Ultimately the decision of whether or not to go to film school is dependent upon personal, not general, reasons: whether you enjoy the classroom environment, how well you get along with professors, how independent you are, what your level of film education and technical abilities are when you’re making the decision, what type of films you eventually want to make, how you want to make them, and a hundred other personal factors.

Still, these are ten pretty fundamental reasons to go (or not). If you’ve read both arguments and crave further food for thought, chime in with your opinion in the comments.

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Why I Have Decided To Drop Out Of College

I have decided that I am done with college. It is difficult, I am a little worried about the reality of my decisions, but I think that it is the right thing to do. I have been going to Utah Valley State College for the last three years, pursuing a degree in Multimedia Communications Technology, with an emphasis in Film and TV production. I have been interested in film for a long time, and it seems like a great fit, however, there are few reasons that I don’t think that I will be back next semester. Here are a few of points that led me to my justification, maybe they can help you out too…

1. But… He didn’t go to film school.

Of my favorite filmmakers… Very few went to a film school. Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Spike Jonze… None of them went to film school.

2. Digital Video.

One of the great reasons to go to film school was the chance to and the opportunity to shoot on film. However, now, this is not neccessary, with the advent of digital video, many films are shooting video with the same cheap cameras that I have been using in school…

3. School is expensive.

It’s easy to justify spending six figures on an education because you’re investing in the future. Plus there is a loan structure in place for repaying your debt, and there’s a vague promise of a job once you have a degree in hand. But tuition is incredibly expensive, and you’ll be paying it off for years to come, unless your last name is Rockefeller. If you think you have a great idea for a film–and that’s a big “if,” requiring enormous amounts of faith in yourself–then you may be able to produce your project for a whole lot less money than the six figures you’d spend on a degree. And once your labor of love is done, you can distribute your project using…

4. The Internet.

The biggest difference between today and 30 years ago isn’t the advent of DV cameras, it’s the advent of mass, free distribution like YouTube, iFilm, and a hundred other online sites. You could have all the talent in the world and a DV master of your piece de resistance in hand, but without the ability to put it out there for some recognition, you’d be up the creek. In today’s era of amateur filmmakers being snatched up off of YouTube, however, you can be assured that there’s an audience out there, there’s a way to put your film in front of them, and there’s a cadre of scared executives ready to hire anyone who understands kids these days. Another relevant aspect of the internet is the informational aspect; you can find intelligent film reviews, interviews, and forums for discussing movies online, which didn’t exist several years ago. All of these things help you find…

5. The Long Tail

Pre-interweb, it was much more difficult to find niche content that catered to your personal interests; but now, as Chris Anderson has written, even smaller films manage to find an audience, profitably. Even if you’re making a niche film about heroin-addicted Latvians who skydive blindfolded while listening to Jethro Tull (actually, that sounds pretty interesting), you can find an audience for it. Ten thousand interested audience members spread across the country won’t get your film seen in any one theater, because the geographic concentration of them is far too sparse to sell 100 tickets at any given location, on any given night. But ten thousand interested viewers on the internet means your film can get viewed ten thousand times and passed on many times over, through email, blogs, and myspace. Suddenly you’re the authority on terminal-velocity Latvian addicts and have lined up funding for a sequel, without ever stepping foot in film school. And the Long Tail isn’t just relevant as a producer, it’s also relevant as a student, because…

6. Netflix + books = critical studies.

Classic, avant-garde, and generally obscure films used to be hard to get your hands on. Film school, once upon a time, was a great way to see movies you couldn’t see anywhere else. But 90% of the movies you’ll see in film school today are available on DVD. Not only that, but instead of having to pay $4/pop to rent them on your own, you can just sign up for an all-you-can-eat DVD rental service like Netflix and watch, rate, review, and queue films to your heart’s content. Combine this with a few trips to the local bookstore and some Amazon listmania to get yourself a set of film history and theory books, and you’ve got a halfway decent critical studies program in your bedroom. That is, assuming you’re motivated enough to put in all the work on your own, without grades, peers, and deadlines–which is not easy. Still, you can always…

