TEACH YOURSELF FILM
HAVING FINISHED 2 YEARS OF FILM SCHOOL (BA PRACTICAL FILMMAKING) I’M IN A POSITION WHERE I FEEL I CAN LOOK BACK AND ADVISE TO OTHERS ON WHETHER IT WAS REALLY WORTH IT. TO YOUNGER WANNABE FILMMAKERS IT’S SURELY THE BIG QUESTION IN THEIR MINDS “SHOULD I GO TO FILM SCHOOL?”, IT CERTAINLY WAS FOR ME (AND ACTUALLY IT KINDA STILL IS, AS I CONTINUE TO LOOK INTO MA COURSES) BUT WITH ADVICE FROM POPULAR MASTER FILMMAKERS RANGING FROM 100% YES TO 100% NO, HOW DOES ONE MAKE THAT DECISION?
I think the answer really depends on what you think you’re getting out of film school. Personally I wanted to learn how to go from a one man crew type filmmaker to actually understanding all of the roles on the set and how to manage a whole crew. That is essential knowledge and experience to an aspiring director, and something you can read about in books or watch in behind the scenes footage but really need the real life experience to fully understand.
Could I have got this experience without film school? Well in reality experience on a film school set is almost entirely invalid, but having that practice provides a good understanding of a film crew, and a massive change from the one man crew I once was. People want to know you’ve been on ‘real’ sets, so that experience and knowledge can only get you so far. If it got me making my short films very smoothly with a crew I love working with and getting great results then that is enough for me. But did this require 2 years at film school? No. Within two months I learnt what I wanted to know. So, in short, I recommend doing a short course, which -whilst it doesn’t reward you with a degree that nobody in this industry cares about at the end- it doesn’t waste your time and money (which you should invest into making short films, of course).
IF YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING TO LEARN A LOAD OF OTHER THINGS, PERHAPS HOW TO DIRECT, WRITE, PRODUCE, EDIT, TELL A GOOD STORY, MAKE A GREAT FILM, BE A SUCCESS, BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS, YOU’RE NOT… WELL, MAYBE A LITTLE BIT, BUT MY POINT IS THERE ARE FAR BETTER AND FAR CHEAPER RESOURCES THAN 2 YEARS AT FILM SCHOOL THAT CAN TEACH YOU ALL OF THIS, AND THEY’RE RIGHT AT YOUR FINGERTIPS! PERHAPS YOU DON’T EVEN REALIZE HOW MUCH YOU HAVE AVAILABLE TO YOU, SO I’M HERE TO SHARE EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO TEACH YOURSELF EVERYTHING YOU’D WANT TO KNOW.
OH AND ALSO, THEY DON’T EVEN TEACH YOU THESE THINGS AT FILM SCHOOL, BECAUSE THAT WOULD PUT THEM OUT OF A JOB WOULDN’T IT…
If you want to learn about writing, here’s what you need…
Number one: Screenplays. READ THEM! You wouldn’t start shooting a film having NEVER watched one, or perhaps just seen a few clips, or you started watching it but never quite finished… So why would you begin writing a screenplay without having read a whole bunch? Because you watched Pulp Fiction countless times and feel you have a natural talent for dialogue and structure’s not really your ‘thing’? Wake up… You can download screenplays from the internet totally legally, please find below a list of links to websites where you can find them:
A very simple trick to try for writers is to simply listen to a film (with no picture, only sound). This helps you to differentiate between what is being conveyed through dialogue and what is being conveyed visually, and you may be quite surprised. This will help with your use of dialogue and make sure you never write what we can already see. It’ll also help you differentiate between characters. Without the picture, do you know who is talking? You can pick up on the ways characters talk and what makes them sound different. This helps to avoid the dreaded ‘every character speaks like you’ problem that many writers struggle with.
There are some very interesting books on all areas of writing, from the essentials, like structure, all the way to the phsyical activity of writing. Check out the list below! I find that even if I disagree with what one of these books are teaching, or even if I’ve read about the ‘Hero’s Journey’ many times before, the extra reading refreshes my brain and gets me straight back into the writing zone, after all, when it comes to writing, there’s an awful lot to think about.
Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure of 50 Unforgettable Films: Discovering the Mythic Structure…
by Stuart Voytilla
Psychology for Screenwriters: Building Conflict in Your Script: Building the Conflict in Your Script
by William Indick
Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them
by John Yorke
Save the Cat!: The Only Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
by Blake Snyder
Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
by Christopher Vogler
Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting: A Step-by-Step Guide from Concept to finished Script
by Syd Field
Reading books is also a great tool. Just plain old fiction books! The excersise of reading words and visualizing it in your mind (as we do naturally when we read a good book) gives a boost to your imagination. Something to try is to read a book that has now been made into a film, then read the screenplay, then watch the film. What you’ll learn from this is how exactly the three are different and what creative choices the writer and director have chosen along the way. How have they envisioned what was in the original book? How have they made it more appropriate for the screen? How is the director’s vision of that book different to what you envisioned reading the book and did they do it better or worse?
Try it with Gone Girl:
Book – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gone-Girl-Gillian-Flynn/dp/0753827662/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431002714&sr=1-1&keywords=gone+girl
Screenplay – http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/GoneGirl_Final_Shooting_Script.pdf
Film – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gone-Girl-DVD-Ben-Affleck/dp/B00JLC48M4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1431002739&sr=8-2&keywords=gone+girl
As a filmmaker its important to understand the techniques of filmmaking; what does this shot do, why is the character lit this way? You could sit in a lesson at film school and have the teacher tell you about all the techniques used in Star Wars, but why? Why listen to a guy who 10 years ago once wrote an episode of [INSERT TV SOAP HERE] and pay a small fortune for it, when you can have George Lucas tell you himself. Yes, a majority of your DVDs, especially the classic movies, have a director’s commentary, sometimes a cast commentary, sometimes mulitple commentaries focusing on each aspect of the film! You must listen to them! Years ago, when the filmmakers you know and love (and the film school teachers you hate and have so little respect for) were younger, they did not have this resource, but you do. You have Scorsese, Spielberg, whoever inspires you most, right there on that DVD to talk you through the entire movie! To not make use of that resource is simply insane.
You may have watched your favourite movies over and over, anaylized every detail, but watching with the commentary stops you from lazily sitting back and letting the entertainment wash over you and forces you to really understand what that director was doing. You’ll also pick up interesting stories from the set, such as this insight from Director Rob Zombie on his horror masterpiece ‘The Devils Rejects’: “this is a stunt person we found who was willing to drop all her clothes and get dragged around all day, and I do believe she is wearing rubber underwear to protect her from having rocks and things jammed up inside her”… See! It makes you understand the films in new ways.
Along with DVDs, the internet is an amazing tool, and another thing most filmmakers who’ve gone before you never had. Here are a few websites I recommend:
IMDB. I’ll start with an obvious one, the Internet Movie Database is pretty useful as you can find pretty much every film on there along with a whole host of details about it. Wikipedia is also good for this. Its also very easy for you to add yourself and your movies on there!
REDDIT. Reddit has multiple filmmaking or film related pages where many helpful articles are posted by a community of film buffs and filmmakers. Just flicking through on a daily basis can introduce you to many great articles and if you’ve got a question just post it on there and the community will answer.
YOUTUBE. Director interviews. Behind the scenes videos. Long lost Making Of documentaries (the Star Wars Trilogy for example…). Film clips, deleted scenes, full movies even. Youtube is probably even better than the extras on your DVD. Just type it in, “George Lucas filmmaking advice”, “David Fincher interview”, etc, and something (or hundreds of things…) interesting usually pops up. There are some great Youtube Channels for filmmakers, Film Courage is one that I watch often, good for insight and inspiration from people working in the industry. Then there’s channels like Film Riot, who make video content then explain how they achieved certain effects, which can be inspiring. Youtube is also a great resource to promote your own work, being a free and direct platform to connect straight with your worldwide audience!
