Even though the cost of production equipment has plummeted over 100% in the past 10 years, the number of film schools in the same period of time has nearly tripled.
With Federal Student Aid still readily available, it’s become quite lucrative for schools to open their doors, cram 30 kids into a classroom at $30,000 a head, and teach them rudimentary filmmaking skills with used equipment.
However, the competition for students has become fierce, with new schools popping up every day. As such, the marketing department of both new and old schools is on overdrive to make their program seem the wisest investment for incoming students. But at the end of the day, all of these supposed bonuses are just gimmicks compared to what is really required to work in the film business.
The newest trend is to include very low cost digital filmmaking equipment as part of a student’s tuition. This is theoretically a great idea. After all, it’s 2013. Students at NYU are still paying $46,000 a year to use Panasonic DVX 100 cameras that cost $85 a day to rent. Students at the Art Institutes pay $90,000 for a 3 year program where they borrow consumer level DSLR cameras that can be purchased for $1,000 to $1,500.
So it’s somewhat refreshing to see a couple of schools stepping up and offering students the chance to OWN their a camera of their own rather than sharing equipment with 100 other students. The digital era as made this equipment affordable, so let’s take advantage.
It sounds like a good idea… but what about the execution?
1. $28,638 for an $800 Camera?
Santa Fe University, a relatively new school, offers students in their film program their own Canon t4i digital camera. This is a great camera; if lit properly its images rival much more expensive cameras on the market. However, the camera costs $700 to buy on Amazon and you still get to “keep it forever”, as the schools ad copy suggests. The film program at Santa Fe University is $28,836 without factoring in production costs.
Does that make sense? Just buy the darn camera on your own.
2. Video Symphony: $20,000 for Netflix?
Video Symphony’s year long New Media program has a $21,000 price tag. They also provide an entry level DSLR Video camera to students with 2 additional lenses, for an acknowledged $1,000 value. But the funniest thing is part of their marketing material, in which they highlight one of the many advantages of attending their program:
That one is my favorite. Yes, I don’t know how I would ever manage to get, much less afford, my own Netflix subscription without enrolling in an advanced film program.
Actually this highlights the main reason why film school certification is silly. In the old days you really needed a school to watch reel to reel movies. Today, not so much.
3. Full Sail: $65,000 for a $249 Lighting Kit
Full Sail is my favorite. Their Online Digital Cinematography Degree (dear God, please do not waste your life and money on this) costs a mere $70,000 for 2 years. I don’t know what the heck you do in the first year, because its only in the second year that you get your hands on some entry level production equipment.
And I do mean entry level. A laptop, some basic software. But my favorite is the lighting kit that costs $249 to buy at B&H:
If you want to invest your life savings to get basic filmmaking instruction and equipment you could have bought for a fraction of the cost, then by all means apply to one of these film schools. But if you’re serious about starting a directing career the smart way, then go to filmschoolsolution.com.
Late last year I had the pleasure of checking out a hilarious play called “Point Break Live”. It was, you guessed it, based on the movie “Point Break” starring Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, and the late great Patrick Swayze.
The play was a blast: literally. I had to buy a plastic rain poncho to avoid getting sprayed by the water they used on stage to simulate the ocean; the bank robbers all squirted the audience with fake blood. It was awesome! They even pick a member of the audience to play the main role. The night we went, they picked a British guy to play Johnny Utah, and that made it even more funny.
The play took some of the movies most memorable and cheesiest lines and played them up in really creative ways. They even had a cue card girl feeding lines to the guy playing Johnny. And they had a woman playing Katherine Bigelow, who would occasionally step in and direct the new actor.
Here’s some highlights of the evening (apologies for the shaky video):
Unfortunately, the play has been retired. But thankfully, it’s been replaced with a new play “Terminator Too: Judgment Play”, which will apparently rehash the entire plot of this classic action movie. And a member of the audience gets picked to play “The Terminator”. Here’s a promo:
I never got into “Rocky Horror” but I now definitely see the appeal of movies that inspire audience participation. As far as I know, these plays are only being done in LA… but let yourself be inspired. Maybe you can think of a cheesy 80s or 90s movie and turn it into a wild play of your own!
All these guys needed was a stage, some squirt guns, a bunch of crazy actors and their imagination and they put together something really, really fun. They didn’t have permission and just came up with the idea out of nowhere. Who says you can’t do the same thing?
You can check out the new play by clicking here or going directly to:
PT Anderson, director of “There Will Be Blood”, “Boogie Nights”, “Punch Drunk Love”, and a slew of other great movies, was once enrolled at NYU Film School.
For a Week.
