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damZway

Film school or DIY?

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Any advice for a beginner filmmaker?

Was the film school experience worthwhile?

There seems to be debate regarding the necessity of formal schooling as a opposed to a DIY approach?

What is your view?

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Any advice for a beginner filmmaker?

Was the film school experience worthwhile?

There seems to be debate regarding the necessity of formal schooling as a opposed to a DIY approach?

What is your view?

The only advice I can give to a beginning filmmaker is to examine your experience and needs. When making a decision as to whether to go to a film school or to take the DIY approach, there are a number of questions I think you should ask yourself first:

1. Are you a self-starter and do you follow-through on projects no matter how tough things get?

2. Do you have any artistic experience or predilections? Do you consider yourself a creative person?

3. Do you have any knowledge about the filmmaking process?

4. What is your purpose for wanting to make films (to be a director, writer, producer, a combination of any of these)?

5. What kind of film are you interested in making as your first film?

6. How are you set financially? Could you afford to raise money for a film independently?

There are others, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind. I really do believe that this decision will depend on an individual's situation and who they are as a person when they are having to make it. When I decided to go to film school, I had been a philosophy major in college and was, for the most part, an introverted, analytical person. Also, although I had been very artistic as a child (with drawing, painting, and playing musical instruments), I never thought of film as an art form or had any idea how a film was made. I had made a few short "movies" with a super 8 camera in high school and taken a few film theory courses in college, but the whole endeavor still seemed rather abstract. Therefore, the idea of jumping into the actual making of a film would have been ludicrous. Film school was the perfect venue for me to learn about the craft and to "come out of my shell," so to speak. I sorely needed to learn how to communicate with people on a different level than I was used to in order to make movies. Not to say that my philosophy background didn't come in handy--it was necessary. But, there are additional skills that I needed to be a director (which was what I wanted to be). Financially, film school made better sense for me as well. I was not financially well-off and needed the student loans and, eventual scholarships, to get by. Making movies back then was expensive (some costs are less now because of what the digital world can offer a filmmaker). So, for me, film school was a pretty good place to make my way.

Obviously, if you answered most of the above questions positively, then you may be better suited to doing your own film right out of the gate. If you're good at raising money (or have the money on your own), then you've got a leg up. Of course, this doesn't mean that you will make a good film. That will depend on your knowledge and abilities in all the areas you will be tested in. Some people are self-taught, some are better when they are steered in the right direction. Personally, there are areas in filmmaking that I was actually self-taught. Others, I learned through a professor or listening to another director speak about his or her work. Other areas, I learned the way professionals or professors claimed things are done and then decided to do it my own way anyway. It's a mixed bag.

Finally, whether you want to be a writer, director or producer will also dictate whether to go to school and/or which school you choose to go to. Some schools are better for writing, others are better for directing. You could read a book and learn how to produce by just making a film. Again, all sorts of ways to do it that will depend on who you are and what you want.

Well, I hope I've shed some light on the topic for you. Remember, too, that I went to NYU film school in the '80s and I have no idea what their program (or the other schools' programs) are like today. They may have changed significantly. If it gives you any indication of how helpful NYU film school was to some of us, Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger" and "Sense and Sensibility") was in my class and Spike Lee was a year ahead of me. Most of the people that I went to film school with are working in the industry in some capacity. And for all of them, there are probably just as many who never went to school and are just as successful in the industry.

Whatever your decision is, I wish you good luck!

Michael Paxton

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