Top 10 Self-Taught Filmmakers Who Made It In The Film Industry - Raindance

Who told you that you need special education to make films? Here at Raindance we always say: stop trying to get ready for it! Just take your camera and shoot the film, take a pen and write your script, seriously, just do it. This article presents 10 best filmmakers who never attended film school. These people proved that it is not about how much you know but about how much effort you put into what you do.


1. Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan on the latest Batman film set 'The Dark Knight Rises' New York City, USA - 28.10.11 Mandatory Credit: Mr Blue/


One of today’s most successful directors has never studied filmmaking. An English Literature student in UCL, Nolan made his first feature film Following on a budget of £3000. The film was a success during its festival period, and in two years was remade into the iconic Memento, which became a start to Nolan’s rapidly developing career.

2. Terry Gilliam


The director of the cult film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas graduated from Occidental College with a degree in Political Sciences. He then started his career as an animator, working on animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, later becoming a  co-director of Monty Python and Holy Grail. The first feature Time Bandits, written by Terry Gilliam himself came out in 1981 and became the first part of the Trilogy of Imagination, followed by Brazil (1985) and Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989).

3. Stanley Kubrick


One of the most widely recognized filmmakers of all time never attended film school. At high school Kubrick was chosen to be an official school photographer. After that, he attended evening classes at City College of New York for a short period of time, unable to enter a day-time university programme due to poor grades at school. Working as a freelance photographer, he started his filmmaking career by renting a camera and shooting a short documentary Day of the Fight. Inspired by its success, he continued making films, eventually presenting his first feature Fear and Desire in 1953. His career in Hollywood started 3 years later, with BAFTA Award winner – The Killing.

4. Quentin Tarantino


The creator of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards did not complete higher education either. He dropped out of school at 15 to start acting classes with the James Best Theatre High School but lost interest and left to work in Video Archives, where he learned a lot about cinema. His first film Reservoir Dogs was screened at the Sundance Festival and was an immediate success. Two years later he wrote and directed Pulp Fiction, which brought him his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

5. Wes Anderson

CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 16: Director Wes Anderson attends the 35th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards at the InterContinental Hotel on January 16, 2010 in Century City, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for LAFCA) *** Local Caption *** Wes Anderson

He developed an interest in filmmaking in early childhood, when he used to take his father’s camera to make silent films. Wes Anderson graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in philosophy, meanwhile working part-time as a cinema projectionist. His first film Bottle Rocket was reviewed well but performed poorly in the box office. However, as we all know, his later films such as Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel were very successful and brought the director numerous awards, including an Oscar.

6. Steven Spielberg


From early childhood, Steven was making amateur adventure films with his father’s 8mm camera. When he became a Boy Scout, he earned his first ‘award’ – a photography merit badge – by making a short film called The Last Gunfire. At the age of 16 he made his first feature on a budget of $500 borrowed from his father, and screened it in the nearest cinema, getting the $500 back. However, his attempts to enter the University of Southern California’s Film school failed due to low grades at school, so he graduated from California State University with a degree in English. His first debut feature The Sugarland Express was praised by critics, and in a very short time was followed by Academy Award winner films – Jaws and Close Encounters.

7 and 8. Andy and Lana Wachowski


Lana attended Bard College in New York, Andy went to Emerson College in Boston. However, they both dropped out before graduating and started running their own house-painting and construction business, while working for Marvel Comics as writers. They then started careers in the film industry, writing the script of Assassins (1994), bought by Warner Brothers. Finally, they got a chance to direct their own film The Matrix, the most well-known work of the two.

9. Ethan Coen

Unlike his brother Joel who completed a 4 year undergraduate programme in film, Ethan graduated from Princeton university with a degree in philosophy. He wrote and directed Blood Simple with his brother in 1984, which was their first feature film together. The brothers’ later projects included The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007) and Burn After Reading (2008).

10. Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson: 'As a film-maker, you have to convince people to follow your madness'

Last but not least! Paul Thomas Anderson only spent two semesters studying English in Emerson College, and just two days at New York University before starting his career in film. His first work was the short film titled Coffee and Cigarettes (1993). It was screened at the Sundance Festival. His first feature length film Hard Eight came out 3 years later, which launched his career in filmmaking.