Do film schools provide value to students and are they really worth the exorbitant amount of money they charge for teaching filmmaking? Lets find out.
Lot of youngsters who wish to make a career making films are unsure if they should attend a traditional film school, as it costs them a huge amount in fees.
While college education is a must, can the same be said about attending film school? Will a film school degree guarantee success? Lets find out.
Filmmaker Seth Hymes
Let’s hear it out from filmmaker Seth Hymes worked as Production Assistant, Sound Tech and an Editor when he was in high school. After high school, he attended film school and graduated from NYU with honors. Later, he worked as an editor for Fox News Channel and also managed to get two features into production.
Here are excerpts from his interview, which was originally published here.
There is no value offered by formal film school education. “Value” basically means adding worth to your life for a reasonable cost. A lot of people say things (about film schools) like “you learn the basics” and it’s a “good place to experiment”.
In film school, you write a check for $100,000. In return, they give you a $2,000 video camera and tell you how to push the on button. Are you going to learn something? Sure. Is it valuable? No. There is no value in learning basic technical concepts for an obscene mark up in cost.
But you also learn networking at film schools, and get access to equipment. Isn’t that of value?
Seth says the three main “values” of film school — access to equipment, lessons in filmmaking craft and networking/connections — are no longer relevant.
In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when people like Lucas, Scorsese, and Spike Lee went to film school, it was probably a good investment. You couldn’t just pick up a high quality HD camera and start shooting. Filmmaking equipment cost a ton of money and was hard to find. You really couldn’t learn about things like continuity and storyboarding without either apprenticing with a filmmaker or going to school. And it was a good place to meet other creative professionals.
However, things have changed a lot today.
- High Definition filmmaking equipment costs less than a semester at most film schools.
- Filmmaking techniques, such as lighting, editing, shot composition, writing – everything is available online.
- These days, most connections happen also through the net. In fact, many new filmmakers find their agents online (rather than meeting them in school) because one of their short film gets attention on YouTube.
So, Seth Hymes does not recommend anybody attend film school. “Not only are the schools making a huge profit, they do not teach anything of real value, especially things like networking, fundraising, or film distribution.”
If any school is charging more than $100 to $1000, they are making an obscene profit and should be dismissed outright. There are lot of filmmakers who have over $50k as film school debt. While some grads may not like to hear the truth, the consensus everywhere is that film school is a waste.
So what alternatives (to film school) should students consider?
Seth recommend that students save their money, buy their own equipment, and learn how to shoot their own movie. These days, filmmakers can learn everything about the craft in a week or so.
- Seth Hymes has written a book “Film Fooled” which provides a class by class account of NYU’s film curriculum; he says you will be surprised to see that you’re not missing out on anything by skipping film school.
- Seth Hymes also has a website where he teaches what to do instead of film school, how to be taken seriously as a director from day one, how to get on real film sets, meet real working filmmakers, write feature scripts, manage a set, hire film students, and get seen. Anyone taking my course will be 4 years ahead of any film school student in just a week.
Seth’s Website: filmschoolsecrets.com.
George Lucas on Filmmaking
Top filmmaker George Lucas (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) recently made an outburst against the big studios, saying they “Don’t Have Any Imagination And Don’t Have Any Talent”.
“Although the entrepreneurs who ran the studios were sort of creative guys, they would just take books and turn them into movies and do things like that. Suddenly all these corporations were coming in and they didn’t know anything about the movie business. They were like…well we don’t trust you people and we think we know how to make movies. The studios change everything all the time. And, unfortunately, they don’t have any imagination and they don’t have any talent,” said Lucas in an interview.
Zhang Yimou on Filmmaking
Here are some film-making tips from legendary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou who has directed classics such as Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, Red Sorghum, The Story of Qiu Ju, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, and The Flowers of War.
Anyone Can Direct
Have faith in yourself. You maybe not have enough money to make a film; people might not trust you, but if you have the talent and the will to do it, eventually you will shine.
Specific to the current Chinese film industry, Zhang says literally anyone can make a movie today because there’s enough investments to go around.
Know Your Audience
Zhang initially made movies that the Chinese saw as too influenced by the West. “They’ve accused me of pandering to the West for 10 years. But 10 years ago I hadn’t even been abroad. If you want to please the Western audience you have to know them. He concedes, meticulously concerned about his audience (surely, no cardinal sin) and aware of the importance of balancing the needs of those at home, who have lived through what he films, with those of the West.
More than 20 years later, Zhang updated his status as a rare Chinese filmmaker able to make movies that appeal to Western audiences while still being very much Chinese movies: To export Chinese culture, you have to follow their format. You have to be careful and entertaining, you should not be too academic, otherwise it will not be efficient and accepted by foreign audiences. You have to succeed in this. If the film fails, your mission to export culture will fail too.
Be Unique But Not Too Complicated
A work should be unique in idea. I think many Hollywood movies reflect a simple world outlook. Instead of putting emphasis on the breakthrough of the content, the symbolic aspect, they stress other entertainment elements to attract an audience, such as sensational approach and a high technological skill. They carry a high price tag, and sometimes are very well done, with love scenes and action.
