There's a lot of noise out there regarding film school on where to go or whether it's worth it. Plenty of aspiring directors pay attention to where the modern giants of independent cinema went, whether they gained something from it (Darren Aronofsky at AFI), left it after finding it inadequate (Paul Thomas Anderson at NYU), or skipped it altogether (Quentin Tarantino). But sometimes it's more valuable to hear from new directors who are just starting to make names for themselves, given how recently some of them left or avoided film school.
With that in mind, here's what this year's Tribeca Film Festival directors had to say about the subject (gleaned from questionnaires we sent to the filmmakers in advance of the festival).
You'll note that while NYU and Columbia are well represented below, many of the filmmakers attended film school internationally (from Israel to France to Argentina) and a fair number of them took a handful of classes or didn't go to film school at all.
Justin Weinstein ("An Honest Liar")
"Went to NYU film school. Loved it but wanted to learn more about other things. I also love science and was on my way to becoming a scientist. I went on to get a PhD in Genetics (Columbia University), but decided I'd prefer to help communicate science rather than do the experiments. Much of my work has had a science component, but the type of scientific thinking I learned is actually extremely valuable for journalism and filmmaking."
Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zeiman ("This Time Next Year")
Talya Lavie ("Zero Motivation")
"After two years of studying in the Animation department of Bezalel Art Academy, I totally changed my direction and went to study filmmaking in the Sam Spiegel FIlm & Television School in Jerusalem. I graduated in 2006 and for the past three years I've been working there as a teacher."
Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton ("Bjork: Biophilia Live")
PS: "No. I tried to get into Reading University's Film & Drama department in 1992. I wrote an essay on Jack Smith and Stan Brakhage as part of my application, but I was rejected. That's probably the only rejection that I never got over."
NF: "Yes. I went to the National Film and Television School just outside London and studied editing."
Hans Petter Moland ("In Order of Disappearance")
"Yes, Emerson in Boston."
Courtney Cox ("Just Before I Go")
"No I didn’t, but I took an online UCLA course on filmmaking."
Johanna Hamilton ("1971")
Lloyd Handwerker ("Famous Nathan")
"NYU Graduate Tisch School of the Arts. Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, N.Y."
Orlando von Einsiedel ("Virunga")
"Nope. I used to be a pro-snowboarder and learnt how to make films filming my friends snowboarding. Of course that doesn't prepare you for filming in conflict zones, which somehow I keep finding myself doing from Afghanistan to Ivory Coast."
Tristan Patterson ("Electric Slide")
"I graduated from Yale University, where I majored in American Studies and Film Studies. The film program was a lot of theory and a lot of Godard. I really loved it. I remember writing a very long paper on Paul Schrader’s “Hardcore” about the complicity of subject and object in neo-noir cinema, or something like that. It focused on the scene where Peter Boyle takes George C. Scott into an adult-movie house in the red light district of Grand Rapids, Michigan and forces him to watch a porn film starring his missing daughter. I think I got a B+."
Juan Pablo Cadaveira ("Maravilla")
"I studied film production at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was working as a camera man while going to film school. It helped me put into play what I was learning in books. One of the reasons this project was important to me was because Sergio wasn't recognized for his talent in Argentina. I wanted to document him and for people to know about his life, effort and greatness. I wanted Argentina to know they had a true champion."
Brin Hill ("In Your Eyes")
"Yessir. NYU graduate film school – which, when I was there, was a little like going to the film school of hard knocks what with the way Eastern European professors would tough love you. Had a great experience there --and at UCLA undergrad film-- but most importantly, learned to grow thick skin and stick to my vision -- two very valuable lessons in this crazy profession."
Alonso Ruizpalacios ("GUEROS")
"Nope. Tried to get into NYU, made it to the final interview but had a scary panic attack in mid-interview. The suits on the other side of the desk looked at me with puzzled faces and kindly showed me the door. Looking back on it now, I thank them. I don't think I would have enjoyed being in such a competitive place (drama school in London was more than enough of that for me). I went to a couple of lectures at NYU and Columbia and everyone seemed to me to be at each others' throats all the time, waiting for the others to trip up (at least that's how it seemed to me at the time -maybe I was just scared). Anyway, most of my favourite filmmakers didn't go to film school or were thrown out. So I guess in a way I'm proud to be among the "unschooled", film-wise."
Alan Hicks ("Keep on Keepin' On")
"No, I didn't go to film school. That's kind of why Ad and I had a bugger of a time trying to work things out at first. I feel like we blindly committed to making a film before we knew how to make a film. Our first year was like boot camp. We had to learn how to use the equipment and made some mistakes. Once the second year came around, we were really comfortable with following our gut and working out what was needed. It became more natural and we could focus on the story. Five years later, here we are."
Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles ("Mala Mala")
AS: "I didn't go to film school. I went to NYU Gallatin and studied the effects of technology on human communication and psyche. Also did some studies on the avant-garde and subcultures particularly in virtual spaces."
DS: "I went to NYU Tisch for Acting."
Lou Howe ("Gabriel")
"I went to AFI for directing."
Ivan Kavanagh ("The Canal")
"No, I’m self taught. I did consider it, but decided to use the money to shoot my first film instead."
Jesse Zwick ("About Alex")
"I did not, though I like to think of my recent experience as a sort-of unparalleled work-study opportunity."
Chris Messina ("Alex of Venice")
"I did not, but I have taken a great amount of acting classes. I've been lucky enough to study with some of the best teachers like Ron Van Lieu, Kim Gilllingham, Earle Gister, and Harold Guskin. By working with master teachers like these, I learned so much about script analysis and storytelling. I love the website Cinephilia and Beyond - each day there are incredible posts taking you through the process of your favorite films and filmmakers. This website was instrumental to me."
