Showing posts with label Is Film School Worth It?. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Is Film School Worth It?. Show all posts

Jul 26, 2012

Misconceptions About Film School

Post-secondary education is a mixed bag of potential, stress, and promises.  Film school can be even messier when you consider that part of what it's selling is a connection to pop culture and the fantasy behind film and television production.  For anyone considering or who is already in a film program, here are some common misconceptions about film school that I'd like to dispel.   

1.  Film School Makes Filmmakers. FALSE.

Whether you're taking a technical or creative program, a film degree can't make the same promises as a degree in education or engineering can.  Film school is intended to help you understand the technical aspects of film production in cooperation with the creative elements that help fuel ideas, but ultimately, the onus is on you to develop yourself as an artist.  It's not that film school won't help foster your career, but it's real job is to nurture a talent that's already there within you, not create it from scratch.

2.  Your Grades Don't Matter. FALSE.

Frankly, your grades aren't as important as the work you create in film school, but you're fooling yourself if you think that you don't have to bother with marks.  Employers might not care as much, but your reputation with film profs can sink if you don't make an effort and that's just another way of cheating yourself out of improving.

3.  Film School is Easy.  FALSE.

It's easy to overlook the challenges of actually creating a film project, but the moment your tasked with writing, casting, shooting, editing, and screening a project on someone else's deadline you'll quickly realize that there's no coasting.

4.  Film School is a Ticket to the Top.  FALSE.

Many believe that a film school education will entitle them to working as a director, producer, editor, or screenplay writer as soon as they graduate.  This is rarely the case. Taking into account where you go to school, the kind of film program you take part in, and your personal connections, for the average person your education is simply a means of entering the industry, not starting out in your dream position. 

5. A Film Degree is Necessary.  FALSE.

Connections and experience matter more than a degree in film.  Speaking personally, employers have had far more interest in the festivals I've taken part in and the clients that I've worked for than where I went to school.

6.  Film School is the Most Practical Option.  FALSE.

Film School is simply an option, but the variables on whether it's the right choice for you come down to your location, financial situation, connections, and what you want to do. There are as many reasons not to go to film school as there are to go.  Great filmmakers are born from great experiences, and the real challenge is finding and creating your own.  

7.  Film School Provides Real World Experience.  FALSE.

It's unfortunate, but most film schools and programs are internal operations that serve to produce  degrees not real world experience.  There are exceptions, and some programs are more versatile than others, but the real focus is on developing a skill set, knowledge, and basic technical know-how about the medium of film.  This canned environment, while valuable, is often not entirely applicable to the work you're more likely to be doing when you graduate.

8.  (After Reading All of These) Film School Isn't Worth It.  FALSE.

As I've said many times, there are numerous reasons why film school isn't the right choice for everyone.  However, film school put me in touch with a handful of like-minded people that helped me grow creatively, helped me fine tune my interest in editing, helped me build a portfolio of work, and provided challenges that made me more fearless about how I approach media and clients.  Film school can be a springboard, but you have to be willing to jump.  

Nov 22, 2011

5 Ways to Improve Your Editing

Video editing has become one of those skills that any interested candidate can pick up and perform with ease.  That's not to say that everyone is good at it however.  Here are a few simple guidelines that I use that you can follow to help improve your video editing.

1.  Stay Organized

Editing is really about organization.  From sourcing the best footage available to creating effective sequences, your ability to keep track of footage is what will make ultimately make your edits stronger.  On a smaller scale this involves labeling tapes, hard drives, and files, where on the more ambitious side it means keeping editing logs, transcribing dialogue from unscripted takes or interviews, and diligent note taking.  The rules vary between  individual projects and time lines, but organization means efficiency and that goes a long way whether you're an employer or employee.

2.  Try Everything Once

Early on I began broadening my own editing by trying every kind of project I could think of.  I created animations, experimental shorts, and narratives, and this only become more varied during my time in film school.     The beauty in trying out these styles and genres is that they each require a different sensibility in how they're cut together.  It's also a great way to find out what you like and what genre your style of editing favors.

3.  Mimic Editing You Like

This may sound like cheating, but homage is one of the best ways to enhance your skill as an editor.  Create vintage filters, cut music videos, play on cliches.  Editing is as much about understanding timing as it is about the footage you select.  By mimicking the pacing of a popular commercial or music video for instance, you'll gain an appreciation for the subtlties that separate that style from telling a longer story in a narrative.  It's always better if you learn the rules before you start trying to break them.

4.  Use Music For Inspiration

I still often use music when editing my home videos and travelogs as a way to motivate a more ambitious edit and experiment with styles that I don't get to try everyday. Understanding how a jump cut or a more elaborate transition effects the rhythm and dynamic of video is something that you can continue to experiment with and learn from. In general, using others as inspiration is a great way to springboard your own original edits.

5.  Keep it Simple

The mark of an amateur editor is too many cuts, transitions, or abrupt scene selections that remove the viewer from the story or cause confusion.  Even when editing something with high energy, the goal of the editor is to keep a common thread throughout the entire video.  Part of that means knowing when to cut away, what to cut to, and the meaning or relationship that is created for the viewer by doing so.  An experienced editor will see when it's better to let something play out or when it's necessary to elaborate.  

There is no one right way to edit, and this is part of the beauty in it.  Play around enough and you'll see how the choices you make as an editor can have dramatic effects on the outcome of a project.  Like all skills, practice will only make you better.

