FILM SCHOOL: Do You Really Need It? This Will Help You Decide!
Are you an aspiring filmmaker who does not want to be saddled with student loan debt from film school? Student debt takes years to pay off, and entry-level jobs in the film industry do not pay off student debt quickly.
To begin with, there is nothing wrong with studying filmmaking at a reputable film school. Some incredible filmmakers have spent years in film school to get to where they are.
But is it possible to become a filmmaker without attending film school?
How much of a difference does attending film school make in the ability of a filmmaker? This post is for those who want to start a film career without going to film school.
FILM SCHOOL: Do You Really Need It? This Will Help You Decide!
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Film Industry Introduction - My Film Career Path
Learning on your own in the past was challenging in regards to the film industry, but things have changed on learning the craft of filmmaking.
There are tons of acclaimed books, blogs, and videos out there that can instruct you so much about the basics of developing a film presently.
But where do you start if you prefer this path? Here is my path to learning filmmaking without film school.
The time I drove Kevin McDonald To Dave Foley’s house
I went to multiple film schools over many years, but I started to realize that I need to start paying off my film school student debt.
From eating Mr. Noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I realized I needed to forget about my dream and find a job that would put money in my pocket to replace Mr. Noodles with pizza.
It’s amazing how good a slice of pizza is after eating powdered chicken-flavored noodles for years.
Learning Filmmaking Without Film School – A Day That Changed Everything
A couple of years ago while I was at a networking event for a sales retreat, I stumbled across a couple of filmmakers and was jealous that they were following his/her dream.
A dream I gave up so I can eat more pizza and have clothes without holes in them. I heard they needed a gaffer assistant on a short film weekend shoot and jumped at the chance to get back on the set.
Sure while I was on set helping out the gaffer, but I was running odd jobs on the set as well.
Filmmaking jobs like grabbing catering for the crew, coffee runs to the nearest coffee shop for the cast, or holding umbrellas over the director and cast while they were blocking a shot while I was getting rained upon.
Many may think these tasks may be thankless jobs, but if you are doing something you love, the feeling you get knowing you helped in a film project is priceless.
1. Determine Your Goals in the Film Industry
The first step in learning filmmaking without film school, is you need to figure out where to do you picture yourself in the film industry.
Do you aspire to become a director? What about hiring a screenwriter? Maybe you want to be a producer because of your incredible skill set of managing.
Second, figure out how much knowledge you already have in these particular fields. Are you new to the film industry? Or, are you someone who has been on a set and understands the basics?
Once you have figured out where you stand in regards to what path you want to take, the next step is to learn.
2. Volunteering on a set
“If film school isn’t recommended, what should one do for education to help start their career?”
When compared to the past, the great thing about filmmaking today is that any city has a thriving filmmaking scene. One of the Filmmaking Tips I give to aspiring filmmakers is to begin researching filmmaking societies in their area and networking with filmmakers in these groups.
What you must understand is that while you may have a fantastic vision and are eager to get started, you must do so gradually. Even if you attended film school, you must begin at the bottom and work your way up.
Volunteer on any local project and do any job that is required. Throw the ego out the door, and if the only job available is getting coffee for people, take that job.
I recently sat down with a producer at the Austin Film Festival and asked how the individual got started, and the path was the same as what I mentioned above. But this person took an approach that I haven’t quite figured out yet: fake it until you make it.
3. Be Ready
“How much difference does going to a film school make in a filmmaker’s ability?”
You never know where your opportunity will come from, and improv class teaches you to say yes to everything. The producer I had the pleasure of speaking with began simply by saying yes to every opportunity that came their way.
He got his start in the film industry without going to film school by talking to a filmmaker who was looking for crew members to help in the sound department for an upcoming shoot. This producer claimed to have sound experience but didn’t. He did, however, make it onto the set. The sound department began asking him to do things he had no idea about the moment he arrived on set.
He inquired with other departments to see if they knew what he was supposed to do. By doing so, he was able to get the answers he needed and complete his task. Now, unless you’re really good at BS-ing, I’d recommend trying this example on a smaller set.
