“I didn’t go to film school, I went to films.” Quentin Tarantino has been repeating that sentence to bewildered film journalist since the beginning of his career. That may sound like an arrogant statement from the new kid on the block, but Tarantino has consistently delivered in each outing for the past twenty-five years. Not attending film school didn’t hurt his chances too much.
At a time when everyone, including us at Raindance, champions DIY filmmaking techniques, one can wonder what’s the value of going to film school. After all, if you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve got your own film studio. Even Steven Soderbergh has just done it. And the masters didn’t all go to film school.
Film school dropouts
Sure, Quentin Tarantino could just be innately talented, and he may have ingested everything he saw when he was working at the video rental shop. Steven Spielberg could also be innately talented. He was refused entry into film school an incredible three times. He eventually dropped out to direct his breakout short film, the 25-minute long Amblin. Fun fact: Spielberg re-enrolled much later and eventually graduated. His Master’s degree project? He submitted Schindler’s List.
Christopher Nolan had to go to study English literature as his parents wouldn’t let him go to film school. While a student, he attended Raindance’s Lo-to-no budget filmmaking crash course. He decided he should start making films, so he made Doodlebug and went on to make his breakout feature for less than £5,000: Following. Perhaps we should be thankful that he didn’t go to film school, as his writing is perhaps as outstanding as his directing.
Live and learn
Now obviously, not every director that you love and look up to, dropped out of film school. Famously, Martin Scorsese went to NYU and that is where he met the one who was going to be his partner in crime in the editing room, Thelma Schoonmaker. This is one of the virtues of film school: you get to meet like-minded people, discover things with them and, perhaps, even make films together.
At university, Martin Scorsese also met a professor who was to become an important mentor in his formative years. And every filmmaker needs a mentor in order to grow. Many people use film school as a space to delay judgment on their work and the artistic merits of their output. On the contrary, getting feedback on your work, while potentially painful, is crucial to learning and improving.
While delaying, they go into the exploration of a discipline, whether it’s writing, directing, producing or camera work… Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog -who famously stole his first camera from the Munich film school- claims that you can learn anything you need in filmmaking in two weeks. With so essays and tutorials about filmmaking on YouTube, isn’t it just better to watch those, take a Raindance class for good measure, then go out there and make films?
Yes and no. Learning a discipline is necessary to acquire the craft that you want to practice. But how do you make the art come into your work? It’s not just about learning what a writer or director does. Things get interesting not when ou learn about the process, but when you learn about your process. What kind of writer do you want to be? What kind of images do you want to put up on the silver screen? What’s your voice?
This is the type of learning that students in the Raindance Postgraduate Degree engage in. They negotiate a pathway towards a goal that they have set themselves. They figure out a creative methodology to reach their objectives, push projects forward while being mentored by industry professionals.
This way, you can break the traditional silos that have separated filmmaking disciplines for so long, figure out what you want to do and go there full-throttle with the support of film practitioners.
Flex those muscles
In the end, whether you go to film school or not, survival of the fittest in this highly competitive industry is all about maintaining an output to make a name for yourself. It’s about flexing those filmmaking muscles and knowing what to reply when people tell you what not to do. It’s about knowing what you want to do, how you want to do it -independently from what anybody else says.