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Every spring there are queries about going to film school.  The following
file is based on the cumulative experience of professors who themselves
once were film students.
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Copyright 1995 Calvin Pryluck
 
NOTES ON MAKING IT IN FILM, or, WHY SHOULD I GO TO FILM SCHOOL
by Calvin Pryluck, Temple University
 
     There are many pathways to filmic glory.  One does not have
to go to graduate school (or any other, for that matter) to "make
it."  At the same time, education can't hurt if taken in terms of
what is offered not what is fantasized.
 
    If one does not wish to get an education, it's a clear waste
of time (and money) to go to university.
 
    People must find their own way.  For some that means writing,
writing, writing, writing.  Even if they must support themselves
by cleaning tables in a dingy restaurant while the rest of their
life is on hold.  Others take the initiative and move to Hollywood
where they will be in competition with thousands and thousands of
others with the same dreams of glory.
 
    School is only one choice; if there is something that one
really hopes to gain from attending a film school.  And the school
will serve that purpose.  Don't go to film school for lack of
anything better to do.
 
    What follows is an attempt to sketch a map of possible
pathways.
 
1.  Just hit the streets, nagging anyone who will listen to you
   while at the same time taking any opportunity to do whatever
   it is you think you want to do. What is your ambition?  To
   tell stories?  As a writer?  As a director?  To get rich and
   famous?  To help other people tell their stories as an editor
   or director of photography?
 
   If writing is the ambition, then write.  Don't get stuck on
   one story.  Write one script, then another, then another.
   Then bother anyone who will listen about your material.
   Screen-play contests are announced regularly, enter as many
   scripts as the rules permit.
 
   Other people looking to make it want to direct but can't
   write.  Maybe one of them (or more than one of them) might
   be able to take one of your scripts and do something to get
   it produced.  There are also people just starting out whose
   main talent is hustling, the basic skill of a producer.
   Maybe you can do each other some good.
 
   If directing is your goal, direct actors wherever you can:
   Amateur theater, scouts, summer camp.  And if you do not
   have an assignment, then develop plans on how you would
   direct a project if only. . . .  Sometimes these desktop
   dreams come true, but if they don't immediately, one can
   still learn from the work.
 
2.  Several private schools emphasize practical matters.  If only
   that interests you, such a school is a good choice for you.
   a short time you will learn more about the technology of
   filmmaking than you will learn in any university program.
 
3.  Since filmmaking is more than technology, knowledge of the
   world is more than useful.  If one seriously wants to
   express ideas in film, knowledge of ideas is basic.  Ideas
   are the coin of the realm in colleges and universities.
 
   Reading philosophy, say, Machiavelli and St. Augustine, will
   not directly lead to a job in filmmaking, but the knowledge
   gained about how others thought about things will help you
   learn how to think about the things that interest you.
 
   Making films involves technical matters; it also --
   importantly -- involves ideas.  Where one gets ideas is
   irrelevant; for many people an organized course of study at
   university is the best way for them.
 
4.  An education more specifically in film -- history, theory,
   criticism -- may be appropriate for some people.  Ingmar
   Bergman possesses a sophisticated knowledge of the dramatic
   arts, as did Orson Welles.  So does that other Bergman --
   Andrew -- who earned a Ph. D.; a major firm published his
   dissertation titled WE'RE IN THE MONEY: DEPRESSION AMERICA
   AND ITS FILMS before he wrote BLAZING SADDLES and nine
   other produced scripts, including three that he also
   directed.
 
    The most self-delusive notion among students (and, truth
to tell, some faculty) is that universities are the places to
learn film production.  Some people do get to make a film while in
school; my experience as student and faculty member is that the
people who are successful in this venture are people who would
have been successful quite apart from the experience of a student
film.
 
    Most colleges and universities that have any film courses
have a few in "film production" as adjunct to the other courses
dealing with film history, film criticism, film theory.  Few
schools (none?) have the capacity to enable all students to make
their individual films at anything beyond the crudest level.  Some
schools operate as mini-studios where star pupils get to direct
and write a film while the other students serve as their
production crew.
 
    When I write about different pathways I am also writing
about different ambitions.  Stephen Spielberg never went to film
school nor did he ever load magazines or pull focus.  Francis
Coppola did go to film school after an undergraduate degree in
something else.  George Lucas did go to film school -- and was
recognized as a rising star while still an undergraduate.
 
    Peter Bogdanovich used to boast that his "film school" was
the Loew's Paradise in New York.  I don't know that studying in a
university film department or any other university department
would have helped him.  It certainly would not have hurt.  In a
subsequent generation Quentin Terrantino learned his trade working
as a clerk in a video store while writing scripts on spec.
 
    I guess my whole point is that there is no magic pathway --
neither from film school nor any other.  At the same time don't
denigrate the importance of knowing how to think about ideas.
 
    The key decision point, it seems to me, is what are you
willing to give up for your ambition?  And what is your ambition
in the first place?  The truly sad thing about most show business,
but especially film these days, is that one has to concentrate on
their ambition to the exclusion of almost everything else.
 
    If this sounds mean and unfeeling, it is intended to.  My
comments are mild compared to what you face trying to make your
way in the film business.  If anything I say can dissuade people,
then they are poor candidates for making it.
 
                         * * *
 
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Cal Pryluck, Radio-Television-Film, Temple University, Philadelphia
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