4. Keep Your Ears Open
Sure you may not be learning your craft in a film school, but when you are on a set you are always learning! When you are on a film set, pay attention to the other departments on the set and learn the skills from them.
The skill sets you will learn from doing this is that it will give you more opportunities for more available positions on future film productions.
If you have some knowledge and willingness to learn, you will be constantly working from a film set to film set. This journey may take a few years, but you will have several credits under your belt.
From all this hard work, you might be able to get your chance to make projects yourself.
Where I Am Now Without Film School
Me(On The Right) w/ Andrew Kevin Walker(writer of “Seven”) at the Austin Film Festival
Since my first shoot, until now, I have been made the president of the board for the past two years of this independent society, I have some imdb credits under my belt, and now I have projects in development that are mine.
My IMDB page is small still, but it’s growing. So if you are thinking to yourself that you can do what I did, which I know anybody can, where do you start?
Check out the following videos and links below to see where I started from nothing in a couple of years. I know my acting work is not the greatest, but it’s getting better. God, I really hope it will get better.
Side Note: The links below are not to showcase my talent. These examples below are there to show that anybody can do what I have done if you put the work in.
This was the first project that I was involved in which I just acted in. An incredibly talented up-and-coming filmmaker Ashley Good took a chance on me. I auditioned for a role and I didn’t think I would get it, but somehow I did.
The clip above was from a short film I made for a 48 Hour Film Fest. It was written, shot, and chopped in 48 hours.
Our actors didn’t show up for shooting that day, so all the crew acted in it. Forgive us!!!
3rd Date was a short feature in which it was Written and Directed by my friend Russell Munday.
This was another situation where I was doing 1st AD work on his set and an actor canceled at the last minute and he needed someone from the crew to jump in.
Always say yes to anything is a motto of mine, and from that, I got to improvise on the shoot and had a great time.
Side note: Actors! Please show up to the set. When there is crew waiting to shoot, and then the talent doesn’t show up, it doesn’t help your future career.
Tommy Lindholm Presents The Bucket List
This was an opportunity that just by chance fell into my lap just by doing extra work for another project I was helping another friend (Bryan Skinner) with.
Having a conversation while waiting between shots, with my friend Brent Lanyon, we discussed a project he was working on.
Brent Lanyon mentioned he needed help with sound on his Tommy Lindholm Project.
With no sound experience, I said yes I will do it, and just hoped I didn’t screw it up.
From being on set, I ended up doing sound on a few episodes, plus directing an episode, and acting in a few episodes as well.
The lesson to learn: Always Say Yes! Don’t complain! Oh, and show up!
Married & Isolated
With Married & Isolated, was an interesting short film as this happened during the start of the pandemic. My wife and I were awarded a grant to make a web series, but the stipulation was that the short had to be over 10 minutes long. So, when we were ready to make the project with a cast and crew of over 20, the pandemic hit, and we had to pull the production.
The only problem was that the company that gave us the grant to make our original project needed a 10-minute short shot in 2 days to honor the agreement they made with the Canadian government.
Since we couldn’t shoot our original project due to isolation rules, we were told to shoot anything within 48hours for the company to honor its agreement with the government.
So, we panicked and improvised this short film and had it ready within 48 hours. After looking at it now, I wish I learned more about editing, but filmmaking is a learning process. Have a look, it’s kinda funny for those who are married.
How To Learn During This Process Without Film School
Can you become a filmmaker without going to film school? When you are at a film school, what do you really do anyway? Read, take notes, and watch examples from the past. Is this worth spending 10k a year doing?
Sure, education is the most important thing you can spend money on. As well as pizza and a roof over your head. You maybe thinking right now “How do I learn to make a movie, if I’m not a great writer or director?”
The good news is there is a wealth of information at your fingertips via the Internet that can get you close to the same education you would receive from a film school. Just you won’t get a piece of paper at the end to put in a frame.
