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Reality Check: 5 Things They Forgot To Tell You In Film School

Reality Check: 5 Things They Forgot To Tell You In Film School

You’re one of the chosen! That creative, colored being who attended, or is currently enrolled in film school, awash with dreams of giving Spielberg, James Cameron and (yikes!) Michael Bay a run for their box-office prowess. A few even aspire to be like Spike – pre-Miracle at St. Anna, of course.

As you wander(ed) the hallowed halls of AFI, NYU or USC – because the others really don’t matter much, as they repeatedly tell you at said film schools – you may have missed a few crucial pointers because your primary concern was/is, how the hell am I going to repay that eighty-thousand dollar student loan?

So, here are a few they might have conveniently forgotten to include in the curriculum.


You don’t have to sleep with them, although some folks are certainly willing to turn that trick. But if you’re going to successfully navigate amongst the sharks that are waiting for new innocents to destroy, you’ll need to come well armed.

Like every other biz, life in H-wood is all about relationships – only more so – because they are quite insecure, and need to feel a certain level of comfort before they’ll even acknowledge your presence. So, unless you play golf at the country club and/or go to temple on the regular, you won’t find it easy to get an “in” – talent notwithstanding.

Plus, the sad truth is, a full century after the film business was created, Black folks in the industry can’t greenlight anything but their own bowel movement.


You have “issues” with folks who are different from you. Yet, you want to be in showbiz, which is a haven for emotionally unbalanced, creative types – people who are sensitive, yet feel a need to act out, or make strange requests at any given moment.

So, if you are called to a meeting with a forty-year old man wearing booty shorts, a Ubangi lip disc and leopard skin combat boots, take a deep breath and remind yourself (repeatedly and silently) that you need the money to make your film – freak be damned!

And if one of these needy creatures invades your space with an ill-placed hand (could be worse!), simply back away slowly from the chaise lounge, and make it clear you’re not game with a nice-tempered “no thanks” or “homie don’t play that” or whatever works for you. An explosive, soap-opera moment will create a big stink and land you on the ca-ca list.

After all, many of those in a position to exploit have become accustomed to ambitious young, and not so young’uns who are “sexi-flexible” – justifying behavior they may find personally reprehensible, in return for a favor. You’d be surprised how many boys and girls are willing to trade their morals for a small check. If their mama only knew!


Oh, you may have bright dreams of channeling your inner Frantz Fanon onto the big screen. Or, really rile up the crowd with your hip-hop response to Birth of a Nation, yo! Which you are free to do, but not with money from the major studios or production companies. Ain’t happening!

Spoiler alert: the biz is not there to help you fulfill your Black potential. It is only interested in making green – tons of it. Nothing else matters.

So, put the freeze on your high-falutin’, low-concept projects. Think beer swilling, pot-bellied, burping, farting, crackerjack eatin’ clientele – and sit on your misguided expectations as you wrack your brain trying to pitch something that will sell.

Then, and only then, will the moneybags consider cracking open their checkbook.


A drug dealer. Just keepin’ it real!

Think about it, y’all. Who else has direct access to so many people, who know people? Who else can deliver some blow and smoke and slip in a script or a funding request at the same time? Who’s in a better blackmail power-play position? Jackpot!

You can move right past the rubes who spend a small fortune submitting to festivals. You’ll never need to hang out in lobbies trying to accost some junior exec who prefers gazing at his Crackberry, to giving you a scant second.

Cause no matter how self-important the powers that be are, there’s always time for the devil, er, dealer. So, pray long and hard and decide if you’re willing to sink to that level, in order to rise to the top. You can pay the price later. If you ever make it.


Somewhere between the lectures, the shoots and the screenings, some brave soul may have been kind enough to share screenwriter William Goldman’s little gem with you — “nobody knows anything”. That’s the best advice you’ll ever get about the biz.

Despite the edicts, lies and manipulation that masquerade as reality, the truth is, industry folks bluff their way through the maze on a daily basis without much thought about how it affects anything but their bottom line. It’s all smoke and mirrors, baby!

So, keep this fact in the forefront as you tilt your ambition towards the glow on the far horizon. It could well be the shine of impending success – or the spark of naiveté that lures so many to a pitiful life of boozing and bitterness.


That is the scary number of those that actually make it big (dropped like a bomb by a jaded professor at one of those over-priced film schools). Think about all your classmates that have done something significant in the biz. Shouldn’t take too long.

That’s a wrap!

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