Showing posts with label Lesson Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lesson Series. 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.  

Jun 19, 2012

Life After Film School

Last week I received this message:

Hello, I am a 2nd year film student at the University of Regina. I actually came across your blog by accident, and I'm sure glad that I did! Not only do you propose lots of good insight and ideas into filmmaking and it's various ups and downs, but you do it from a place that I can relate to. I've been having a lot of the same doubts about film school that you've described here, and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who's felt this way. And it's also great to see someone get out of this program (degree or not) and actually GET a job, which is something that has me quite worried these days. If you have any spare time on your hands, would you mind telling me a little bit about why you decided to drop out of the program, and how you made your way into the industry on your own? I'm very interested to hear the journey of someone who's been in the same boat. You have a great blog, and I'm very eager to hear from you.

As I've done in the past, I received permission from this student to respond publicly to their message. As always, I want to thank everyone who sends me questions and feedback. It not only makes this website feel worthwhile, but it also gives me an excuse to explore what I've learnt as well.

I've written at length about film school in the past, and even recently. This blog was a result of me trying to understand the direction I was heading, to facilitate a transition out of university, and to give me a bit of clout when it came to actually pointing to things that I'd done creatively. As a film student, nothing stressed me out more than the fear of not finding meaningful work when I was done.

For the record, I did enjoy a lot of my time in university and I do think there's a lot of value in a film school education. The practicality of it requires you to fill in some of the blanks however.

To answer your question about why I dropped out, I had overstayed my welcome to the point that it wasn't a choice anymore. I completed all of my core production classes through to 4th year, but had spent six years at the U of R doing so. By the time I left I only had a semester of electives, one language class, and one film theory class keeping me from my degree. I was broke though, and after completing the courses I'd come to university for, I became apathetic about school and spent months simply spinning my wheels. I was forced to realize at that point that the only thing I valued about film school anymore was being able to say that I went.

Thankfully, there was a bright side that came from all of this. My frustration with classes actually motivated me to make more personal projects and finally explore my passion for editing on my own terms. I submitted my work to film festivals, I took part in video contests, and started this website. In the beginning it was just self indulgence (and frankly a lot of it still is), but I can see now how these projects laid the groundwork for the opportunities that followed.

I moved home to Medicine Hat in 2008 with my tail between my legs. I had acquired some nice festival credits and had a little bit of money left from a Sasktel video competition that I'd taken part in, but the best thing I had going for me was that I was hungry for anything that seemed even mildly related to video or photography.

It was on a fluke after hearing about Stream Media that things changed. I soon realized that they'd sponsored the local student film festival that I had been a part of, and actually won a few awards from, a couple years before. I then discovered that I had a loose contact through Julie, one of the owners, who I'd spoken with briefly one of the years that I'd had something in the film festival. With nothing to lose, I wrote her an email explaining exactly what I'd been up to.

This shot in the dark changed everything for me. I was called in to talk, I gave them a reel of some of my shorts, and Julie's insistence got me a job. I was hardly financially independent at that point, but the opportunity I'd been given was amazing. The experience I got with Stream Media became building blocks. Suddenly I was shooting for various corporate projects, editing promos, and most importantly, working with a small team that could show me the ropes.

The film festival had become my foot in the door, and because I'd taken chances with my work as a student, it made an impression when I came knocking several years later. That experience still impacts me now when I think about the value of sharing your work. You never know who could be watching or where the next opportunity might come from.

As the economy cooled towards the end of 2008, I began working contract with Stream and found work in early 2009 with a retail website that had an interest in using video. I started as a copywriter with the potential of moving into video with them. My excitement and their willingness to grow lead to them taking a chance with me. I ended up building their in house media department, and began shooting enough photography and video to the point that I had created a new job for myself as their Web Media Editor.

To date I'm still balancing both jobs, and feel like I've been given an incredible opportunity to build my reputation on what I genuinely enjoy doing. The truth is that there is little to be gained in a creative profession without taking risks. Some of the smartest things I've done (looking back) is latched myself to people who appreciated what I was doing. I've also made a point of not just talking about how I love photography and video, but showing people that I do. Words are cheap, but it's difficult to ignore proof.