But before the Bursar could completely digest his tuition, he smartly got out, got most of his money back, and used it to help make his first film.
But what exactly inspired Mr. Anderson so bolt from NYU so quickly? The amusing answer is in this video below:
Spoiler Alert: So here’s what happened. PT admits that, like most new filmmakers, he didn’t have the confidence to just go out and make a film, so he figured school was the right move. He got into NYU and one of the Professors on the first day said, “At NYU we make films, real films. So if you want to make ‘Terminator 2’, then leave.” (I think I actually heard that same speech when I was a freshman in 1996).
PT was stunned. He thought to himself, “T2 is a pretty awesome movie. And what if I want to make a movie like that, or the person sitting next to me wants to make a movie like that?” So he decided to test his Professors.
They had an assignment, to demonstrate a character’s experience through a scene. And instead of writing his own, PT lifted a scene from “Hoffa” by Award Winning Writer David Mamet. In that movie, he shows Danny DeVito’s character trying to stay awake while driving by letting his cigarette burn down to his fingers, so it woke him up. As PT said, it was beautiful, elegant, and simple, and from the mind of one of the great master writers.
He handed it in, and the Professor gave him a “C”.
That was all he needed. PT dropped out, got his money back and started shooting his own movies. 🙂
Be like PT. To learn how to shoot and sell your first feature and get your career going, check out filmschoolsolution.com.
Every new filmmaker should study movies made in the 1970s as an example of what can be done with visceral storytelling and camerwork, and no special effects. The ’70s were an awesome time for gritty, realistic cinema. It was known as the heyday of the “Director/Auteur”, before Michael Cimino single handedly bankrupted United Artists with “Heaven’s Gate”.
A little context: in the 1970s the DIRECTOR was considered king in Hollywood, and its how Coppola and Lucas, etc. were able to get their visions realized even if the studios hated what they were doing. (Note: Paramount wanted Robert Redford to play Michael Corleone in “The Godfather”). Filmmakers like Coppola stuck with their guns and made great movies that made money, so the Producers and Studios were forced to play second fiddle.
Then, in 1980, Michael Cimino directed a movie called “Heaven’s Gate”. He was given free artistic license, as his previous film “The Deer Hunter” was a critical and box office smash. But Cimino choked: the budget bloated up to $44 Million (insane back then) and made about $3 Million in box office. It was one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history, and it actually destroyed the studio that funded it, United Artists.
After that, the Producers took over, leading to our current world of “Smurf” remakes. With Producers and Studios no longer granting that kind of freedom to directors (even Paul Thomas Anderson has to fight for his next gig), the quality of films has suffered, as has the authentic voice of the filmmaker. And the “grit” and “reality” of that decade gave way to the “Police Academy” movies of the 80s.
Here’s a list of 7 hard hitting movies from that lost decade that will light a fire under your ass.
1. The Deer Hunter (1978)
A group of Steel workers get sent to Vietnam. And things get really messed up. The movie spends the first hour at a wedding, getting to know the characters, including a young Christopher Walken, Jon Cazale (“Fredo” from “The Godfather”), and Robert DeNiro. The movie also has Merly Streep. By the time these guys are POWs being forced to play Russian Roulette, you really feel for them. Absolutely grueling; if you get into it, prepare to have a box of tissues handy after the ending scene.
This movie is so darn good, you can see why UA trusted Cimino with his next project in 1980.
2. Serpico (1973)
One of Al Pacino’s first roles was as Frank Serpico, the real life NYPD cop who refused to be bought. Back in those days the New York Police Department was infested with corruption. Serpico wouldn’t take any bribes, so he was shunned by the other cops and eventually got shot on duty. The movie features great tension, gritty scenes, and classic Pacino passion. Here’s a scene:
3. Deliverance (1972)
This is one messed up movie! And a classic. Simple story: 4 suburban middle aged guys go canoeing down a river in the Appalachian mountains. They end up being assaulted by 2 terrifyingly real hillbillies. Jon Voight has to turn in “Rambo”. Burt Reynolds bone pops out of his leg, Ned Beatty gets raped. I’ll spare you that scene, but this one below typifies the suspense and excitement and menacing feel of this movie. If you watch, look fast at the end of Ed O’Neil (Al Bundy!) in one of the final scenes as a highway cop.
4. The Conversation (1974)
Not as violent as the other movies in this list, it’s still an intense and well made example of a great 70s thriller, with foreshadowing to the future. Gene Hackman (it’s Gene Hackman!) stars as a surveillance expert who begins obsessed with a conversation he recorded while spying on a couple for a client, and soon he is in danger. It’s pretty creepy stuff.
Also features Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall.
