There are pros and cons to go to film school, as Baptiste explains in his article. Indeed, Col says you should not go to film school at all, but rather use that money to make your own film. But what about Film Studies? Throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate degree, I’ve had people getting super interested when I told them I study film, and then inevitably disappointed when they discovered I don’t actually make films. In this article, I will give you 5 reasons of why a Film Studies degree can help you, both when thinking about a future career in filmmaking, or in the film industry in general.
1) Get exposed to a wider range of films
Award-winning British-Nigerian filmmaker Joseph Adesunloye explains in Dušan’s insightful interview that a Film Studies degree was really useful for him, as exposing himself to different types of films made him more aware of what he would have liked to do in his own filmmaking. I have heard film lecturers joking about how one of the complaints they always get about their classes from first year students is that the syllabus doesn’t have film they know, or that were made recently. This isn’t always true, as for example my Cinema and Sentiment module last term started with a screening of The Gladiator. Sometimes you can end up write about a really recent film, as I did with La La Land. Yes, sometimes it is a treat to get to work on your favourite film. But if you want to expand your possibilities as a filmmaker and your knowledge of film, what you haven’t seen yet can be more important than what you have already seen. Nobody expects you to just pretend to go back in time and start making silent films all over again (though you can definitely do that if you want to)! However, your work is going to improve much more also by knowing what it doesn’t want to be. By imagining what film can be, you need to know what it has been in other decades and countries.
2) Learn the rules… and how to disrupt them
Like many intro to film courses, the first course that I attended focused on the various basic aspects that are part of a film (editing, sound, mise-en-scène, cinematography, etc). However, for each topic the film that was screened was not really showing how these basic rules can be followed, but rather how they can be bended and/or broken. Singin’ in the Rain might seem like a timeless classic to us (and in many ways, it is), but from a sound perspective, it breaks the well-established idea that, within continuity editing, the soundtrack should follow and be subordinated to the image. Thomas Elsaesser explains how, after the arrival of film sound, sound was supposed to simply explain the images. Instead, the film explores this transition in a way that constantly disrupts the smooth combination between sound and image, highlighting the artificiality of the soundtrack. As another example, had you noticed the subtle moments in which Hitchcock breaks the 180° rule in Vertigo? By pointing out these moments of disruption, you can get a clearer idea of how you can use traditional filmmaking practices to your own advantage, as well as disrupting them. And after all, us at Raindance are all about disruptive filmmaking!
3) Start looking at films differently
So you’ve seen a bunch of films that were really weird, and you’ve learned to formally analyse them in their different aspects. But what does all of this mean? This is where the rich and sometimes overwhelming world of film theory comes in. From André Bazin’s paradoxical statement that “cinema has not yet been invented” (part of what, for many film students, is the first film essay they get assigned to read), to Paolo Cherchi Usai’s equally seemingly absurd statement that “cinema is the art of destroying moving images”, you’ll find numerous writings and approaches that will constantly make you rethink what you know about cinema. Indeed, they will make you change the way you look at films. One of the most fascinating aspects of this is that theory changes through time and that indeed, you can challenge and criticise it. And it’s all very refreshing from a creative perspective – one of the ideas that personally mostly stuck to mind is Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author”. Barthes frees artists from the responsibility of making their intentions clear in their work, and instead focuses on the audiences’ creativity in interpreting said work, which can often lead to opposing interpretations. If done well, leaving your audiences confused can be a good thing!
4) Learn to describe what films do
The next step in your film studies journey is to learn to describe what films do. Sure, you’ll learn to write excellent essays by doing any university degree in the Humanities and, as I’ve been often told, that is the most useful thing you will learn at university (if you’re a writer, the proofreading of your scripts will be excellent!). But I’m talking more here about the ability to describe what happens in a specific scene or in a film as a whole – what do you see? What can you hear? How does it make you feel? Legendary film-philosopher Stanley Cavell talks in this interview about how a lot of the conversations we end up having about film are based on a “thumbs up/thumbs down” logic. Instead, he argues that we should be able to eloquently explain what a film is doing for us, both in an affective and in a critical way. I think that this can be an invaluable skill to anyone who wants to work in the film industry. Whether you’re a programmer, or a director, or a film reviewer, being able to explain, think and write about films is essential.
5) Build a network of likeminded filmmakers and film enthusiasts
This is something that is easy to overlook, but in his interview, Joseph Adesunloye talks about how, rather than for what they actually taught him, film school was helpful for him mostly because of the people he was able to meet. In that case, you can definitely do this as part of your Film Studies course, as well! Whether it’s during your actual lectures, or in a university Film Society, or at talks with filmmakers organised by your department, you’ll be always surrounded by people who either make or love films, and you’ll have the opportunity to build useful collaborations with them.
You should also remember that the definition between Film School and Film Studies isn’t as clear-cut. For example, some Universities (the University of Aberdeen is one of them) will offer Film Studies degrees that also include an optional practical side and, if you wish, you can create a short film as part of your dissertation.
Of course, as with all important decisions, there are pros and cons – university is really expensive, and you could technically just study film texts on your own. But if the university path is something that you’d be considering anyway, and if you understand the importance of an inspiring, engaging lecturer, then Film Studies is definitely something you should consider. And if you end up choosing the filmmaking path afterwards and you feel like you’ve had no proper practical training, why not register for one of Raindance’s short filmmaking courses?