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Is Film School for Chumps? The Indie Film Community Talks Back to Monday’s NYT Article

Is Film School for Chumps? The Indie Film Community Talks Back to Monday's NYT Article

On Monday, the New York Times published an article that professed to take the pulse of film school — its students, their expectations and the results of their education.

Gawker, of course, responded with a tongue-in-cheek lambasting of film school as a waste of time and money. Our take: The article didn’t capture the full range of experiences and ideologies of film school professors, students and departments.

So we asked a few filmmakers and professors what they thought of the piece and there’s a real sense that while the classic film-school model has changed, that shouldn’t discourage anyone who wants to be a filmmaker. (Not that it would, anyway.) “There are no guarantees from an education other than personal growth,” says director and Northwestern University professor Kyle Henry. “Anyone selling more than that might as well be shilling snake oil.”

And the fastest way to become a filmmaker remains the same: Make a movie. “We made a lot of bad films before we figured out what we uniquely have to offer the world,” says “Cyrus” director Jay Duplass.

Check out the feedback below. And add yours in the comments.

Leonard Maltin, Adjunct Faculty, USC School of Cinematic Arts; Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy

It’s never been easy to break into the movie business in a meaningful way and the statistics aren’t encouraging. Yet every year, a number of people manage to defy the odds and make movies that attract attention, acclaim and even audiences. The daunting and dismal job stats may deter some dilettantes and wannabes who can’t deliver the goods, but people with a perfect combination of talent and chutzpah still have a shot at the brass ring. I know this much: Producers and studio executives are as hungry as ever for great scripts.

Amos Poe, Associate Teacher, NYU Tisch School of the Arts; Veteran Underground Filmmaker

As Dylan, my favorite filmmaker says, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Higher education can be a great tool. NYU, for example, is like a Hogwarts for filmmakers. One can get a grasp of the magic that makes transcendent art, but in the end, no school can make a magician out of a frog, only life and the imagination can do that.

Jonathan Caouette, Director (“Tarnation,” “Walk Away Renee”)

My gosh, this is a weird one for me to answer, because I actually never went to film school at all, ever, although I desired it greatly. I have no experience with film school, nor have I made films in any kind of traditional way or form. I was a video store and movie-going dweeb who was and is still addicted to cinema. Everything I have personally made has been very way-the-hell-outside of any traditional moviemaking boxes, so I cannot really comment [on the value of film school].

(I might be crucified for saying this) but I have to sometimes agree (this could be debatable on a case by case basis), but I do sometimes agree with the old adage, don’t go to film school; just use your money to make a film. On the other hand, I think there are some people that could benefit from it. With the onslaught of new media, and all the competition with that coming at you at machine-gun speed, the film world is like a postmodern Wild West. As Gus Van Sant once said, “There should be no more excuses;” if you want to make a film, make a film. Everything we need to do it is there. As long as you have a good story to tell, and you better have a good story (ha ha…everyone can make a cool-looking film now), your story and what you are doing with it should shine.

Kyle Henry, Assistant Professor, Northwestern University School of Communication; Director (“Fourplay” series); Editor (“Where Soldiers Come From”)

I don’t believe there is disconnect between film school and the “real world.” Artists are both dreamers AND survivors. I stress resourcefulness. But there are no guarantees from an education other than personal growth. Anyone selling more than that might as well be shilling snake oil.

Tula Goenka, Associate Professor, Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication; Editor (frequent collaborator of Mira Nair and Spike Lee)

As every media platform/outlet — including advertising, PR, print and online journalism — moves toward incorporating multimedia, there are more opportunities than ever for an adventurous and entreprenurial television-radio-film student. And this is true all over the world. People need entertainment even in times of recession.

Stephen Ujlaki, Dean, Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television

A strong liberal arts education, combined with storytelling expertise and keen entrepreneurial skills, will produce visionaries who can bring great ideas to reality. Individuals capable of critical thinking, clear self-expression with integrity will be successful in entertainment and visual arts careers.

Alex Ross Perry, Director (“The Color Wheel”)

This article incorrectly suggests that the idea of selling scripts and clawing your way up from the bottom is not an outdated, broken model (R.I.P: 1985?-2004). Film programs are apparently stuck in a rut of uselessness that can only be escaped if they understand/educate students about microbudget options. Graduate, scrape together a fraction of a year’s tuition and declare yourself a filmmaker rather than waste time as an assistant and hope somebody recognizes your talent while you answer phones.

Jay Duplass, Writer/Director (“Cyrus,” “Baghead,” “The Puffy Chair”)

Mark [Duplass, Jay’s brother and filmmaking partner] and I feel very strongly that the most important thing an aspiring filmmaker should do is to make lots of films and to make them as cheaply as possible. The technology permits us now to make a feature film for a few thousand dollars, affording us the opportunity to mess up, recover and try again. But there is still a mythology that a kid wakes up one morning, makes a film and it’s either good or bad — thus divining whether one has talent or not. That’s bullshit. We (and everyone else we know who’s working in the industry today) made a lot of bad films before we figured out what we uniquely have to offer the world. For us, film school was a small part of that process, but learning how to work with our demons and finding something unique to contribute to cinema is something we did mostly with our own blood, sweat and tears, as well as a healthy dose of whining and complaining.

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