Ilmar Raag ("I Won't Come Back")
"Well, not really. Although I did theoretical film studies in Paris. But seems that it doesn't count?"
Bert Marcus ("Champs")
"I actually went to school for radio at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. When I was in high school, I got my first job working in radio with Clear Channel Communications. I began as an intern, but worked my way to producing radio shows, which I thought was incredibly fascinating. From meeting remarkable talent to hearing their stories on air, I began to cultivate relationships and think more broadly about storytelling, not just in a short interview, but also in a larger format. What would it be like to unearth the deeper thoughts and interviews of the talent? What if I was able to weave various stories? This was the start of my inspiration for documentary filmmaking."
Frederic Tcheng ("Dior and I")
"I went to Columbia University Film School. I had a great experience there. I met many filmmakers who are my friends now (like Jennifer Grausman who has a film in TIFF this year). Although we didn't study documentary filmmaking per se, we were taught the fundamentals of storytelling, which applies to non-fiction just as well as fiction."
Brent Hodge ("A Brony Tale")
"I didn't. I went to business school at University of Otago in New Zealand. I auditioned and got into the annual University Capping Show which was an entertainment variety show with live comedy and videos.. that's where my film director world began, and I've been waking up every day since and trying to earn that title. I really wanted to just own a business, and a film company seemed like a lot of fun, so I went for it."
Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber ("Tomorrow We Disappear")
"We were both English majors at the University of Pennsylvania. We're writers and neurotics, but on this film we teamed up with a lot of fantastic people from both the USC and NYU film programs."
Nicholas Mross ("The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin")
"Yes, I attended the Toronto Film School in Toronto, Canada. I really enjoyed the film program there and made great connections and friends with whom I continue to collaborate with on projects today."
Susanna Fogel ("Life Partners")
"I didn't! I studied English in college and approached filmmaking from a writing background, while trying to learn as much as I could about the technical side of things by making shorts and a webseries."
Kevin Gordon ("True Son")
"After working in film for a few years, I did decide to go to film school. I went to the Stanford Documentary Film Program which is one of the few MFAs exclusively dedicated to non-fiction film. They place a heavy emphasis on aesthetics and theory which is exactly what I was looking for. I ultimately met the producers of this film there which is how I became connected with this project."
Andrew Renzi ("Fishtail")
"I didn't go to film school, I went to Brown University for writing and Literary Arts."
Jessica Yu ("Misconception")
"No, learned on the job. Still learning on the job. Sometimes the same lesson repeatedly."
Victor Levin ("5 to 7")
"Just a summer of Sight & Sound at NYU, which was invaluable. Would have loved to go to film school, but I was a writer first and I needed to work. You learn on every set you step onto, as long as you’re not afraid to ask questions and seem like an idiot. It’s a terrifying way to educate yourself, though."
Alastair Orr ("Indigenous")
"I went to film school in South Africa. But I almost had to re-educate myself when I left. You don't want to be told what movies you should and shouldn't be making. I wanted to make horror films and apparently that was too close to home for my educators."
One9 ("Time Is Illmatic")
"No, I didn't go to film school. I created my own major called 'Visual Communications' and received a BA through the Individual Study's Program at the University of Maryland (College Park)."
"I went to NYU. I’m a Tischie. BFA in Film/TV Production. Class of ‘08."
Tyler Meason ("An Honest Liar")
"I did a couple of years of college, but not film school. I was something of an autodidact in the film world. I read every book I could get my hands on and religiously watched thousands of movies. At the age of 17 I talked my way onto a film set and started working in essentially all film departments for another ten years. This granted me the opportunity to learn the art of directing and producing by watching others. It also allowed me to steal as much equipment as I could fit under my shirt when it was time for me to make my own film."
Jordan Rubin ("Zombeavers")
"I did not go to film school, no. I went to NYU, though. And I smoked so much weed in my dorm room while watching Kubrick movies that I feel like I have an honorary film school degree. Come to think of it, I was so high during college that I may have gone to Tisch. The jury's still out."
Andrew Betzer ("Young Bodies Heal Quickly")
"Yes, I went to University of Maryland Baltimore County (aka UMBC, aka University of Maryland's Bastard Child)."
David Lascher ("Sister")"
No. My writing/producing partner Todd Camhe went to grad school at NYU/Tisch."
Jody Lipes ("Ballet 422")
Angus MacLachlan ("Goodbye To All That")
"No. I went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the Visual Arts Dept. for high school, and graduated with a BFA from the Acting Program. In 2010 they gave me an Honorary Doctorate. So if there's an arts emergency, I'm prepared to answer the call."
Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden ("Ne Me Quitte Pas")"Sabine did not.
Niels went to the Film Academy in Amsterdam."
Garrett Bradley ("Below Dreams")
"UCLA school of Theater Film and Television. I made my first film when I was 16 and realized at that point that I'd found something I could really speak through. I studied philosophy as a undergrad and went to film school so I could get a grip on the tradition.
There's an ongoing debate about the importance of film school and I think if you aren't independently wealthy or you don't have seven friends willing to run around with you, or you don't have access to cameras…then film school serves a really important purpose. And in terms of process, in terms of finding yourself as a filmmaker, it helps to have something to define yourself by. I think that's why so many of us feel so frustrated at a certain point…I think that frustration indicates that the program is working. The rules are giving you something you define yourself against…or by. I think I've found a really nice balance between the impressionistic style I taught myself in high school, and the traditions I learned as an official student."
Onor Tukel ("Summer of Blood")
"I studied Radio, Television and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill."