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You Don’t Have to Go to Film School to Make It: A List of Film Schools 2013 Sundance Directors Attended

You Don't Have to Go to Film School to Make It: A List of Film Schools 2013 Sundance Directors Attended

When Indiewire corresponded with over 60 filmmakers for our Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers series, we got responses from various directors of films in the U.S. and World Dramatic and Documentary Competitions as well as NEXT and the Park City at Midnight section.  One of the questions we posed was where the filmmakers learned their craft.

64 filmmakers responded, and the results may be surprising. 29 said they had no formal training in filmmaking. Some learned skills in design or photography school or as journalists but had no formal film school education.  The most popular film school from the filmmakers we surveyed was NYU, which had seven respondents.

READ MORE: From ARRI Alexa to Sony HVR: What the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers Shot On

If you’re looking for a little inspiration from some of the self-taught filmmakers, take a look at what they had to say:

“I didn’t go to film school. I studied philosophy, which doesn’t lead to much in terms of actual jobs. I mostly learned about making films through watching them — so my mentors were Tarkovsky, Pennebaker and the Maysles. What’s great about vérité documentary filmmaking is that you end up learning a lot quickly because you’re forced to… Everything happens on the fly and it’s a continual process of trial and error. I’m also drawn to it because you have so much control. There isn’t a crew of people forcing you to shoot something in a certain way, so you can be a bit looser or experimental with things.” — Zachary Heinzerling, “Cutie and the Boxer”

“I suppose my film education started when I was 12, catching endless reruns of Howard Hawks films and other Hollywood classics on French television with my sister. It definitely was the start of my infatuation with film. Later on I studied fine art and design which was a more obvious path for me. Then I began working in the motion graphic industry and transitioned into directing music videos and commercials. Still, most of what I know about film simply comes from watching tons of them (which certainly explains the amount of jump cuts in ‘Blue Caprice;).” — Alexandre Moors, “Blue Caprice”

“Mostly through watching movies and reading about them. The publishing company Mississippi puts out useful collections of interviews. Oddly enough, the James Cameron one was useful to me as a filmmaker on a shoe string budget because he came up in the Roger Corman camp. Under Corman, it was like anything goes if you can convince others it goes. A valuable lesson for sure. And they’re all like that.” — David Andalman, “Milkshake”

“I spent the summer [after I entered a PhD program in Political Science] in Guatemala and remember seeing a woman wearing a huge backpack, holding a camera, filming and chatting up some little kids on the street. I felt like I was watching a way cooler, more fully realized version of myself. I said at that moment, “That’s what I want to do.” I came back to LA and immediately began a non-paid internship at a documentary production company, while still pursuing the doctorate. I worked on “High Speed Impacts” for the Discovery Channel and PA’ed on a shoot in NASA where we filmed a Learjet crashing into a building. I remember holding a camera, hanging off a 400-hundred-foot gantry, fearing for my life as I watched them rig up the plane. This was a far cry from Guatemalan children, a far cry from the kinds of films I would end up making, but I was having the time of my life.” — Gabriela Cowperthwaite, “Blackfish”

And while we include him below, “Escape from Tomorrow” director Randy Moore has this to offer:  “In high school, I composed a lot of electronic music using MIDI. This was before Abelton Live and other software programs were around so you could actually perform live, relatively speaking. Because of that, when it came time for a Parent’s Weekend concert, all I could do was hit play on a sequencer and stand around doing nothing. This annoyed me greatly, so I began to make short music videos, just to give the audience something to look at. But eventually, more and more people began to praise the videos over the music, which led me to three very different film schools. Full of hubris and misplaced contempt, I jumped around and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston; Columbia College, in Chicago; and Full Sail University, in Winter Park, FL, then drove to Los Angeles and started looking for work. I had some luck early on with a screenplay that was optioned but never produced, and worked as a story editor for John Daly, who produced “The Terminator” and “Platoon.” But then I turned 33 and got very depressed, so I wrote three scripts in one month and picked “Escape from Tomorrow” to be the one.”

Now here’s a list of where the filmmakers we surveyed went to film school:

No formal film school:

Aaron Aites, “99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film”
David Andalman, “Milkshake”
Greg Barker, “Manhunt”
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, “Blackfish”
Marta Cunningham, “Valentine Road”
Audrey Ewell, “99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film”
Hannah Fidell, “A Teacher”
Dylan Mohan Gray, “Fire in the Blood”
Francesca Gregorini, “Emanuel and The Truth About Fishes”
Zachary Heinzerling, “Cutie and the Boxer”
Jerusha Hess, “Austenland”
Daniel Hoesl, “Soldate Jeannette
Jacob Kornbluth, “Inequality for All”
Ben Lewis, “Google and the World Brain”
Jeremy Lovering, “In Fear”
David Lowery, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
Kalyannee Mam, “A River Changes Course”
Alexandre Moors, “Blue Caprice”
O Muel, “Jiseul”
Morgan Neville, “Twenty Feet from Stardom”
Dawn Porter, “Gideon’s Army”
Calvin Reader, “The Rambler”
Nick Ryan, “The Summit”
Schaul Schwarz, “Narco Cultura”
Lynn Shelton, “Touchy Feely”
Michèle Stephenson, “American Promise”
Yen Tan, “Pit Stop”
Roger Ross Williams, “God Loves Uganda”
Adam Wingard, “S-VHS”


Robert Ben Garant, “Hell Baby”
Shaka King, “Newlyweeds”
Nina Krstic, “99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film” (attended the Culture & Media program, run by Cinema Studies and Anthropology)
Thomas Lennon, “Hell Baby”
Jim Mickle, “We Are What We Are”
Matt Porterfield, “I Used to Be Darker”
Christina Voros, “kink”


Liz Garcia, “The Lifeguard”
Martha Shane, “After Tiller”
Lana Wilson, “After Tiller”

Columbia College (Chicago):

Randy Moore, “Escape from Tomorrow” (attended classes)
Stacie Passon, “Concussion”

Columbia University:

Cherien Dabis, “May in the Summer”
James Ponsoldt, “The Spectacular Now”

Harvard University:

Maxim Pozdorovkin, “Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer”
Noujaim Jehane, “The Square”

Bard College:

G.J. Echternkamp, “Virtually Heroes”

Brown University:

Chris Nelson, “Ass Backwards”


Eliza Hittman, “It Felt Like Love”

DFFB (German Film and Television Academy in Berlin):

Bastian Günther, “Houston”

École nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts:

Barmak Akram, “Wajma, An Afghan Love Story”

Edit Center:

Lucian Reed, “99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film”

Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV de San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba:

Alicia Scherson, “Il Futuro”

Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade:

Srdan Golubovic, “Circles”

Full Sail University:

Randy Moore, “Escape from Tomorrow” (attended classes)

Hypothesis Cinema:

Giorgio Diritti, “There Will Come a Day”

Ilam School of Fine Arts:

Louis Sutherland, “Shopping”

National Film School (UK):

Kim Longinotto, “Salma”

The New Zealand Drama School/Toi Whakaari:

Mark Albiston, “Shopping”

North Carolina School of the Arts:

Chad Hartigan, “This is Martin Bonner”

Northern School of Film (UK):

Andy Heathcote, “The Moo Man”

Polish Film School in Lodz:

Andy Heathcote, “The Moo Man”

Potsdam-Babelsberg Film and Television Academy:

Tinatin Gurchiani, “The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear”

School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston):

Randy Moore, “Escape from Tomorrow” (attended)

University of Illinois at Chicago:

Alicia Scherson, “Il Futuro”

University of London, Royal Halloway College):

Qi Zhao, “Fallen City”

Unnamed six-week documentary program in New York:

Joe Brewster, “American Promise”

Unnamed commercial art school in Pittsburgh:

Steve Hoover, “Blood Brother”

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