Jul 28, 2011

How Do I Get Into Editing?

Yesterday I received this email:

I just found your blog and really admired your story and was wondering if you had any suggestions for someone who really wants to have a career in editing and film making. I love editing and would love to take on projects and create my own reel and get things going, it's just a difficult process to start, I don't know what to show to people to prove I have skills as an editor. I just did an internship with a friends parents acting class and did a short little movie, but have since moved away and am saving up for film school. Thanks for reading my email, have a great day.


First of all, I want to thank you Rob for your email.  I think your question isn't at all uncommon, which is why I asked you if it would be alright to respond to your question publicly.  I won't pretend I have all the answers, but I'm happy to share a few of the things that helped me get going when I was just starting out.

1.  Editing for yourself.

Whether you're shooting your own footage, editing home videos, or using found footage from your favorite movies, the best way to improve your work and make impressions with your editing is to create - and create A LOT.  Challenge yourself with varying styles.  Edit a music video, cut a promo reel, recut an original trailer for a movie you like.  Editing isn't simply about the task of combining clips on a timeline, it's about versatility and your awareness of how others will respond to the visuals and sounds you present before they've even seen them.  

Don't stress yourself out by thinking that everything you create has to be brilliant.  Treat your projects as exercises and use them to get a taste of different strategies.  These editing variations will also go a long way to highlight the way you handle different styles, which is exactly the broad approach that you want to take when you're just beginning.  You'll know you're on the right track if you're able to genuinely surprise yourself with what you come up with.

Others respond to dedication and persistence.  If you want people to know that you're serious about pursuing this as a career you have to be willing to keep at it even when you're not receiving gratification for your efforts.   It's what separates those who are professional editors, and those who just call themselves one.

2.  Sharing your work.

Show friends and family what you've done, upload your work online to be criticized, and find contests and student film festivals to give you new goals and specific feedback.  Everyone doesn't have to like what you do, and my best advice for being in any form of media is that it's best to develop a thick skin early on.  

Sharing your work with those close to you is also a great way to let people know about your film making and editing goals.  As a teenager, the projects I shot with friends translated into some of my first paid gigs filming seminars and weddings.  Don't expect to make big bucks doing this.  You're likely being hired as much because of how cheap you are compared to everyone else, as you are because of how enthusiastic you are to get the opportunity.  But, do take advantage of these early opportunities to diversify and create a reel for yourself.  Feeding on experiences will help shape your path and give you more choices.

Networking with friends and family is as simple as it gets, and you never know when they might know someone who wants a simple web video or someone to capture some footage of their function.  When you're trying to get into something new, the old saying 'beggars can't be choosers' is never more relevant. 

3.  Creating an online business card.

For me, Editing Luke has become a bit of everything.  It's a video portfolio, recap of some of my experience, and a place to share inspiration.  Ultimately, it's a well maintained presentation of who I am (and how I want to be viewed). 

While I haven't used my site as a direct advertisement to attract freelance work, I've used it as backup to prove how dedicated I am to what I do.  On a personal level this site has helped me build connections, has attracted several film festival invites for my work, and has given me a forum to promote projects in competitions.  Getting this to happen has taken a lot of effort on my part, but some of the achievements that have resulted have ended up on my resume and are great talking points when convincing someone to hire you.

When I was looking for work fresh out of film school, the impact of this site also stood out when I asked people to have a look.  It proved I was a real person with some character, because lets be honest, when you're just starting out your potential is probably more exciting than your previous work history.

In short, to work full time as an editor you have to push to make it happen.  The two editing jobs I currently do didn't exist before I came along.  However, their creation also didn't just occur overnight.  The right connections, a series of varying experiences to draw examples from, and a diverse reel to show that I was adaptable to a variety of styles all played a big part.  

When you're starting out you have to latch onto anything even remotely related to what you want to do and excel at it.  You'll be surprised how many people will take chances on you when you can spark their interest with what you're really interested in doing.  For me it's been a long chain of small events and chance meetings that have helped me progress further into what I want to do.  My approach is still evolving (and the work isn't always enriching) but to be able to fully support myself through editing and photography is one dream realized. 

The good news is that there are so many unique ways to get you to where you want to go that you shouldn't feel limited.  The arts are complicated, but those who succeed in a day to day sense (working for themselves that is) are those who learn how to bridge their creative ambitions with practical applications.  The web has transformed the market, and plenty of companies are looking to utilize video.

For more, check out a few of my older posts Advice For Aspiring Filmmakers and Basic Film Portfolio Skills.  Best of luck! 

May 18, 2011

Filmmakers Should Blog

In film school we were told to keep journals as a way to motivate our creativity.  At the time it felt like a chore, because frankly, nothing ever feels that creative when you're being forced to do it.  Pretty much as soon as I wasn't required to write out my random thoughts anymore I actually felt compelled to.  Go figure.

I now see what everyone was on about though.  Filmmakers should blog.  Creative people should blog.  If for no other reason than to indulge your own sense of achievement, blogging has provided me a way to work out my thoughts and frustrations.  Sometimes it's simply a distraction, but often it gives me a forum to really think about the things I want to say and in turn, what I want those things to mean.

This is kind of huge if you allow yourself to get past your own self-consciousness and want to learn more about yourself.  As a video editor I've always been keen to challenge my perception of the technical side of editing with the emotional side.  If I were to try and learn this through my contract editing I might only scratch the surface or maybe never have the opportunity to work out that obscure idea in the back of my mind.  Instead, random creations are fueled by my need to blog about something and it's those random creations that then give me something to analyze.