7. Learn by doing.

Between the corporate video, television, and feature film industries, there are plenty of jobs out there. Rather than paying to learn, you can get paid to learn (Mark Cuban seems to have done okay with that). Regarding film specifically, there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach: the disadvantages are that you may not be surrounded by like-minded peers who can give you valuable feedback, you may get on a track that’s not of your choosing (instead of being able to focus on one specialty at film school), and you may not have much time outside of your day job to pursue the projects you really want to. The advantages are that you’re supporting yourself instead of going into debt, you’re building up your resume, and you’re gaining an understanding of how the real world works. And learning by doing is better because…

8. You can’t teach art. Can you

At the heart of the “should I go to film school?” question is an even more basic question: can art be taught? No. Yes. A little bit? Who knows. Personally I’ve always felt that there’s something fundamentally disingenuous about teaching how to create. Yes, as a professor you can explain how a piece of art was created, you can further a student’s understanding of the art form as a whole, and you can refine a student’s technical know-how. But there’s no right or wrong way to create. Of course, on the flip side, having a great professor who gives you good feedback and pushes you in the right direction can make the whole film school experience worthwhile (I’ll talk about this next week). But many professors teach formula as technique, and you want to make sure it’s your own vision on screen, not your professor’s. Regardless…

9. Don’t study film, study life.

My problem with Hollywood today is not a lack of craft, and my problem with film school is not a lack of theory; both of these areas of expertise are arguably more refined today than they’ve ever been. But what’s mostly missing in Hollywood today is the writing–what’s actually being said–and while they can teach you in school how to say what you’ve got to say, they can’t tell you what to say. If film school costs $100k, I’d say you’d be better off traveling the world, reading a lot of books, doing volunteer work, and meeting a lot of people along the way. If you skip film school to travel the world and you’re insecure about your understanding of the 180-degree rule, read the Wikipedia entry on it and be on your way. If, in the course of your travels, you discover that you’re not interested in being a filmmaker after all, that’s probably for the better too, because you would’ve realized that eventually, even if you got your degree in film. Because ultimately, when it comes to filmmaking…

10. You either have it or you don’t.

Barry Diller said recently that “talent always outs.” That is, if you’re talented, you’ll eventually make it, regardless of whatever obstacles you encounter along the way. Film school can help you become a better filmmaker–it can refine what’s already there–but if you don’t have the raw creativity, ability, and motivation from the start, you’re doomed even if you’ve got a degree in hand. Conversely, if you’ve got what it takes, you’ll eventually make it, whether you go to film school or not. This is why there’s no right or wrong answer to the film school question; it’s reductive, but… you either have it or you don’t.

My Customer Is Me

Not to long ago, NorthTemple.com posted about Joel Dehlin who is the CIO of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He recently took a new job, and deciding to start blogging. His posts, have been thorogh and interesting look into the the church’s infrastructure.

In a recent post, he talks about bulding software, and the how the church is going about it. An interestin read. You can find it here.

Via Joel Dehlin

Newcomb’s Paradox: What Would You Do?

Recently, Mark Frauenfelder wrote an interesting article about Newcomb’s Paradox.
Franz Kiekeben (who is a very funny cartoonist) does a nice job of describing Newcomb’s Paradox, which I’ve enjoyed contemplating, on and off, for many years. For those of you that may be unfamilliar with it, here it is.

A highly superior being from another part of the galaxy presents you with two boxes, one open and one closed. In the open box there is a thousand-dollar bill. In the closed box there is either one million dollars or there is nothing. You are to choose between taking both boxes or taking the closed box only. But there’s a catch.

The being claims that he is able to predict what any human being will decide to do. If he predicted you would take only the closed box, then he placed a million dollars in it. But if he predicted you would take both boxes, he left the closed box empty. Furthermore, he has run this experiment with 999 people before, and has been right every time.

What do you do?

On the one hand, the evidence is fairly obvious that if you choose to take only the closed box you will get one million dollars, whereas if you take both boxes you get only a measly thousand. You’d be stupid to take both boxes.

On the other hand, at the time you make your decision, the closed box already is empty or else contains a million dollars. Either way, if you take both boxes you get a thousand dollars more than if you take the closed box only.

What would you do? Please read the rest of Kiekeben’s essay before offering your reasoning. Link

(Via Boing Boing.)