But when you have to replace that frame with the Oscar you won years later, it doesn’t matter how you got there. You just got there.
“What are some good books to learn filmmaking and visual storytelling?”
There are some incredible books on filmmaking that you should get your hands on immediately to help with your journey. I am going to list the most important books you need in your arsenal to get you started.
Screenwriting – Understand the basics of screenplay structure.
Here are some great books to teach you:
- Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
- The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
- Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting
- The screenwriter’s bible
- Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
Directing: Understand what a director does.
- The Filmmaker’s Handbook
- Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen
- David Mamet – On Directing Film
- Directing, Fifth Edition: Film Techniques and Aesthetics
- Filmmaking: Direct Your Movie from Script to Screen Using Proven Hollywood Techniques
- Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television
- What You Don’t Learn in Film School: A Complete Guide to (Independent) Filmmaking
Producing: Understand the role of the producer then you will know why they are the ones holding the best picture Oscar and not the director.
- Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking
- Producer to Producer: A Step-by-Step Guide to Low-Budget Independent Film Producing
- The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn’t Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film by Reed Martin
- So You Want to Be a Producer
- The Complete Film Production Handbook
Watching and Studying Videos
Don’t like reading? Neither do I.
I learn better watching than reading, and the great thing is there are some incredible videos out there that will help you just ask much as reading.
What are the best free websites or YouTube channels to learn filmmaking, movie production, or shooting videos? I have chosen clips that are my go-to in regards to inspiration to the madness.
These are just a few examples of what you can find on Youtube:
Christopher Nolan On Directing
David Fincher – And the Other Way is Wrong
How Does an Editor Think and Feel?
Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy
Masterclass: I might be a little bias on this one just because the cost of the program and the instructor’s teaching is impressive. Why learn from a professor at a film school who has less IMDB credits than I do.
Learn from the masters in his/her fields in an almost one on one classroom environment.
The Classes that I got the most out of is the following:
- Judd Apatow – Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy
- Aaron Sorkin – Aaron Sorkin’s MasterClass
- Ron Howard – Ron Howard Teaches Directing
- Steve Martin – Steve Martin’s MasterClass
- David Mamet – David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
- Shonda Rhimes – Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television
Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?
Become a better filmmaker with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, James Cameron and more.
Are you asking yourself “If I want to make an indie film, where do I start?”
When you learned how to ride a bike, do you read a book or watch a video on how to ride a bike? I know I didn’t, and with the scar on my lip from a stupid crash when I was five, maybe I should have.
But, the great thing about filmmaking now is anybody can grab a camera and make a film.
If you are aksing yourself” I am not a student at film school. How may I study to make a film and use the camera freely?”
Get a camera and start filming!
When it comes to filmmaking equipment you will need to start off with a filmmaking camera.
Here are some good cameras you can use to get you started. Some are easy to deal with cameras, and are learning curve but produce incredible images.
Figure out what you are looking for, and start filming.
If you want to try the DIY option, I will suggest buying a camera you are comfortable with, and just start filming.
Filmmaking Quotes From Famous Filmmakers
James Cameron once said “pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister sat in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiation your budget and your fee.”
Stanley Kubrick once said.“The best thing that filmmakers should do is get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.”
Filmmaking School Experience
Some film schools allow you to start shooting from the very beginning, but they don’t actually train you in the art and craft of film direction: there is no professional development.
By “training” I mean proper, solid, practical training of the type that you might receive as a doctor or airline pilot.
There is quite simply no institution out there that trains film directors in the same way that airline pilots are trained.
It doesn’t matter how you started in the filmmaking process, it about the willingness to say yes and learn. There are some incredible Film Schools out there that will teach you the world of filmmaking like UCLA, USC, and NYU.
But if you can’t afford these Film Schools then don’t let that be the deterrent of getting into the film industry. The resources you can get from the internet and the knowledge and experience by volunteering on a set can get you toward your end goal just as fast.
Just say yes, and throw the ego out the door.
#filmmaking #filmschool #masterclass
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About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.
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