But in terms of artistic value, the symbolic meaning of the movies, some of them, not all, are kept plain. They may just draw lines of moral value, such as struggles between good and evil, something we are educated about once and for all in high school.
I think movies should have more than just these, they should touch more varieties of the society, different aspects of life, and reflect people. They are more for development, more to explore. Of course this is only my personal view, each person may have their own view.
I don’t think a film should carry too much theory. After all, it is not philosophy or a concept to be taught in a classroom. I tend to believe that films are about emotions. An artist’s ideas should be understood naturally through emotions. I think the subject matter of a film should be simple. Only after it is simplified, after the thoughts are simplified, can the capacity and power of emotions [of a film] be strengthened.
If the subject matter and thoughts are too complicated, emotions will definitely be weakened.
Never Stop Learning
It’s been more than three decades since Zhang graduated from the Beijing Film Academy, and in that time he has become one of the most recognized and acclaimed Chinese filmmakers in the world. But he’s also still a student.
To be honest, I think I’m myself a student of moviemaking. I constantly learn how to make a good film. I get this lifetime achievement award but I think I am still learning and still have a long way to learn. The more you see, the more you learn, and filmmakers must never stop learning.
The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise has been directed by some great talents – Gore Verbinski, Rob Marshall, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg.
Filmmaking tips from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ directors
Here’s what these directors have to say to budding filmmakers (each director represented once for every installment they worked on).
Always Be. Shooting (ABS)
“I would say my one piece of advice would just to always be shooting. Just ‘ABS’, as we say. There’s no reason not to. You’re never going to have the perfect set of circumstances. You’re never going to be in an ideal situation with the right script or the right cast or the right budget, so you might as well get used to it. Grab your phone, grab your friends, tell a story, chuck it in the trash, tell another one. Chuck it in the trash if you don’t like it. If you like it, put it out there. Just that waiting and thinking that you’re waiting for some sort of conduit or some access point to become a filmmaker. You are a filmmaker. Just take that to heart,” Verbinski
Don’t be too picky, but don’t play it safe
Verbinski says filmmakers shouldn’t be too picky but they also shouldn’t play it safe. He says go ahead and take chances/
“You have to approach every movie like it’s your last. I think that boundary of “I’m not sure” is a great place to be, pushing right up against that seam of the unknown. A Pirate movie is not supposed to work. That’s great, let’s do it! “Have you ever made an animated movie?” “No, don’t know how. Let’s do it!” The gig is gonna be up someday, so why not just go for it?…I mean, I like an Egg McMuffin, but I don’t want to make one.”
Don’t Ask for Permission
The trick is to not ask for permission…You are willing something into being. You do not ask for permission…Our audience wants us to surprise them. They demand it of us. When they see something that’s new, they will champion it because they discovered it,” Verbinski.
Marshall says, as a director, you should choose a project that will educate you and enrich your life, because you’re going to be doing it for two years.
In a 2015 Hollywood Reporter interview, Marshall affirms this advice when discussing the same moment in his career, when he went from Chicago to Memoirs of a Geisha:
“The thing I wanted to do following [Chicago], because I was in this very rare position that you get very few times in your life where you can pick and choose what you like to do, was something completely different and challenging. I didn’t want to do Chicago 2.
I’ve sort of felt that way all of my career: I’ve always looked for something that’s very hard and challenging to do, not something that’s easy to do — and something that also gives you some kind of life experience. You want to do something that really is life-enriching and unique.”
Here’s what Ronning and Sandberg have to say.
“We don’t have a choice! [Laugh] It’s that easy! The budget, the 15 million dollar budget, that’s… to put it in perspective, that’s the biggest ever coming out of Scandinavia. I think that it’s one of our strengths, to put it all up on screen and then some. Going into making Kon-Tiki, we were very inspired by the movies of David Lean and early Spielberg and stuff like that, and making it epic somehow. That’s not necessarily the most expensive shots. The big shots, the helicopter shots. That’s like a half a day of helicopter and you’ve got them. So it’s really… It’s know how to spend the money and I think you have to learn that as a Scandinavian director. As a Norwegian film director you really have to be on top of the budget because you don’t have money, basically.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which we’re working on now, is $300 million. Even then, you’re always in a squeeze somehow. There’s never enough for what you want to do.”
Movies Should Be Epic
Ronning and Sandberg advice filmmakers to aim big, again with the reason that you’re competing with TV now:
“I think it’s important for us to tell these bigger stories and that has been happening in Scandinavia lately with films like Denmark’s A Royal Affair which was also nominated at the Oscars. They cost more but the audience wants that. They respond to that. We believe that’s partly because there’s so much great drama on television. So we have to step up when we make movies for the theatres. To make people come we have to tell bigger stories and tell them in a more epic way.
I think we love making epic movies, movies for the big screen. There’s so much great drama on television these days that you really have to.”
Watch: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN – Behind The Scenes