Stuff I Learned In Film School

Things I Learned at NYU Film School:

1. A C47 is what they call a clothespin on a film set. Also, an extension cord is called a stinger.

2. That’s it.

Seriously. When I entered NYU in 1996, I’d already been on a Pro Film set as a boom mic operator, grip, and PA. I’d also edited and shot live events in my hometown of Rochester, NY and shot a dozen short videos in my AV class. In fact, with the advent of Final Cut and HD Cameras, many high school students are learning more than film school students and paying much less for it.

NYU, like most film schools, took me back from where I was by dragging out the process of learning to make movies in academic slow motion. The only reason I did not drop out is because I was brought up with this belief that you should graduate college. But listen to PT Anderson, director of Boogie Nights, on why he dropped out of film school and what he did instead:

PT Anderson was sharp enough to see through this BS from the get go. I was not.

Listen to James Cameron’s thoughts on film school  in this hard to find interview from 1997 after he directed “Titanic”.

“Do you believe in film schools as a training ground for young filmmakers?

One of the best things that happened to me was that I didn’t go to film school. I used to go down to the USC library and read everything. I’d Xerox stuff. I made my own reference library of doctoral dissertations on optical printing and all that. I really studied technical stuff formally. But I didn’t study film aesthetics because I figured it becomes too solipsistic. It’s just about other movies. You need training; you need mentoring. And you need life experience. I was living life for a few years, hanging out with my druggie buddies down in Orange County, and studying physics and doing a lot of reading and traveling. So you have something to say, and some real-world experience that’s not just based on other movies.

The main thing is just picking up a camera and making a film. That’s the most important thing. People say, “How do you get to be a filmmaker?” I say, “Go home, pick up your video camera, and make a film.” Well, it’s on video, it doesn’t matter. But it’s an image; you’re deciding what goes into that image. People say, “Well, where am I gonna get the money?” Fuck the money. Get some people and just make a film. Because if you make a film and you put your name on it that says “Directed by,” even if it’s the worst piece of crap in the world and cost no money, everything after that, you’re a director. You’re just haggling over your price, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] And the budget. It scales up from there, but you’ve defined yourself in that role. If you can’t define yourself in that role to yourself, then you’re just chippin’ away at it, not really doing it.”

The entire interview is available in full here.

In school, you will learn a few things you can’t get in the real world.

You will learn to become arrogant, intellectual, and removed from the film business. You will spend hours writing papers and thinking about theories that have nothing to do with reality. You will learn from Professors who haven’t been on a film set for many, many years. You will stress yourself out trying to get a good grade from these professors.

You will learn to over think, over analyze.

You will network… with other people who are trying to network. You will meet Professors who may have some connections in the industry, but who aren’t interested or able to share those leads with their hundreds of students. You will use equipment that you could’ve bought yourself, that is being passed around and used by hundreds of other students, many of whom don’t know how to take proper care of it.

You will learn how to work on student film sets… which are like the blind leading the blind.

Smart filmmakers always get on pro film sets and learn from experienced filmmakers. They draw on their life experience and creativity, not things they learn in a classroom. They experiment, take risks, and take action.

You can, this very day, pick up a camera and start shooting. You can get on the internet and start networking. You can get on a film or tv set in your own hometown. You can start writing, creating, and living your dream, and learning how to do it right. You can learn about how to manage a set, create a vision, inspire people, budget, distribute, and actually have a real career in the business… or you can go to school, buy that lottery ticket, and hope everything works out.

The choice is yours. If you choose to learn the stuff you’d never get in school, then check out Film School Secrets.

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