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Nino Film Blog | September 23, 2018

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Why studying film in college is still a good idea after all

Why studying film in college is still a good idea after all

I wrote this post originally for OMM! – the Open Media Magazine, a new iOS publication by talented young filmmaker/designer Daniel Freytag, who asked me to contribute to his first issue. It’s definitely worth checking out, it’s absolutely free for your iPhone and iPad, and the design and interface is very innovative and fitting to an iOS device. There are many other great articles included, among them one by my friend Mario Feil, who actually talks about why film schools were unnecessary for him 🙂

Future versions of the magazine will be web based and therefore available on all devices.
OMM! - the Open Media Magazine - media@home Freytag

I love the community that has sprung up around the revolution of DSLRs in recent years. The accessibility of cameras delivering a cinematic quality for low budgets has opened up opportunities to almost anyone interested in becoming a filmmaker. People who used to feel excluded from what used to be an elitist profession now have a better chance of making it simple because the gear is cheaper and quickly becoming ubiquitous.

As a result, a huge amount of short films are being made – obviously a lot of bad stuff as well, but the simple fact of more people doing films means more interesting films resulting from that as well.

Shooting a narrative short film for the CollabFeature project

This emergence of the previously under-privileged has resulted in a sentiment that film schools are largely irrelevant to learn the craft properly. As with many things, I find this is not a “yes or no” issue. Film and media schools are still invaluable in helping talented people realize their visions.

Cheap cameras alone don’t cut it. Yes, friends and other motivated people can help out to be your crew, but you will have a very hard time finding a good person for every job. Simply because you are most likely to be in contact with many other aspiring camera people if you are into cameras yourself. Or how many real script writers do you know? Line producers? You get my point.

Nino Leitner directing a scene in a narrative short film (photo by Claudio Carletti)

A film or media school will get you together with people from other fields in filmmaking that you are unlikely to meet otherwise. It will also bring you together with more experienced people (tutors, teachers) that are unlikely to be available as online mentors as well as people who are in a very similar life situation to yours (same age, same aspirations). This is a perfect mixture for success, because the chances to personally work with people that have the same ambitions are much larger in film school than through online socializing. And it’s about the actual working together when you learn most, and much faster than through constant back-and-forth emailing and tweeting.

When I prepare a shoot, the first people I think of as crew are the people I can trust, the people I have worked with before – and in most of these cases the first ones I call are people I studied with. I know what they are good at, I know what they are bad at – we were able to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a “non-danger” environment, that is non-commercial shoots as part of our classes.

Who said it was going to be easy? (photo by Claudio Carletti)

Many short films online that were shot on DSLRs have one thing in common: They are a succession of pretty shots with underlying music. I mean no disregard by saying this, I myself have shot a number of such films purely for my own pleasure, “because we can” with DSLRs and without a crew. However, most people agree by now that it is getting somewhat boring. Doing a narrative or documentary short with a real story is much harder to do – crew, actors and interviews are needed, as well as a script.

An increasing number of new shooters realizes now that pretty shots alone won’t cut it anymore. When a huge number of people are able to produce pretty pictures due to the combination of talent and affordable gear, they become increasingly meaningless. You will get most exposure and attention if you manage to be part of a crew shooting a narrative or documentary with a decent script – people always prefer to watch stories and characters they can identify with, but I feel it needs this more than ever before to stick out of the crowd.

If you try hard and pull a lot of favors, you can make a great short film without ever having seen a film school from inside. It will most likely take you longer, the process will be more rough, and you will most likely also have to fill roles in your crew that you don’t really want to fill. In film school, you are (ideally, depending on the school) fostered in an environment that lets you create as a director / DP / script writer / producer, depending on your main focus of study. You have to make films in order to be able to continue and finish your studies. You don’t need to worry about where to get the gear you need, it will be provided by the loan department of your film school – lights, cameras, and so on. You have tutors that guide you through the entire process to help you make most out of your vision. In short, you are not left out there alone. And you will learn to be a team player from the very start, preparing you to work on a professional set with other departments, actors and sometimes even clients.

My favourite working environment: Professionals I can trust, many of whom I got to know years back in film school

Good film schools (and there aren’t that many) will also help you create a network not only with colleagues, but also your teachers, who are acclaimed filmmakers themselves in the best film schools. You will have a tremendous head start over anyone not part of this system. Unfortunately this wasn’t too much the case in the media/film school I attended, but I still thrive on the network of colleagues as mentioned above. To be perfectly honest, there is a lot of VETTERNWIRTSCHAFT in our industry simply because it is so small, and what you see is often not what you get – it’s all built on trust.