Blogging can then be more than just an exercise in futility, you can actually improve the way you think about things.  Knowing that I'm posting things publicly actually helps in some sense, because even if no one reads what I post I feel that I'm being held to a standard outside of my own.  When I'm writing an entry it's also one of the few times that I actually slow down to reflect on something that I've learned or something that inspired me.

Filmmaking is a form of communication and there are multiple facets within that framework that build the conversation.  You might not see the value in writing out your ideas at the moment, but if there's anything that Editing Luke has given me it's the ability to articulate an idea and explore my own aspirations.  This skill is invaluable.  Everyone can create, but not everyone can explain their thought process or perspective.  Don't kid yourself, creativity takes work and writing is a tried and true approach to overcoming those mental blocks.

But yes, I still hated being forced to write those film journals.

Dec 29, 2010

365 Days to Make Good

With my big yearly recap going live tomorrow, I wanted to take a minute to philosophize about how 365 days presented all the possibility I could have hoped they would have - and will do so again for 2011.  I'm not talking about some guiding force that gave me everything I ever wanted, but how with several goals and a lot of optimism, I managed to overcome obstacles that earlier in my adult life seemed too daunting to even attempt.

One year seems to be just the right amount of time to reinvent yourself.  I'm not talking about just changing for the sake of it, but changing how you view the life your living.  It seems in a single year I took all that planning and stressing and saving and experimenting and used it to upgrade my life - and was fortunate to recognize it while it was happening.  One step after another, in 2010 I found myself presented with opportunity after opportunity that through a course of actions since film school, I could see how the choices I'd made had advanced me professionally and creatively.

How my festival work opened the door to my first editing job, how that job gave me the experience to get my foot in the door at my web job, how my determination lead to me building my own little media department, etc.

It feels good to finally be proud.  I escaped my school years wiser, motivated, hungry for a challenge, and still pursuing (and making a living doing) exactly the kind of creative work I was interested in studying when I started.  I'm not sure that's often the case.

The point of all this is that I realized over the last year that nothing changes all at once, but the speed at which you make little changes in your life does.  I made hundreds of little choices throughout film school and in the couple years of working afterwards that made 2010 the year when my choices carried more potential and benefit than they ever had in my entire life.

Financially stable, independent, creatively fulfilled, and presented with jobs that each carry their own potential for growth as I move forward.  It feels like suddenly there's a foundation below me and I'm actually building exactly what I want to on top of it.  Even though my 2010 turned out differently than how I imagined (not moving away being the biggest thing) somehow the results I dreamt about manifested themselves in this exciting new timeline I've chosen. 

If I hadn't wanted this so badly before (worrying endlessly in film school) I doubt it would feel nearly as incredible.  As much as I'd love to think that this was all just meant to happen eventually, the truth is that I saw what I wanted and I worked my ass off to get it this year.  Now I'm looking forward thinking that the more stable I become the bigger the risks I'll be able to take. 

I don't care about the grades or the piece of paper anymore.  Anyone who has felt what I'm feeling right now - this is graduating.

Jul 19, 2010

Film School Advice

I feel like I've ranted, raved, trashed, and glamorized my own film school experience over the last several years, but that's not to say that I don't still have questions regarding the field. Now working two media jobs (largely as an editor) I feel very grateful for the experiences I've had and remember exactly what it was like trying to figure out how I was going to turn a passion into a paycheck.

Personal drive seems fundamental to making it in any competitive field, but self-assuredness is something that you best find quickly if you expect to weather the rejection from pursuing a job in creativity. Looking up information I stumbled onto Film School Advice forum and had fun just exploring all of the discussions. It brought me back to high school and the anxiety I faced as I tried to decide between different film schools - ultimately I settled for the cheapest one.

From screenwriting to directing, from grant applications to film school applications, there are so many facets to film and video that make it possible to really shape the path you take. In my own experience, I returned to a smaller city after film school and actually established/developed my position with both companies with the promise of bringing a new approach to their creative strategies. While I still strive to do narrative/independent production, the work I've been doing since university has been highly self-motivated and full of variety.

I really just wanted to share this Film School Advice forum to get your brain working. Whether you're an aspiring filmmaker, recently graduated, or just interested in film and video, there's a wealth of information to be borrowed (and to make your experience less stressful).

Perhaps the greatest bit of personal advice that I can give is for you to find the answers that work for you. There are thousands of ways to get to where you want to go - something I didn't quite realize until I got there. For more general banter check out my post on Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers.

Jul 15, 2010

Directing 101 by Ernest Pintoff

This was the first book I ever read that focused entirely on filmmaking as a craft; as a series of tasks and skills that needed to be rehearsed and focused on. I think I must have been 14 or 15 when I received Directing 101 as a gift. Up until then (and in a more advanced way now) much of my filmmaking was about trial and error and having this book proved to be a great introduction to how ideas and creating could really be turned into a strategic process.

Directing 101 is written by Ernest Pintoff who taught at USC and UCLA and the real strength of the book is in its general and broad descriptions of all the things that a director needs to consider. 

From writing your screenplay to blocking a scene to speaking with your actors and the various roles of a film crew, as a teenager this was incredibly valuable as I hadn't even considered the value or distinction between the roles of a producer or cinematographer or director of photography.

When you're just starting out you're inclined to just point and shoot and hope that everything comes together in post. It was books like this that made me think more critically about what I was doing. There came a point for me where I knew that this was something I wanted to pursue as a career, and suddenly there was just so much to see and do. Despite how amateur my earliest projects were, I still look back and think about how ambitious I was trying to be.

As a precursor to going to film school, books like this were a huge motivation and it's why I wanted to write about it. Inside you won't find many things that you haven't heard or thought of before, but they will be explained in a more cohesive way that can really help those who are just getting into film and video. It's a good reference and step by step walk through of what it actually means to be a director. If you want to make more than just a point and shoot video, pick up one of the hundreds of books just like this to put that extra bit of effort into your creative process and to further challenge yourself with relevant lessons. 

I have my cousin Leslie to thank for this book. It's now one of many that I keep with my film texts as a reminder of my earliest attempts to make better and better movies. There's never a shortage of new things to learn.

May 5, 2010

Film School Lesson: Film Theory

Of all the classes I took in film school, none were discussed with more direct disdain by fellow students than film theory courses. It's just talking about movies you say, but in actuality, it's a set of criteria established to define how we approach varying aspects cinema and how time has made such criteria more relevant. In a largely opinionated and biased way, film theory reinforces rules, genres, theme structures, etc. that make the movies the 'artform' that it is. 

It may not be an easy pill to swallow, but the truth is (film students) you need to know this stuff whether you get it from a professor, the library, or the video store. 

I was never one to do exactly what I was told, especially in film school, but I was still perceptive enough to know that challenging myself was the only way I was going to get better at what I was doing. Film theory, however, was still a hassle to me because I was so determined to make my own work that I wasn't interested in breaking down anyone else's movie. What I failed to initially realize, was that despite my lackluster interest in the classroom, I was actually educating myself on filmmaking theories by watching tons of old movies. As a film student - any serious interest in films outside of your lifespan is to be commended.

Yes, there is a difference between theory and history, but by simply acknowledging the work of Chaplin, early Scorsese, early Spielberg, Wilder, Kazan, and Capra (to name a very select few) I was actually teaching myself a lot about the basics of how to construct a story in numerous styles. My point being that there are numerous routes to the same goal (something reinforced over and over again in film). 

A filmmaker without knowledge of film theory is essentially mimicking a style that they've seen somewhere, trying to copy someone else's pattern to create comedy or drama. This is because they don't understand that there's a framework that gives meaning to the images they've chosen to showcase.  This is both incredibly basic and complex, and can include everything from editing style to the significance of the music chosen, a historical or regional context, and so on.  It's not that you can't figure some of these things out by experimenting, it's just that you're wasting your own time trying to discover a formula that countless others have been trying to share with you.   

In a simple example, it's the way a relationship can be created by just combining two images together. A shot of a face followed by a shot of an apple could be suggesting that the subject is hungry or has an interest in picking that apple up. Simple things like this help to explain why many student films are so wooden or overly didactic.  It's an art to learn how to subtlety convey meaning while naturally encouraging an audiences emotional response. 

For instance, we don't necessarily need to create a complex shot by shot of a character establishing that he's hungry.  Maybe we just need to hear his stomach growl. Why? A stomach growl is a universally recognized sound conveying hunger. Numerous layers can be added to this to establish context and meaning. Theory, for better or worse, is about heavy and repetitive discussions like this that aim to tap you into the culture and influence of the medium.

Relevance is also the essence of film theory; understanding what your work as a complete unit is saying about society and from what perspective it's doing so. From here we can break down scenes, dialogue, style, etc. Lot's of things will overlap.

Think closely about this, as whether you'd like to believe it or not every movie ever created does actually fit into some category or form of classification. What are you trying to say with your work?  What does it mean?  Why did you do it that way?  None of these answers are as simple as they first seem.

Jan 21, 2010

Film School Lesson: Should You Go?

So by this point you've expressed some interest in filmmaking, hopefully with a general sense of what you might actually like to do. You've made some shorts with your friends, as part of class assignments, or on the other hand, haven't had the opportunity to explore things to your full satisfaction. The question inevitably crosses your mind, should I go to film school?

It's true that one of the biggest lessons regarding film school I can address is whether you should even go in the first place. This is a personal issue that will ultimately be decided by your finances, ambitions, opportunities elsewhere, and (here's hoping) your maturity. While these points may seem self explanatory, in a completely independent frame of thought you need to consider what it is that you want to learn, and even more so, what you're willing to sacrifice to do it. 

No matter what your choice their are immediate obstacles.  There's also a reason why it seems that more than half of the people I went to film school with aren't seriously pursuing a career in video anymore (or have simply relegated it to a hobby).  There are lots of paths, and film may be a springboard to a variety of careers not on a film set. 

Depending on your location, you can always get work as a production assistant on a film set (or similar job) right out of high school.  That's an opportunity to move up the ladder in the time that you'd be spending at school, not to mention a way to avoid potential school debt. On the other hand, if you want to focus on theory, make a lot of connections with other people in your situation quickly, or give yourself some time to experiment and develop confidence in your own skills, then university/film school is a widely accepted (if not obvious) way of doing this. There is no right answer, and at the end of the day, you're still going to be driving what you get out of the experiences that come your way.

I chose to go to film school, because frankly, I didn't think there was any other realistic option for me at the time.  I banked on the fact that it was a foot in the door.

