Film School Dropout Case Study

The day I moved in to my apartment building in 2006, I stumbled upon a small film shoot. There were bright lights, gaffing equipment, and a focused kid carrying a Panasonic DVX 100.

That kid’s name was Pete Atencio, and you’ve probably never heard of him. He isn’t ultra famous like Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino. But Pete has been working, yes working, steadily as a director ever since I met him in 2006, when he was just 23.

When we first met, Pete had already shot his first feature with a group of friends. The feature was called “Night of the Dog”, and it won the Audience Award at the Palm Beach film festival back in 2005. The amazing thing is that Pete and 5 friends used their Panasonic DVX 100 camera, came up with a funny story, and just shot the darn thing. It looks great and is very funny for a first effort.

I asked Pete if he went to film school. He told me had attended the Colorado Film School for one week, realized it was a complete waste of time, dropped out, and used the money to buy his own Panasonic DVX 100 camera. Like most working filmmakers, he taught himself the basics of shooting, lighting, and editing. He then went on to shoot the feature with his friends.

That helped leverage him into paid directing positions. When we met, he was working for TBS, which had a website called “SuperDeluxe”. Pete was shooting a short series he had pitched with comedian Jonah Ray (now the guy in those “Bing Commercials”. The series was called “The Freeloader’s Guide to Easy Living”. Here’s one of my favorites:

The key is, Pete was getting paid to direct, and slowly building his reel. He got other gigs shooting EPK’s at the Oscars, and eventually worked with another indie producer to shoot an action thrilled called “The Rig”.

I was surprised that Pete did a thriller, because his strength is definitely comedy. But it was a decent movie and another notch on his belt. But more importantly, he was entrusted with a six figure budget shooting on location in Louisiana. And, again, he was a working director.

Pete then went on to shoot some really funny videos that went viral on Youtube. “Twilight with Cheeseburgers”

The video has over 1.5 million views. He then shot another really funny sketch called “Drive Recklessly”, a spoof of Public Service Announcements. It’s VERY funny and has over 3 million views:

Finally, the stars aligned and Pete was hired to direct the show “Key and Peele” on Comedy Central. The show is very popular and extremely funny. They even have a sketch called “Obama’s Anger Translator”, where one of the guys plays Obama and the other one acts out, very colorfully, what Obama really means. The sketch was so popular, the President himself mentioned in on Jimmy Fallon last year.

Key and Peele continues to grow in popularity. Who knows what’s next for Pete? I found this photo of him shooting an early video…

it reminds me of the photos you see at New York Film Academy and other film schools. The only difference is that people like Pete had the stones to just grab a camera and start shooting things themselves, without paying a small fortune for permission to do so.



Pete’s a great example of Real Directing Career Success. There are hundreds of working Directors in film and television who are doing great work, getting paid, and more importantly, doing what they love. To learn how you can realistically start your directing career, visit

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