In conclusion, if you are planning to become a professional filmmaker I would definitely suggest going through film school which gives you a chance to screw up, make mistakes, get to know people like (and unlike) yourself and exposing yourself to knowledge you might otherwise never acquire – the best preparation for a successful career in filmmaking. It’s mostly very tough to get in, but ultimately it pays off if you make it right.

Last but not least, you will also find yourself making more films that mean something.

Likeminded people all around you - an ideal production!

Comments

  1. Agreed Nino,

    Great article. I did a minor in Film Studies as part of my undergraduate degree and although it wasn’t “film school,” four years of learning film theory has been integral to everything I do. Watching an critiquing films, learning about the masters, the genres, how directors and DPs setup shots and what those shots signify, is crucial to making great work. In the end, it all comes down to story, no matter if it’s an avant-garde piece, a doc or a narrative. I’d like to think I can write a corporate script/commercial piece or narrative short because I’ve read scripts, know the rules of story structure and know my own strengths. School provided me with the theory and taught me to think analytically about the meaning of every shot. Ten years, later I still use what I learned then for what I’m doing now.

    Thanks for writing your article.

    • Thanks, I feel very similar about my experiences in film school. It was also more of a media school and unfortunately the story part wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as I would have wished for, but it was still ten times more than I could ever have learned doing it alone. And yes, it helps me with telling corporate stories as well.

  2. Agreed! And disagree. 😀 I attended CSUN as a film major. The best part of attending there for film was the dorms, we had a cinema & tv arts majors only building which is where most the learning and networking took place. I learned more in that 1 year then I have in any given year since. I never finished my degree there but I have friends and colleagues who have. Whenever we look back we all agree that we learned more making midnight horror flicks in our dorm rooms then we ever did from a class. The benefits they got from finishing was being placed in internships, many of which turned into their first full time industry jobs. It’s a different world, going to school for film.

    • Well that’s actually my point. Most of what you learn is from colleagues in your spare time. The real value lies in the network you build up, the people you get to know that you wouldn’t know otherwise.

      • Sebastian_TR

        100% Nino – Great Post, Through film school not only are you getting experience from being forced to create things and work with others in a team environment without risk or other outside factors but you are meeting + working + making friends with people who down the line can be a huge asset in helping you with your career and/Or projects.

        If you can do it (have the time + means)definitely go for it – my biggest advice to people is to try and also get experience ( paid or unpaid ) on work outside of film school – anything from corporate small jobs to shorts ( whatever interests you ) – That way when you do graduate you have a healthy range of real world / film school experience.

        Whatever path you take – be passionate , dedicated to your craft and persistent !

  3. After the little tirade I had with you on twitter – I really apologize. Having read the article i could not agree with you more. But i do have some reservations.

    Often times some teachers – whatever their reason act somewhat limiting without making plain the reason for so. They discouraging you from taking some risks – which a. may provide invaluable learning, b. is already in a safe environment as you say yourself.

    I also believe that film and media institutions must in part indulge in non-profit work so that they can not only expose students to some real world pressures of working professionally but can also provide a source of self sustenance to the institution and also lower fees to such places.

    there can be no real substitute to ‘practice practice practice’ and one must learn that just by going to a school does not make him great – one must endeavor to improve in and outside the purview of the institution.

    Now, what i really would like to discuss is – what would be the ideal curriculum for film in your mind?

  4. I agree… however there is a huge difference between real film schools and University film courses. I;m studying film production as part of an undergraduate film degree which is a load of rubbish. I wish I had went straight to full time film work after college. Real film schools such as NTFS which although are hard to get into give you real practice as awell as great contacts. Film school YES university NO.

  5. Jazz

    I’ve mixed feelings about studying film. My ND college course was brilliant i learnt alot in 2 years i was given a platform to carry on building my knowledge from. But at the next level (HND which i picked over degree for many reason) is definitely lacking, now in my final year i’ve probably learn more from philip bloom and sites i’ve found through him that my actual course. Ok i certainly wasn’t ready for the big bad word at 19 but 2.6k should get more abit more than unpaid work ex, though i guess the loan was nice it’s buying some gear.

  6. After the last post my University Film Production course has improved dramatically. As part of Drama Production we have to make a 20-30 minute drama film – We have 7 months to make it. The idea and script writing part of that will take up to 3 months of the time.

    We have to budget it, crew it and put it into film festivals – its just like making a real film (in fact we are making a real film!), I can’t believe they had us doing Power-point presentations last year.

    I’d advise anyone who wants to start a film course at University to check out just how practical the course is before they begin.

    I think we all agree that no education can beat the practical hands on experience of being on a set. One thing that they don’t teach in college that they defiantly should is ‘set etiquette’. X

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