I knew there was a lot I needed to learn, and wanted practical advice on how I could approach movie-making in 'industry' terms. As someone who had played largely by the rules in high school, film school became my opportunity to challenge myself, stretch my boundaries, and really grow up. The decision to go or not is especially contradicting for me as I spent 6 years in production courses and then left without graduating, only a semester remaining, confident that there was nothing else the experience had to offer. I took the journey, but left without the degree.

My foray into post-secondary media production and studies was more valuable for what I achieved outside of the classroom than what I did in it. Ironically, it was my dissatisfaction with what my film courses were providing me that pushed me to take a more independent approach to begin with. I found success in student film festivals and other online competitions that provided some of the greatest lessons and rewards of my academic life. The opportunity for young filmmakers has only increased by using resources like Facebook, YouTube, etc. as a way to market themselves. All of this stuff really took off during my time in film school and I jumped on board in a big way.

Going to film school for me was just as much about going away. I left the city I grew up in for a place that I knew no one. It wasn't the easiest choice, but the decision thickened my skin and put me in a frame of mind that demanded I try new things, question my reasoning, and (in all ways) progress. Your strength as someone who makes a living creatively can easily grow out of a profound sense of self, and in my story this was the case.

Whether you go to film school or not doesn't matter as much as what the reasoning for your decision is. Film school provides a package deal (an expensive one), but the information and tools are widely available to define your terms and gain experience if you so chose. Be warned though, a committed day job (which you'll begin to justify the longer you're there) mixed with real life can easily crush creative ambition and stagnate your dream if you don't have the ability to motivate yourself. I'd argue that most people in fields like this get stuck, give up, and move on (which is fine) but, if you really want anything you can't stop working towards it.

You might not realize it yet, but your time is valuable.

Jan 15, 2010

Film School Lesson: Questions to Ask

For years I have asked the question, was film school worth it? I've weighed the financial burden, considered the value in teaching art, and broken down the technical advantages that such a pursuit provides. However, this is a loaded question to begin with and it's only made more difficult by the fact that I really don't know the answer. There are resounding pros and cons, both of which I feel I've experienced the extremes of.

What I have come away with in any case, are a handful of film school lessons.  From tips, general advice, actual projects and assignment descriptions, film theory, critical thinking exercises, and ideas on what to expect both personally and in a real world (job) context, not to mention just the general experience of going from a clueless aspiring filmmaker to a less clueless independent filmmaker.

In moving forward, I'd like to inform, inspire, and fill in a few of the blanks for others trying to make the most of their film experience. I hardly have all the answers, but with film school in my past and an ambitious record of personal/creative growth over the last few years, there are a lot of things that I've picked up on and a lot of things that I think would help any other filmmaker interested in creative challenges. I've found myself inspired just by going through old notes and lessons again.

You have to ask yourself, what is it that you want to achieve with your filmmaking? Do you want to direct, edit, write? Narrow these options down, because even though you'll likely have a hand in a lot of these things, refining a specific skill can be more valuable than just general knowledge in numerous fields. Fight the urge to simply say director, when someone asks you what you want to do. In film school, director is practically a given (and it's really a dodge to the question because it's just another way of saying you want to do everything). Even if that's true, challenge yourself to be specific.

Ultimately you want to have a grasp on what a cinematographer, skilled camera person, or editor can bring to your project and how those skill sets can be relied upon to improve your vision (if you're directing). In the same way, learn how to take direction. Understand that your involvement and support in the role you play can be incredibly instrumental in the success of a project. Often when you're in a position that requires you to focus on specific details you're actually the one who can influence creative direction. Plus, it's just good advice knowing when to step back and step in - nothing worse than a set where everyone wants to play director.

It's never too late to revisit questions of purpose and motivation. Working in a creative field requires you to be open minded, willing to adapt, and confident in the choices you make. There are literally so many options to choose from, that your ability to create your own (initial) boundaries and terms will help to define the type of filmmaker you are and want to become.

Naturally, your style and approach will evolve, but if you're indecisive about the choices you make you'll never really see more than the surface. It's like reading a good book. You can read the cliff notes to understand the basic plot, but without investing time in really getting to know the construction of the story (and the natural emotional response it gives you) you'll miss the subtleties and reasoning behind why things were done the way they were. 

When creating a movie, no matter the size, you're constructing an experience, a series of frames that are meant to engage, question, entertain, and (hopefully) make sense. Unless you want someone else to decide what your work means, you need to appreciate the theory of why things are put together the way they are.

May 19, 2009

Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers

While I'm certainly not passed the point of receiving advice myself (although I guess no one really is) I feel that I have had my share of trials and errors in filmmaking or video-making. From a kid who wanted to make movies, to a film student who wanted to get out of class, to an adult just looking for film work, it continues to be an uphill battle.

There's certainly no correct formula to success, but if you're looking for a few tips on what you can do to improve your own creative ambitions, and maybe take filmmaking beyond a hobby, here are a few things that have helped me out (especially as a student).

1. Don't Assume You Know Everything About Film
Whether you're a film student or not, I've met my share of people who thought they already had it all figured out. There's never a shortage of techniques, concepts, styles, etc. to pick up on. The more willing you are to learn, the more experience you naturally open yourself up to. You don't have to like everything, but try and experience it at least once. The more varied and dynamic your approach, the more credibility you gain when speaking with other artists, and the more likely you are to refine your own tastes.

2. It's Okay To Like The Mainstream
Eventually you're going to encounter someone who will rant about how all Hollywood flicks are awful - formulaic, boring, repetitive, etc. Don't shy away from the debate, but don't feel guilty about stocking your own DVD collection with comedies. The world needs entertainment, and not everything has to be high art.

