We know you have questions about whether or not film school is
the right choice. So we went to the experts. In part one of our
roundtable discussion, New York Film Academy’s Jerry Sherlock and
Michael Young, Vancouver Film School’s Marty Hasselbach, AFI’s JJ
Jackman, UCLA’s Stephanie Moore, Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Charlie
Humphrey and Digital Media Education Center’s Jaime Fowler give
some insight into whether a career in film is right for you.
|Students at the New York Film Academy|
Jennifer Wood (MM): There’s been such a
long debate between moviemakers about whether or not film school
is a necessary step to success in the film industry. In a sentence,
why do you think film school is necessary?
Jerry Sherlock & Michael Young (NYFA): Film
school is not necessary to success in the film industry. However,
it can inspire and nurture you as you make your first movies, develop
confidence in the craft and work with challenging instructors and
Marty Hasselbach (MH): Film school gives people
the unique opportunity to learn, under the guidance of industry
experts, the filmmaking process from the inside out in a nurturing,
collaborative environment—one that cannot be synthesized or bettered
by the do-it-yourself school of filmmaking.
JJ Jackman (JJ): A film program can provide
a safe environment in which a filmmaker can stretch their creative
legs, and also provides access to resources (equipment, insurance,
etc.) that a young filmmaker might not otherwise have access to.
In addition, the contacts made at a film program can be invaluable
to future work as a filmmaker. The people sitting next to you and
the people teaching you are also filmmakers, and hopefully will
be working in the profession too.
Stephanie Moore (SM): It isn’t necessary, but
if you don’t have access to everything a film school can provide,
it’s highly recommended as a way to success in the film industry.
Charlie Humphrey (CH): Film school provides
vocabulary and history. Both are important. It also helps a young
filmmaker avoid the cliché, and helps them to understand
what a film community actually feels like. Filmmaking is a communal
activity, the most collaborative of all the contemporary art forms.
It helps to know how to work in this kind of an environment.
Jaime Fowler (JF): It isn’t always necessary,
but for most, it provides you with enough background and rudimentary
knowledge to determine a path in your film career.
MM: Of those filmmakers who have found success
without a film education background, people like Richard Linklater
and Quentin Tarantino, to what do you attribute their success?
NYFA: Successful filmmakers who did not go
to film school and successful filmmakers who did go to film school
share the same source of success: their own drive, talent, luck
and perseverance (not necessarily in that order).
MH: These people succeed because they not only
have an intuitive understanding of what makes great film, but because
they bring a passion for learning, a fearless attitude and a healthy
array of street smarts to the table. It’s a uniquely successful
combination reserved for certain personalities. Others with equal
or greater potential most often need expert guidance to fully develop
their skill sets.
JJ: Filmmaking is a tumultuous mix of creative
vision, artistic ability and business savvy. Excelling in one of
these areas can give a filmmaker that needed “boost” to get a career
off the ground, and the other elements are then learned through
experience. Like any art form, success at filmmaking has a huge
amount to do with luck, preparedness and the unavoidable “right
place, right time” variable.
SM: Passion, persistence and luck.
CH: They are still students of the form. They
consumed media voraciously. And they surrounded themselves with
people smarter than themselves.
JF: Certainly people can learn film by watching
film, so long as they’re analytical enough to dissect it. Watching
and dissecting film is a form of reverse engineering for filmmakers.
Still, you have to read the books or watch enough interviews with
directors to learn some of the secrets—and not all of the secrets
are told. I remember when I cut “Behind the Scenes” specials for
HBO that directors would ask me to pull out certain segments featuring
effects or gadgets that they didn’t want anyone to see.
I think of filmmaking as continuing education. You
don’t just learn how to do it, then stop. Directors are constantly
learning on the set through experimentation and on the spot decision
making. So once film school is over, you’re just starting.
MM: Even the best film school cannot teach
somebody how to behave in the various scenarios s/he will encounter
when working in the film industry. How can a film school prepare
a student for these inevitable occurrences?
NYFA: At the New York Film Academy, students
write, produce, direct, shoot and edit their own short films with
professional equipment. In addition, they work in all the principal
crew positions on their classmates’ films. This intensive production
experience prepares them to handle many of the same situations,
obstacles and creative choices they will face on professional productions.
MH: At the Vancouver Film School, we try to
prepare students in two key ways: First, we directly immerse them
in the filmmaking process and give them a great deal of autonomy
over their projects. As students deal directly with the problems
inherent in creating films, they come away with more than a set
of rules or procedures that should be followed; they also develop
a powerful set of problem-solving tools that be can applied to future
Second, we provide students with a holistic experience
of the filmmaking process. No matter their specialization, students
rotate through each set discipline. So when students get into the
workplace, they not only understand the impact their decisions have
on their work, but they also comprehend how their decisions will
affect others. This is critical to making sound decisions in a highly
JJ: AFI prepares its Fellows for the professional
filmmaking environment by mirroring that environment in its curriculum.
Fellows in the AFI Conservatory find themselves collaborating with
a wide variety of artistic styles, personalities and temperaments
as they work on several short films over the course of the program.
The Conservatory is designed to try to let them work out obstacles
they encounter on their own, in a professional manner.
SM: Film schools prepare students to work in
the film industry by giving them a solid foundation and the opportunity
to interact with their peers, the school’s faculty and with industry
CH: It really can’t. School is, by definition,
a nurturing atmosphere. The film industry is, by nature, vicious.
But a good film school will help a young artist to see past their
own narcissistic ideals and recognize the value of collaboration.
JF: Well, you can’t “teach” behavior in any
form. But we certainly try to suggest some strategies in working
with the director when the students cut their films at Film Camp.
The premise behind it was what I learned when I first came to Hollywood:
editing is 15 percent technical and creative and 85 percent diplomatic.
Being diplomatic can make or break a film career. People are always
updating technical and creative knowledge.