Here’s the trailer:
5. The Marathon Man (1976)
Laurence Olivier plays a sadistic former Nazi War Criminal turned mad Dentist. What more could you want? Hoffman is the innocent shleb caught in the middle of a nefarious plot. His brother, played by Roy Scheider (from “Jaws”) is some kind of a secret agent. Olivier is convinced that Scheider told Hoffman something about his hidden diamonds, and this is bad news for Dustin. Featuring an opening car chase scene between an old Nazi and a Jew with explosions and one of the creepiest dental torture scenes every recorded.
6. The French Connection (1971)
Gritty detective drama. Gene Hackman (again!) is a tough as nails cop named Popeye Doyle on the trail of a heroin dealer. Featuring the following classic car chase scene:
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Okay, so technically it’s a horror movie. But it’s really a 1970s horror movie. Compare it to the many sequels and remakes and you will find this remains superior. The final chase scene alone still inspires me to panic attacks. It’s a classic setup, a bunch of kids happen upon an abandoned house inhabited by…. some crazy mofos. But the execution and debauchery, especially at the end, is just great straight up in your face filmmaking.
(Spoiler Alert: This clip is the ending).
Such great stories, such great filmmaking, no special effects! Add these same elements to your first feature and watch how it gets people in the gut.
To learn more about shooting your first feature and starting your directing career without film school, check out our upcoming webinar by going to filmschoolsolution.com.
A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and went to a matinee screening of “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson’s rise to fame as the first African American baseball player in the Major Leagues. This was opening day for the movie, and it was like opening day at a baseball game. The theater was packed with kids, and everyone cheered when Jackie got a hit and booed when he faced racist taunts. We realized later that we were in the middle of several school field trips that day!
It was a great film; emotionally manipulative for sure, with the director overdoing it a little bit with the Orchestral music (“we get it, he’s a hero, please lower the string section so I can hear again.”) Chadwick Boseman gave a great performance for a newcomer, and Harrison Ford is refreshingly unrecognizable in a wonderful performance as Branch Rickey, who orchestrated Jackie’s rise to the Majors.
What I didn’t realize is that this was the second time Jackie’s story had been told on screen. The first time was way back in 1950, only a few years after the events in the movie actually happened! That film was called “The Jackie Robinson Story” and it starred… Jackie Robinson?
Jackie Played Himself in a Feature Film?!
That’s right. For whatever reason, Hollywood decided to make a biopic about Jackie soon after his dramatic entrance intro baseball. And… for some reason, they decided to have him star as himself in the movie. Kind of an oddity in Hollywood’s history. Usually biopics happen long after their subject has aged or is dead. Even if “Walk the Line” was made 30 years ago, I can’t imagine Johnny Cash playing himself. Or Larry Flynt playing himself instead of Woody Harrelson in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt”.
But Jackie turns in a decent performance. If baseball didn’t work out, he could have been a successful supporting character in the pictures. The movie is actually in the Public Domain, which means you can watch it in its entirety without feeling guilty through Youtube, embedded below.
There are a ton of movies where actors play themselves to a comedic end. Neil Patrick Harris plays himself in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”. John Malkovitch plays himself in “Being John Malkovitch” (as does Charlie Sheen!). It’s usually a cameo, and its funny.
But I was trying to think of another time Hollywood did this with a biopic, having someone play themselves in a serious role. The only thing I could think of was 8 Mile with Eminem. That’s a fictionalized version of his life, with Eminem playing a character who goes through similar things, but its not verbatim. Eminem doesn’t play Marshall Mathers. Can you think of another example? If so, comment below.
There’s some sayings in Hollywood. “Give Me The Same Thing, But Different!” and “All Great Stories Have Already Been Told.” Within the Industry, there is an ongoing battle between the sparkle of originality and the safe harbor of shit that has already been done and made a lot of money. And this ideological battle has spawned a swarm of remakes in past years, apparently putting originality, creativity, and the moviegoing public on the losing side.
While remaking “Point Break” may be a damnable offense, many great filmmakers and writers manage to “borrow” scenes, troupes, or little nuances from other classic filmmakers and make them even better. When “borrowing” is done right, it becomes an “homage”. Or it’s missed by most of the audience altogether public.
Here’s a few examples: (or you can check out my video blog version on Youtube by clicking here).
1. “The Departed” and “The Third Man”
Carol Reed’s classic “The Third Man” features a long, long, long ending shot with some very signature Zither music. What better way to demonstrate a woman giving a man the cold shoulder than having him wait expectantly for her, only to have her walk by and completely ignore him? It’s a simple concept, but very impactful, especially given how long it takes her to walk by!
