Film School Alumni Advice: Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman of Ten Thousand Saints

When MovieMaker asked a range of successful indie filmmakers to participate in our Film School Roundtable article for our Summer 2015 issue, we received a wide range of insightful, hilarious, and diverse answers.

The three questions we asked each alum: What did you do right in film school, what did you do wrong, and what advice would you have for 2015’s incoming class of budding auteurs? Like the cool upperclassmen whose brains you always wanted to pick, but were too shy to vocalize, we’re happy to step in as your moderator and fraternal big brother.

This week, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Class of ’94 and ’95) share their wisdom. The husband-and-wife team, who met at film school, have written and directed 2003’s American Splendor and 2007’s The Nanny Diaries, amongst other films. Their latest collaboration, Ten Thousand Saints, premiered at Sundance this January and opens today.


1. What did you do right when you were in film school?

Robert Pulcini (RP): I didn’t overspend on my thesis short. I kept it under 10 minutes, under five grand, and ended up selling it all over the world. I got to travel with it to places like the Venice Film Festival, as many festivals prefer to program shorter shorts before features. I also didn’t over-nurture one pet script for years like many students do, but instead tried my hand at writing a variety of styles and genres.

Shari Springer Berman (SSB): I met an amazing group of friends, collaborators, colleagues and mentors (including my husband and partner) who continue to be an integral part of my life and career. Also, I took the school’s 16mm camera to Los Angeles—no, I did not check it with my luggage—and shot a feature-length documentary instead of a short.

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

2. What did you do wrong when you were in film school?

RP: I wish I had taken more cinematography classes. And it was probably a bad idea to smoke a cigar in producing class, especially given the fact that the professor was the head of the New York City Film Commission.

SSB: I should have taken more film history classes. I devoured tons of classic and foreign films on my own, but missed out on learning from amazing, knowledgeable scholars and critics.

3. What’s the one best piece of advice you’d give to an incoming film student, so that they can make the most of their time at film school?

RP: The best piece of advice I could give is to collaborate more. In my day, everyone wanted to be an auteur, and so few possess the entire skill set it requires to be one. Film is and always will be a collaborative art.

SSB: Try to get some life experience before you go to film school. Learning a craft is one thing but you need stories to tell and going from college to graduate school really limits your worldview. MM

Ten Thousand Saints opens in theaters and on Demand August 14, 2015, courtesy of Screen Media Films and Verdi Productions.

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