3. It's Okay To Like The Avant-Garde
Eventually you're going to encounter someone who will rant about how experimental films are cliche, without purpose and overly pompous, and how the only films worth seeing are the ones with A list stars and directors. Again, don't shy away from the debate, but remember to continually test yourself with a wealth of movies outside of the weekends top box office. You'd be surprised how often the avant-garde inspires what later becomes the mainstream. Remember, the world needs art and experimentation, and merging creative substance with accessibility speaks to every quality film made.

4. Create As Much As Possible
If you wanted to be a writer, you'd be told to write. If you wanted to be photographer, you'd be told to take pictures. Same goes for filmmaking: if you want to make movies (whatever facet of the industry you're interested in) practice doing it. Your greatest lessons will come from your own mistakes and successes, and trust me there will be a lot of them . . . mistakes that is. It always looks easier than it actually is, but your own push to see what you can do will pay off as you continue to improve. You most likely won't start off with the best equipment, but use that as part of the challenge. Sometimes limitations help to establish borders which makes it easier to work. The more you create, the more you learn.

5. Watch Critically
Filmmaking at its core is about experiences used to tell a story. Keep this in mind when watching other films, television and the random events in your own daily life. The more you pay attention to, the more material you'll have for your own concepts.

6. You Can't Please Everyone
So don't expect to! One of your biggest challenges is going to be finding a style and approach that you're comfortable with.  A style that makes you confident enough to shake the 'you should haves' and 'I don't get its' that all filmmakers inevitably hear. You have to take pride, first and foremost, in what you're producing. If you've already acknowledged your projects flaws and decided to work on them, you may not have a project that everyone likes, but you will have one that meets your own standards.  People who do like your work will respect that. And remember, opening yourself up to raw feedback will naturally lead to your ability to receive it and give it - not to mention, it'll thicken your skin.

7. Use The Internet
For an independent filmmaker the Internet is the best tool out there. It's a no-brainer. Use it to upload your work to various sites, create a blog to share it, network with people from around the world, research film terms, theory and history, look up festivals and competitions, get feedback from strangers, etc. etc.

8. Find The Answers You Want
Undoubtedly, you're going to question a lot of things from what type of equipment to use, to film school, to possible jobs, and so on. The beauty of a film career is that there are thousands of different ways to get to the same destination. Search out the info that helps to back up your approach. This may sound pointless, but don't underestimate the benefit of someone else's experience and the motivation you can get from a little positive reinforcement.

9. Promote Yourself, Network
There's nothing like a group of peers to share with, debate with, and draw from. By looking out for the interests of others, you'll have more people looking out for yours. It's a social business, and knowing the right people counts. Also, don't be afraid to promote yourself. It's obviously what I'm doing with this blog. All my online sources link back here, so if anyone wants to search me out it's as easy as typing my name - Luke Fandrich - into Google. The success won't be apparent overnight, but I've been asked to screen my work at different festivals just for the fact that people saw my work and could easily get in touch with me - the online portfolio also speaks to professionalism.

10. Get A Job
With any bit of persistence you're bound to find a job related to the field you'd like to work in. Even if you're just a production assistant it still gets you behind the scenes, and you'll still meet a lot of people. For me, I got my first post-university job because of the work I had submitted to the Medicine Hat Film Festival, where it was the company running the festival that remembered my work and hired me. I'm still currently working as a corporate videographer and editor, which is a great practical start to whatever I move onto next. This all ties back into gaining experience. Whether you like it or not, you can't do everything by yourself. Find a related or semi-related job to broaden your prospects and to get into the field that you really want.

11. Keep At It
The most general and vague advice I could probably give is also the most important. There are going to be times when you feel like no one is paying attention, that what you're doing doesn't matter, and that's it just easier to give up. Remind yourself on a regular basis of what it is you're working towards, and what it is you've accomplished. It's like pulling a heavy wagon up a hill. You may not be able to see the top, but just by keeping at it you naturally work your way higher. If you stop, you'll just slide backwards and have to make up the ground again later.

Hard work talks, persistence talks, passion talks, sitting back and hoping only wastes your time. Working through the tough times not only says that you're serious, it helps prove to yourself how much you want to succeed. Enjoy your experiences, embrace challenges, find ways to motivate yourself, and learn with an open mind. Those who are persistent end up reaping the rewards. The most sound advice I have for aspiring filmmakers is the one thing that I can actually guarantee; Keep at it and you'll find your niche.

Luke Fandrich's Portfolio Preview

Apr 1, 2009

Return of the Dropout

Regina, Saskatchewan hasn't changed. The city where I went to university and left last year after deciding I didn't want to finish school is very much the same place I moved away from. What would really change that much anyway, right? I went to the university - yup, this is still the same. I went downtown - the same. Even the Denny's we used to go after drinking - same.

I obviously feel very different than the tired and stuck student I saw myself as at this time last year. After working to pay down my debt, getting paid to actually edit and shoot, and finding new passion in my personal productions, there was a part of me that believed returning to Regina was going to feel epic. The spring air, the lighting, all practically the same as when I packed up the Buick and headed home. What I saw instead was the reason I left. Aside from my good friends, Regina had no more relevance to what I wanted to do now, than it did in March of 2008.

Me next to the Regina sign on one of my final nights there.

