WILL SHORTZ, crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, spoke at my commencement on the frequent disconnect between one’s university major and eventual career choice. While that’s not what I wanted to hear after four years and tens of thousands of dollars, I find myself today being an example of this trend. I did not study film in college, and now my work revolves around self-teaching principles of cinematography and related technology to be innovative and marketable in the media industry.
Without belittling the certain perks of attending film school (or formally studying any specialty for that matter), I believe if you’re motivated, there’s a way to teach yourself enough to obtain a great job, gain work experience, and prosper with continued self-improvements. As many advocates for the self-taught film path cite, it’s likely your favorite filmmaker didn’t study his craft at school either.
So how is it possible to reap the benefits of a film school education without actually going?
Get schooled for free at your own pace.
The internet has an ample supply of up-to-date and often free resources for those desiring enhanced film skills. An inherent perk is the incredible amount of video tutorials on new technology and filming techniques. In December of 2010, Vimeo launched its Video School, a section of the video-sharing site dedicated to both in-house and user-generated tutorials for the absolute beginner and the advanced.
First, Video 101 provides advice in picking a camera, shooting, and learning how to edit, followed by a challenge to produce ‘5 vignettes‘ and submit it to a group of peers that supply commentary and critique. Once you’re blown away by your own potential for movie-making or if you’re further along with your skills, the featured lessons give in-depth information on all film aspects from technical to creative.
Today, there is a trending aesthetic for the DSLR video look, and for this Vimeo enlisted the help of self-taught DSLR cinematographer Philip Bloom to create a series of tutorials for this specific niche. Bloom is an accomplished filmmaker and a “leading world evangelists for the low budget film look.” Regardless of his low budget appeal, he’s worked for major news organizations and the likes of George Lucas.
Get fluent in the ever-changing tools
Creative education doesn’t always include instruction on how to use the medium’s tools. I attended university for studio art, and rarely did one of my professors walk me through the functionality of the computer programs or equipment required for assignments. It’s assumed you learn it on your own. Because film is so tech-based, taking notice of the continuous evolution of gear, techniques, and vocabulary is a necessity.
It’s not only beneficial to hear your work dissected but that of your peers, too. Zacuto’s director Steve Weiss and Philip Bloom co-host an un-censored web series where they view three short films and provide their honest feedback. As helpful as this may be to some, I imagine a physical meet-up of like-minded people discussing their own work would be more applicable and educative. Connect with filmmakers in your area on Twitter or through local activity groups. This can be an emotionally invasive aspect of filmmaking but proves to be a sharpening tool.