You do not need to go to film school*

Posted: 2014-12-08 13:08:31 GMT Updated: 2015-03-03 07:55:05 GMT

You do not need to go to film school to get a career in the film and television industry*. That’s a pretty sweeping statement, but I’ll stand by it and here’s why.

First of all, I’ll start with the list which you probably already know – none of these Directors studied at filmschool: Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick… and there are many more.

Now, here’s what a pretty typical journey through film school and into the media/ film industry looks like…

Let’s say you go to film school and learn Mise en scène and how 35mm film used to be loaded and what a Risk Assessment is. You explore story arcs and location sound and scheduling. You’ll toy with different roles within the production process and decide if you want to be an AD or a Grip, a Director or a Production Designer.

So then you pick your specific niche – you might switch your decision along the way and jump departments. Or you might stick with that role you envisioned when you first filled out the university application form. Either way you find your ‘calling’ – you find what you’re good at and enjoy and your innate skills reveal themselves.

You continue to work hard and grow into the role you’ve chosen. You shoot more and more as a Producer or Gaffer or DoP and learn your craft and eventually sit for exams or submit your final piece of work.You get great grades (Congrats!) and then…

Then you go out looking to get your first official job in the film or TV industry. But the chances are, you won’t get a job as a 1st AD or a DoP or a Production Designer. I don’t want to sound negative here – but the reality is that however good you and your friends thought you were in film school, you’re probably going to have to eat some humble pie and re-examine where you are in the hierarchy.

Despite the fact that for the last 6-12 months you’ve been working on sets as a DoP or Gaffer or Producer or 1st AD – now that you’ve been let out into the wide world, it’s most likely that you won’t get a job title anything above Runner or Production Assistant or ‘department’ assistant.Why? Because in the film and TV industry you need to work your way through the ranks LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. And not in the same way that a lawyer or Doctor would have to work their way up – thanks to their qualifications, they start part way up the ladder.

Before you can become a ‘Head of Department’, you need to build your reputation in your field, which takes time and contacts and maybe even a show reel.

When you complete your final year and walk into a professional production office or set for the first time, you’ll be working alongside other Runners and PA’s who haven’t been to film school, but are just as hungry as you and self taught from a myriad of resources and probably made more films than you while you’ve been sat in classes.

So if you’re going to be starting at the bottom of the food chain anyway, why not do so as soon as possible and while you teach yourself filmmaking?Theory and practice on student films are a good foundation for working in the industry of course, but instead of going to film school, make films. Read books. Watch movies, then watch them again. Dissect them. Watch them some more. Read Director autobiographies – and not just Robert Rodriguez’s, but the classics too.

If you don’t want to be a Director, go and work on other people’s films. Even if you do want to Direct go work on someone else’s film so you can learn from them (even if it’s how not to do it). Make tiny films on no budget. Make ambitious films on your credit card. Make mistakes and make something game changing. You need a foundation of knowledge and awareness before you turn up to a professional set. Without this, you’ll be one step behind the rest of the Runners and it’ll look like you haven’t bothered to try to learn the basics. You will also benefit from having an idea of what it is you want to do within a production.

As a humble Runner (or other low rank) you’ll be privy to all sorts of goings on, all kinds of conversations and events, all manner of equipment and techniques and opinions. This – THIS – is where you’ll really learn.

How do you get onto a production? That’s another conversation. Book a tutorial with me (I don’t charge) and I’ll gladly talk you through what I know.

* There are of course exceptions to this argument. Directors, DoP’s and Art Directors can, on the rare occasion, have their natural talent exposed by a film school and straight out of the gates get spotted and hired to shoot Music Videos or Commercials or Shaun Of The Dead. By all means aim for this, but keep in mind that there’s no better training for a Director than simply picking up a camera and making films. Your research and teaching materials are readily available in the form of movies and TV shows. Absorb them endlessly!Also, Visual Effects of all kinds take years of hard grafting to get good at and while you’ll still be learning on the job and starting on the bottom rung, training will give you a superb foundation on which to build.GOOD LUCK!



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