This series THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR with Robert Roderiguez interviewing filmmakers is great and available to watch online:
KICKSTARTER / INDIEGOGO. Crowdfunding. Obviously good for getting, or failing to get, the money you need to actually make your films! However, on these sites you can really see what other people in the world are making and also what people are putting their money into and what they’re not. Even if you don’t make the money you need, you still get practice pitching your movie and reach an audience you wouldn’t otherwise reach. I’d never considered doing crowdfunding until I got to film school, so check it out and if you’ve got an idea you think people would enjoy investing in, give it a go!
GO INTO THE STORY. GITS is a great site for screenwriters. They have many helpful and interesting articles about story telling. Check out their Archives, there’s loads of great articles.
FILM GRAB / BLU-SHOTS. Taking a look through film stills can be fun, both these sites are basically databases filled with the best shots from loads of beautiful films. I have a folder on my laptop that I just drag film stills into, mostly from these two sites, every time I see a shot that really catches my eye (my folder currently has a collection of 732 stills in it). Then, when I come to putting together a mood board for one of my films, or my shot list, I can flick through all the shots I’ve been gathering and find loads of cool ideas to get my brain going (or just totally steal awesome shots from other films entirely).
CASTING CALL PRO/ FILM & TV PRO. When it comes to finally making your film you’re going to need actors and there are many casting websites available, SPOTLIGHT being mostly regarded as the standard. I’ve used Casting Call Pro most regularly, and sometimes Casting Networks. Not only are casting sites good to find your actors, but also you’re announcing the production of your film and each actor you audition is another chance to tell someone about your film. Actors tend to know other filmmakers, as well as having their own following of fans, so they can be very valuable to the production for reasons other than their performance. Film and TV Pro is like Casting Call but instead of finding actors you find your film crew. I’ve never had to use this due to the friends and contacts I have from film school (which is certainly a benefit) .
NO FILM SCHOOL. The title of this site pretty much gives it away. Regular posts and articles about a very broad range of filmmaking and movie stuff, there’s occasionally a really great article and interesting case studies.
PODCASTS. There are some great podcasts available on iTunes. My favourite is Meet The Filmmaker, you can watch these interviews for FREE but eventually they take down the videos and there’ only sound clips (search for the videos on Youtube).
For those of us who want to know about the whole process of filmmaking, pre-production, production and post-production, and how that long journey evolves, you need to find the really great making-of documentaries. There are making of docs out there that follow big feature films every single step of the way and will give you great insight into how things are really done. Check out my forthcoming blog post that sums up my 10 favourite making of documentaries, later this month. You can find great material on the internet too, like this incredible production blog for a crap film called The Hobbit: https://youtu.be/qWuJ3UscMjk
WITH ALL THESE RESOURCES AT HAND, YOU REALLY HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO GET OUT AND MAKE YOUR MOVIE, WITHOUT HAVING TO GO TO FILM SCHOOL. AFTER ALL, THE BEST EDUCATION YOU CAN GET IN FILMMAKING IS BY MAKING FILMS (DUH) SO THAT’S WHAT YOU NEED TO DO (THEN REPEAT, AND REPEAT AGAIN, UNTIL YOU MAKE SOMETHING WATCHABLE).
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUE FOR THE PEOPLE YOU MEET AND WORK WITH, AND THERE’S NO BOOK OR FILM THAT CAN TEACH YOU THIS. THE NATURE OF FILMMAKING DICTATES THAT YOU MUST LEARN TO WORK WITH A TEAM. YOUR IDEAS AND MOTIVATION AND CREATIVITY CAN REALLY THRIVE WHEN YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE ALL CHASING THIS OUTRAGEOUS DREAM AND OBBSESSING OVER FILM. MY RECOMMENDATION FOR THIS IS THAT YOU MUST GET OUT THERE AND MAKE SOMETHING. ANYTHING. GET YOUR MATES TOGETHER, GET ONTO SOMEONE ELSE’S SET, APPLY FOR CREW JOBS, INTERACT ONLINE, WHATEVER LEVEL YOUR AT JUST MAKE SURE YOU’RE ALWAYS MAKING SOMETHING AND YOUR NETWORK WILL CONTINUE TO GROW!
If you know any great resources I’ve missed, comment below and share them with me!