Without effort things fell right back into place. Strolling through the uni hallways with Tyler felt like any other day I was there, and if I wasn't so focused on finding meaning I probably would've accidentally tried to get into my old dorm. Another year older, a bit more confident, and still as uncertain about the reality of my choices. Leaving school isn't a regret, but a reminder of a different path that I clearly saw and at the last minute decided not to take.

Somehow, thinking about my own potential has only become more exciting.

The weekend was significant for another reason. It was around this time last year, that chatting with my friends Dave and Tyler, we recorded ourselves talking about our favourite film school experiences and memories. I had already clearly stated my plans not to return, but the recording proved just how meaningful the whole journey had been. It was the kind of conversation we'd had hundreds of times, but on the cusp of breaking away from years of formal education, it felt more significant.

I used a few moments from the footage in a preview I edited for this blog:

I don't suppose Regina will ever really be as different or as personally revealing as my imagination says it should be. Instead, it'll always remind me of change and the choices that ultimately resulted in the path I'm on. A living scrapbook that I was a part of for a few years. As long as friends are there, I'll go back. They were always the best part of the experience anyway, and as I'm sure most would agree, they're the best connection we have to where we've been, what we've done, and where we want to go.

Jan 3, 2009

Film School Lesson: Creating Options

I think one of the best lessons any young filmmaker can learn is to search out as many outlets as possible to share, discuss, and promote your work. When I graduated high school in 2002 YouTube wasn't even an option yet, and that's just one outlet that's made it considerably easier to get yourself noticed - and cheaper than film school.

When considering film school you have to weigh your financial situation, etc. to see if going is even feasible. While I'm not entirely convinced that the financial obligation is worth it, what film school does provide is a tremendous opportunity to network, gauge the level of your skill, and the time to experiment and improve. All of this provides you with more options as a filmmaker. Allow me to expand on this:


Whether it's with your classmates, your profs, the girl you met in Art History, or the friends you made at the campus pub, university lends itself to meeting new people on a daily basis. This is valuable for numerous reasons. The more people you have in your court, the more people you have to support you. You never know when you'll need someone to act in one of your shorts, someone to hold the camera, someone to vote for your movie in a contest, someone to tell you about the contest in the first place, someone to refer you for a job or get you hired themselves. Just like a spider spinning a web, the larger your network the more likely you are to catch opportunity. You have to work at this! People aren't just going to approach you, and you need to teach yourself how to take advantage of Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, etc. not just as a way to waste time, but as a way to build a following. The internet is the cheapest and most global outlet for reaching a lot of people with your ideas quickly.

On the surface I know all this sounds like a no-brainer, but of all the people I've met through film school and various student festivals, so few people actually take the time to do this. Start as soon as possible. The time and work it's taken for my blog and other online accounts to grow to the point of actually being able to significantly help me took months. But, the work does pay off if you're dedicated. This blog itself helped me campaign for votes in early 2008 and helped me win $3500 in an online video contest, as well, when I mentioned it in my job interview with Stream Media in May 2008 it immediately helped me make a strong first impression. I think you get the point.

Gauge Your Skill Level

All first year film students think that they're 'the shit'. We all start off this way because we're young and we've grown up having all our friends and family tell us that we're the next Spielberg because of that one video we made in 8th grade. Don't get me wrong, it's great having people cheer you on, but at some point you have to step up to the plate and ask yourself if working in film is a career choice or just a hobby.

As much as I've been impressed and inspired by my peers time and time again, I've also been incredibly embarrassed by some of the lazy work that I've had to screen my projects with in production classes. While no one is without their occasional flops, having film classes that allow you to talk about and receive feedback on your work allows you to see where you fit in the spectrum of things. It's where I was able to pinpoint my love for editing, and build confidence by giving and receiving critical comments. Just knowing that I'd have to defend the choices I made with my videos in class motivated me to work harder and produce the highest quality of project that I could. The exposure to lots of student films allowed me to see that all the work I had been doing helped put me above the curve.

Time to Experiment

To each their own, but for me, film school allowed me the time to experiment with various types of equipment, software, genres and styles. Had I gone from high school straight into the workforce I wouldn't have had the time to produce the number of short films that I did so quickly. I was able to learn techniques and tricks by being challenged by other peoples standards, and because of that, was able to refine my own style and develop a portfolio of work that represented the variety I was capable of. Practise is the only sure fire way to improve, and often without someone pushing us we don't feel the need to be quite as productive - and certainly in such a short period of time. 

Remember that in film, as in any art, you're competing against the person who may not necessarily have the best work, but instead against the person who is able to best sell it. Keeping an open mind, pushing yourself to grow in as many creative directions as possible, and learning to promote yourself will give you plenty of options when opportunity comes knocking. 

Dec 30, 2008

Is Film School Worth It?

When I left film school in April 2008, I'd been there for 6 years, straight out of high school, had just a couple of classes remaining and decided that I could do without the degree. It wasn't an easy decision to leave, but the cost was outweighing the benefits by that point. Student life had provided me with the time and means of pursuing my film aspirations predominantly on my own terms. It felt like I was buying time to continue developing my work and skill, but only in the bubble of post secondary hypotheticals.

To be clear, my battle with film school was always the clash between my drive outside of the classroom and the redundant and occasionally time wasting lessons in it. I was more eager to shoot a short than write a paper, build on my experience to complete a project instead of following the lessons intended for those who'd never held a camera, and take a hit on a grade if it meant making a film that was better for my portfolio.

