The Bigger Picture: The Film School of Life

Written by Film, The Bigger Picture

How valuable is a college career for the creative professional? Arend Anton explores this issue in his latest edition of The Bigger Picture.

6211-000471Someone asked me recently whether I had considered attending a film program. As he described it, you “go to school and when you graduate you are a director.” If only it worked that way.

I did go to school for photojournalism. I can vividly recall my first day, when the great photographer Paul Liebhardt opened Photo 101 with a question:

“Why do you need to attend photography school? Go out and buy a roll of film, instead of bankrupting your parents.”

These were strong words for a bunch of rookies to hear. I had made quite a leap, myself. I only had about a month of summer vacation after graduating from high school. I had decided that I was no longer interested in academia, and wanted to learn a creative skill. My grades were never bad; in fact, they were generally above average. I was simply frustrated from not applying the knowledge I had gained.

I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. To start with, I was significantly younger than most of my peers, and incredibly introverted. I had always harbored the fantasy of becoming a traveling National Geographic photographer. Obviously, attending a renowned photography school didn’t quite get me to that point.

This failure wasn’t because my schooling didn’t do everything it could to help me attain it. It was because my interests changed. Toward the end of college, I started to realize that my interests were in filmmaking. I had taken a couple documentary classes, and these helped me to see where my strengths lay.

The flaw with the impression that film school can turn someone into a director is exactly the same point my teacher was trying to make. Those film programs teach technique and style. They do not teach talent, creativity, and vision. Often, the people who come out of film programs become the “studio director.” These are the individuals whom the studios know they can control because their vision hasn’t been proven.

Three times, the famous USC film program rejected Steven Spielberg, who is perhaps the most successful director of the past half-decade. Christopher Nolan worked on weekends to make his first feature film, Following. Must a poet attend poetry school to become prolific?

Film school can do plenty for you. Most importantly, you can make contacts that will help your future immensely.  When it comes to an art form like film, just about any schooling helps, because filmmaking is a storyteller’s art form. The storyteller draws from any knowledge gained.

Since I studied photojournalism, I had a chance to hone my visual storytelling abilities. It’s not without precedent, either. Stanley Kubrick began his career as a still photographer, and his work was published in Look Magazine. Those are certainly big shoes to follow.

The theory is that if someone begins their career separated from the studio system, they will have brought their own style with them. It’s very difficult to develop a style when under the employment of a studio, with a board of executives whispering in one’s ear. Creative freedom is given to those who have proven themselves.

The main reason school is valuable is because of teachers like Paul Liebhardt. We go to school to be presented with challenges that life has not yet presented us with. Many people don’t work in fields even remotely similar to their area of study, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We all draw from various life experiences for our careers. Any knowledge gained is beneficial, especially when you work with a career that draws from personal experience so heavily.

If I make it by following these rules, I will be in the best position to satisfy my creative urges. If not, then at least I haven’t chained myself to something that won’t allow me to express myself. I often ask people if, given the opportunity, they would travel to space. In my experience, the answer is usually “no,” because of the danger involved. But if you’re going to die, why not go out closest to heaven?