Once out of film school you're going to have to make sacrifices to move forward. This means making less money for a job that pays in experience, or putting in extra hours just to prove that you can do something new, or taking someones whim and being the person to interpret a logical first step for making it happen. Neither of my jobs existed when I went looking for them, which just goes to show that sometimes your fear can be an amazing motivator. 

Use your uncertainty to explore just what it is you want to do or where you want to be, and start taking as many steps in that direction as you possibly can. Redefine your film school expectations and realize that degree or not, you're still at square one when you get out there. You can take comfort in the fact that what I initially viewed as a failure in terms of leaving university when I did, actually timed me perfectly with the companies who were ready to take chances at that time too. There are a ton of hidden opportunities, and sometimes it really is as simple as getting in touch with the places you'd like to work with whether they're hiring or not.

I'm 28 now, but I've hardly got it all figured out for myself. I know it's important to stay hungry. Make things that inspire you and use them to inspire others. You'll start to pick up crumbs that will lead to bigger opportunities just based on the number of new people you're reaching. And one other thing, people like people who can tell a good story. You'd be amazed how far that can get you. 

So, to sum up a few of my own thoughts here are a few things to consider.  Share your work in as many ways as you can think of.  Like I said, you never know who could be watching.  Work hard to make meaningful connections with other people who are interested in some of the same career ambitions as you, they can become meaningful allies later on.  Take creative risks on a regular basis to challenge yourself, to grow, and to discover new things.  And don't forget, enjoy yourself.  The stress and fear are healthy, but don't forget how much fun the work can be and how defining the journey becomes.  If you really want to make the most of life after film school, stay hungry.  

Jun 5, 2012

Film School and the Real World

After recently saving my film school notes from a leaking pipe I couldn't help but muse over what I'd written and how so much had changed since I was a student.  At the same time, I realized that I wasn't entirely oblivious throughout university and actually made some smart decisions.  For any of my aspiring filmmaker/student readers, here are a few things I'm now certain of.

1.  The time to pursue your creativity is now.

I mean this regardless of your age, but especially if you're a student.  When you're in school it's easy to coast on the promise of your potential and believe that just being in a creative program is enough to get you where you want to go.  The reality is that it's the films you make to amuse yourself and the experimenting you do when you're younger that actually make those dream projects possible down the road.  University and film school aren't about giant leaps forward, they're training grounds to help you make steps.  
In my experience it was this blog, film festivals, competitive video contests, and the random content that I continued to create throughout university that helped me build a meager reputation.  That translated into connections though, and those translated into jobs.  Find ways of targeting your energy into the field that you really want to get involved in.  Trust me, persistence speaks volumes.

2.  Criticism never stops.

I have never worked on a project that didn't involve taking others viewpoints into account.  There is no golden rule here, but knowing when to stand your ground is best when it comes from experience and not from ego.  The creative process can be a balancing act at times, and criticism should always be constructive and used as a way to present alternatives to achieve a particular vision.  Whether or not you act on criticism is your call, but being able to discuss what works, what doesn't, and why, goes a long way in creative meetings.

Student life in Regina.

3.  Your experiences are worth more than your grades.

In my post-uni job interviews and in creative meetings with clients, my experiences have always carried far more weight than what marks I got or where I went to school.  Keep in mind that people like good stories.  They also like people who can back up their passions with real life applications.  It goes back to my first point.

4. It's easy to be a one-trick pony.

If you always do one thing really well it's easy to fall into a rut where that's all anyone will ever want or ask from you.  Instead, develop consistency in your work, but continually take risks to show that you're approach is varied.  Or don't.  Some people like routine - I am not one of them.

5. If you don't hold yourself accountable you'll never do the work you want.

Once you're out of film school there are no assignments, no teachers, and no classmates to encourage (or force) you to create another short film or participate in a new project.  If you weren't motivated to create before, welcome to the real world where it's more challenging to find the time (or excuse) to make something.

You might wonder what the point is, but depending on what you're doing, new projects (especially when shared online) become links to new people and contacts.  I've been contacted for work and festivals as a result of this site, and that's the thing - you never know who might stumble along.  No one will hand you your dream job if you're not willing to play a role in earning or creating it for yourself.  

In the dorms in 2007.

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.

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

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.