I'd educated myself on film history as a teenager using a book on Academy Award nominees as a jumping off point to watch the so-called 'classics'. I saved what little money I had as a kid and spent $125 on a used camcorder a the age of 12 to shoot my own short films. Without even realizing it, I was teaching myself about framing, composition, camera angles, and how to manipulate my footage. In retrospect, it's surprising how much I was trying to prepare myself.

I wasn't in film school because I thought it was easy, I was there because I was, and am, passionate about making movies. I wanted to be challenged, and I wanted to find a way into the film industry. There was no second guessing for me, I'd known what I wanted to do for as long as I was asked 'what do you want to be when you grow up?'. At 18 film school seemed like the only realistic option, and without growing up in Hollywood or having a family member to follow in the footsteps of, I did what felt right for me.

Still transitioning out my university haze I'm now working as a corporate editor and videographer. I've got numerous festival credits to my name, a diverse portfolio, and a strong foundation to build on. However, I don't think that the answers to achieving the goals that any of us would consider significant are easy to find. Despite my successes I'm still pushing myself to grow, to make new shorts, and to save the money needed to move and make the leap to narrative filmmaking. If you want to work, if you want to put yourself ahead of the curve, and if you want to know 'is film school worth it?' you really need to figure out what it is you want most.  

At best, you'll just have to make an educated guess.  The truth is that you won't know if it was or wasn't worth it until you experience a big enough success or failure on either end of the spectrum to make you justify your decision.  However, if you really just want to know if there's value in a film school education?  Yes, there is.

Mar 21, 2008

Beyond a Film Student

I've been putting off writing this post for a few weeks, partly because I have other projects going on, but mainly because it's kind of an uncomfortable topic for me. Whether you've heard it through the grapevine, or heard me allude to it in several previous posts, it is in fact official that I will not be returning to university in the fall.

True, I likely won't even return to the University of Regina to finish my degree in the film progam. I suppose this is shocking depending on your own personal experience. Some relate, some disagree, and generally those who know me just look at me wide-eyed when I say it. Although perhaps it's strange to leave after the time I've put into this education, with every ounce of ambition, passion, and confidence that I have I know it's a step in the right direction for me. Sure, at its simplest it's just leaving school I guess, but it's also giving up that 'student' definition; that comfortable and forgiving term that for any artist in my position gives you a title that says it's okay that you haven't made it big yet.

It's not that I don't want to make movies anymore, it's exactly the opposite. I want to get started with my life and honestly believe that these last few random programs are not only a waste of money, but a waste of time and effort in the way of real experiences and tests. Sure the piece of paper is important, and I don't want to express any negativity towards those who pursue it because I understand it's benefits as well. 

My choice is obviously a personal one and in such a case, my sentiment is what really matters. For me, I feel I've been stagnant in this environment for the last couple of semesters and I feel like I'm drowning. The one thing keeping me afloat is my personal filmmaking (the blog/sasktel contest/etc) and in my own opinion, when you discover your inner passion, when you can see your goals, when you go out of your way to better yourself, when you become your own teacher, well then, learning through dictation loses it's effectiveness. 

I guess what I'm saying is that I've been lucky enough to experience and learn a great deal in regards to my own productions and I can't take the hypotheticals anymore. Experience a bit of success on your own and how can you go back to just talking about? I want and need more of the reality.

I started my university career straight out of high school in the fall of 2002, meaning that by the end of this semester I will have been in school for 6 years . . . yes, for a 4 year program. The reasons for this are long, but the last 2 years especially have been plagued by a lack of motivation, understanding, and reasoning as to why I was subjecting myself to classes that seemed redundent and worthless. In argument of this I always tell the story of how in a 4th year production class one of the major assignments was to write about one of your favourite directors. I was thinking:

"I'm sorry prof, but after the tens of thousands of dollars spent to get to 4th year programs in film, i'm beyond telling you about one of my favourite directors. I can do that in a couple sentences, tell me I have to make another movie! Challenge me! Trust me, I wouldn't be this far in the program if I didn't care about cinema, and if you're concerned that Johnny and Jane don't know their directors and styles by this point - let them make another movie and they'll realize just how far behind they really are. It's a sink or swim industry, and all the times I was humbled in class only made me stronger the next time around. Honestly, this is the end, this is the advanced class, write a paper on a director in a PRODUCTION class? Give me something I can sink my teeth into! Please inspire me to do more than read the same books in the library again! I can do that for free."

My mind has been made up to leave school by a series of stories like this that I'll probably end up writing a book about when I'm 40. This stuff is funny the first few times, then it just gets painful when you realize how much you're paying for it.

So where does this leave me? Well, i'll be in limbo for the summer at least while I work to pay off some of my debt. Then it's an open playing field. If I wanted to be an accountant or an engineer my strategy would seem pretty foolish, but based on my research it seems that a strong portfolio (which I do have) is just as, if not more, valuable in proving what you're capable of. There's still a load of uncertainty in this choice, but at the end of the day, school will always be there, I'm still young enough to pursue a lot of directions, and by doing this I feel like I'm finally moving forward. It just feels right.

I have to admit though, as strange as it is, if I hadn't gone to university in the first place I may have never gained the level of confidence to take such big risks (especially in the capacity where I'm able to act solely on what I want, without being bothered that others would/could do it differently). I've learned to trust myself and believe in myself, and whether I'm in school or not, I finally understand that I'm beyond what it is to be a film student. Regardless of what anyone else may think, I'm a filmmaker, degree or not.