How to Get a Good Education as a Filmmaker

Quentin Tarantino. image credit:

Quentin Tarantino. image credit:

So I’ve been polishing my feature-length screenplay, which I plan to shoot this summer, and it keeps getting better. I love rewriting, because I simply just go back and read what I wrote, and immediately I know what to write. “That’s no good, this is what I want it to say…” and boom, there it is. In a way, rewriting is much easier than writing, because you’ve been there, you are now more of an expert on your characters, and more importantly, what you want to say the the world through them.

Some Good News!

So I recently met with Mike Call, a Utah filmmaker who is not only one of the best D.P.’s around, but has even directed his own films. (He directed the feature-length documentary Raising Fluffy, which will premiere at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City on April 30th at 7:00pm. So if you are in the area, come by and watch!) Mike has come on board as D.P. on my first feature film! (Name yet to be announced…)

More Good News!

I submitted my short film Predestination to Raindance and Palm Springs International ShortFest…wahoo! I’ll keep you posted on its progress…

Okay, So How to Get an Education as a Filmmaker…

A lot of people thinking about becoming filmmakers wonder if they should go to film school. Many prominent filmmakers such as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, etc. came from the “film school generation.” In other words, film was being taken seriously in academia by the late 60’s early 70’s, and many of the “American New Wave” artists went to prestigious film schools. On the other hand, Jim Jarmusch, the father of the American independent cinema movement, decided to use his scholarship funds to shoot a feature film instead of what they were intended for, and was denied a degree by the unimpressed staff at New York University. And Quentin Tarantino did not go to film school at all. He is famous for saying “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.'”

So if an aspiring filmmaker were to ask me my own personal opinion on whether to go to film school, this is what I’d tell them:

I majored in film in college, and I actually read all the textbooks, and I actually paid attention in class. While my classmates majored in film to get away from having to do work, I couldn’t get enough work if it had to do with film. And even after I graduated, I have continued to have an insatiable desire when it comes to films. I can’t get enough of good film. So while Tarantino didn’t go to film school, he went to films and got a good education, I went to film school and films and got a good education, which hasn’t stop and won’t stop until I die.

That being said, probably the biggest thing film school did for me: gave me a deadline.

In other words, you can’t learn to be a filmmaker without making films. So whether or not you choose to go to film school, you have to make films. Period.

So long story short, if you are excited about film school, you love reading and watching classic films, then by all means I encourage you to go. It will make you a better filmmaker. If you just want to major in film because your parents are paying for your education and you don’t want to be there and your plan is to watch old films and go to sleep, then….please, get a life. Decide what you want to do with your life and go after it.

And if you aren’t excited about film school, but are excited about making films…then make films! Just do it.

Some Tips for Aspiring Filmmakers…

  1. First of all, you’re not aspiring. You’re a filmmaker. (see below)
  2. Write every day. If you want to be a writer or writer/director, or even if your end goal is to direct and not write, my advice is to write every day. It’s easier to break out by writing and directing a film then it is to find someone to write a film for you.
  3. Filmmaking is far more than just knowing how to use a camera, although that is a very important part. If you want to direct, study film in its entirety. Study classic films, study how to use a camera, study screenwriting, editing, sound, acting….etc etc. Even if you plan on directing and not DP-ing, start by shooting your own stuff. It will give you valuable experience in collaborating with the D.P.s you work with. In fact I’ve even found that shooting and directing films has made it much easier to act. In a sense, while acting, I can direct myself to a point, insomuch as I know as a director what I would want. (This is especially good when both acting and directing. I’ve found that directing others first and then getting into acting has helped me as an actor.)
  4. Don’t obsess. Many an aspiring filmmaker falls into the abyss of gear, blogging, social media, etc. Although all those things are and can be very important to you, nothing is more important than your work. Put making your films above all else. In the end, it is your work, not your skills with twitter, that will speak for itself.
  5. Submit your work. Next to creating films, the next most important thing is to present them to a worthy forum. If you are making a film about your brother getting hit in the balls with a baseball bat, YouTube is a worthy forum. If you are making an intelligent film, you’d probably do better with film festivals, at least at first.
  6. Learn about film. Do this by watching films. People who make smart, artistic, intelligent films, are usually well versed in…films. George Lucas was a fanatic about watching classic films. So were most of his colleagues. Or, if you want to make grindhouse films, do what Tarantino did and watch tons of grindhouse films. Become an expert at whatever it is that you love and do best.

I hope this article has served to motivate you. If you want to be a filmmaker, no one is stopping you. Do what Robert Rodriguez said in his book Rebel Without a Crew: go out and get yourself some business cards, with your name and “filmmaker” on them. Great. You are now officially a filmmaker. The point is you become whatever it is you do. So just decide to do it and then do it.


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