In “The Departed”, made 50+ years later by Martin Scorcese, he demonstrates a woman’s disdain in the same manner. Except this time it’s Matt Damon being snubbed by Vera Farmiga, and the shot is shorter. But it’s the same basic framing and setup. Pretty cool… er.. cold that is.
2. Luca Brazi and Demi Moore: Mumbling Redux
Who has less in common than Luca Brazi from “The Godfather” and Demi Moore’s Cmdr. Joanne Galloway from “A Few Good Men?” Well, they aren’t so different after all. Screenwriter Arron Sorkin, obviously well schooled in classic cinema, honed in on an effective and somewhat humorous troupe from the Coppola classic.
In “The Godfather”, Luca Brazi, the muscle behind Don Corleone, mumbles to himself a practice speech he plans to say when thanking the Don for being invited to his daughter’s wedding. But when he finally goes to deliver the speech, he stumbles over his words. A small moment, but somewhat endearing.
In “A Few Good Men”, Demi Moor’s character mumbles to herself, practicing how she’ll ask to be assigned as counsel to the case that’s the center of the movie. But when she goes to ask, she stumbles over her words as well, and it’s amusing.
3. “Pulp Fictions” homage to “Psycho”: The Boss Run In
Two very non comedies provide a moment of near absurdest humor with this troupe. In “Psycho”, Janet Leigh’s character steals a lot of money from her boss, then skips town. But on the way, who should walk right in front of her car but… her boss? Crazy! Simple, unnerving Hitchcock.
So it should be no surprise that today’s modern master of the squeamish, Quentin Tarantino, paid homage to this scene in “Pulp Fiction”. Here, Butch (played by Bruce Willis) has successfully conned mob boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) out of money by not throwing the fight he was supposed to and betting on himself. He then shoots John Travolta and is about to skip town when… he happens to run int Wallace crossing the street!
Same fundamental setup, different executions.
You can see the difference between an intelligent homage and a blatant rip off or remake. Rather than just flatly copying an original story, a good filmmaker grasps the fundamental essence of the scene, moment, or setup from another film, owns it, then reappropriates it organically into their own story.
It’s something you can do in your films, and it’s particularly forgivable and even celebrated in a first feature. (Consider “Swingers” homage to “Goodfellas” and “Reservoir Dogs”). To learn more about shooting your first feature and starting your directing career without film school, check out our upcoming webinar by going to filmschoolsolution.com.
I remember when my Dad took me to see “The Naked Gun!” back in the eighties. I was 10 years old, and to me, I had just discovered the meaning of life. Any movie that featured a man inadvertently broadcasting himself peeing to a crowded courtroom was, by all measurements, brilliant. The movie was a huge hit for the writing and directing team of Jerry Zucker, David Zucker (brothers) and Jim Abrams.
The three had previously collaborated on a number of other popular comedies, including Airplane! in 1980. But before then, the guys were just like any other struggling aspiring filmmakers. Their first feature “Kentucky Fried Movie!” consisted of a series of random and hysterical sketches. John Landis directed and they wrote. The movie developed a cult following, even though numerous producers warned them against making a feature film that was just a bunch of sketches.
With “Airplane!” they established themselves as a comedy powerhouse. Then, in 1982 they developed a TV series for ABC called “Police Squad!” It was a deadpan comedy about a clueless cop named Lt. Frank Drebin. Sound familiar? Yes, Police Squad! was the precursor to the “Naked Gun!” franchise. It has the exact same style of humor. My favorite gag, featured in the clip below, makes fun of those “freeze frame” endings from sitcoms that were so popular in the 1980s. In their version, the Zuckers didn’t actually freeze the image, but had Leslie Nielsen and company simply freeze themselves. Hilarity ensues.
“Police Squad!” only aired 6 episodes before it was cancelled. WHAT?! It’s true. Audiences were just a lot dumber back then. In all seriousness, I think it proves that the Zuckers were ahead of their time. Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons, was quoted as saying: “If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”
I concur. And since Mr. Nielsen has passed on, and there will sadly be no more Frank Drebin movies, I invite you to check out these early gems that are often overlooked. You can all the episodes on DVD through Amazon. Or, you can just do a Youtube Search. I actually found someone that had uploaded episode 1 right here, as you can see below.
The path of Writing and Directing is always unpredictable. Who could have guessed that 6 years after their TV show was cancelled, the Zuckers would be able to resurrect their core concept into a smash comedy movie like “The Naked Gun!” For whatever reason, 6 years later and in movie form versus TV, audiences responded wildly to their sense of humor.
Do you dream of making movies for a living? To learn more about shooting your first feature and starting your directing career without film school, check out our upcoming webinar by going to filmschoolsolution.com.