This is Part IV in our series entitled Should I Go to Film School, where we really break down the various aspects of going to film school and if it’s relevant to your career as a filmmaker. Here are the other parts in order:
Should I Go To Film School? Part I
Should I Go To Film School? Part II
Should I Go To Film School? Part III
Create A Dedicated Work Ethic
I would say one of the additional benefits of going to film school as a student is taking advantage of the opportunity to forge a disciplined work ethic.
As many who have been in the business for a long time will tell you, it’s the people who are able to put their heads down and concentrate, put in the work from the 10 days to 3 years of making a movie, that excel and become successful.
Talent, good looks, who you know, etc, are all well and good and could add to your value, but by themselves without discipline and the seriousness of getting the job done in this business will get you nowhere. The streets are littered with talented people who had connections. But many are dilettantes.
School gives you a chance to put the work in, in an environment that allows you to fail and sometimes miserably while exploring your craft.
Making a movie as a creative entrepreneur, without formal training, is very difficult even for the most talented. It takes an iron will and working with such complete concentration to take a sliver of an idea and turn it into a fully realized movie.
Moviemaking, while it includes many artists, is a technical craft that can be learned and needs to be learned.
You have to learn somewhere, and you can learn on your dime or on someone else’s dime. If it’s on someone else’s, you can guarantee that you won’t be in any position of importance for the first few films you work on.
If it’s your own money, you pay for film school for the opportunity to start on the road of honing your craft OR you pay to be the master of your own project. But if the discipline isn’t the ‘to get it going’ (even if you’re trained), your money is wasted.
The Autodidact Approach
Autodidacticism is the method of learning something for oneself.
So for the self-learning method, I’d start by taking say $30k, make maybe 2 short films, at $1-3k to see if you have any eye for the camera.
Who knows, during that process you’ll find where your true interest lies within the filmmaking experience. Then make a micro-budget genre feature at $12k-20k – One location, 5 people in a room and kill them off one by one.
Then go back to “school” and learn how to get the money. Other people’s money to make bigger movies: $100k – $500k – With digital and the SAG low budget contract you can make some of those movies for a while, if you get a handle on how to raise the financing.
When you learn financing, you learn the realities of what you need to make movies. If you want other people’s money to make movies, you’ll need to learn what sells so you can have a fighting chance at getting their money back!
If you go to film school, after graduating, I’d skip the short films and move straight to the micro-budget genre movie.
How To Leverage Kickstarter Geature Films
If you have money but want to work for another production to get experience, take that cash and find a Kickstarter feature film that will let you invest some of that $ to be a hands-on co-producer or producer.
The idea is to find the ones that will include you in all the inner workings of the production. You need to be on the set, in meetings and maybe even given some responsibility.
These perks are very rare, but there are some that do it, just keep looking. I saw one that asked for $3500 to be a hands-on co-producer! Involved with casting and other details. On a feature.
If you had that money wouldn’t you do that for the credit and experience? Personally, I believe the experience of working hands-on (as a producer) on just one feature film is worth many semesters of film school.
Don’t waste your money on short films with this path! Features only, and just the ones that will allow you to participate.
The reason why I said it was rare is that many filmmakers don’t want a potentially disruptive investor roaming around on their set or interrupting meetings. But some have no problem. They respect their investors enough to ask for their creative input.
Investing gets you to access to movie sets. Plain and simple. And that’s where one needs to be. Real, professional, movie sets.
But when you contribute to a film at certain levels on a crowdfunding site, you’re doing the same thing as investing. Any producer credit as an investor holds weight. Even an Executive Producer credit. When you produce a film, and create your PPM paperwork to raise money, most other equity investors ask if you have skin in the game.
Many producers buy a unit of their own LLC/film as a good-faith measure toward that end. Are they paying to work? Actors who sign on to an indy movie buy a share or more of a production’s LLC and many times receive associate, co-producer or Executive Producer credits. Are they paying to work? Are their producer credits bogus?
If you invest in a project, you’re an investor not an employee. Big difference.
As far as throwaway credits with no weight, associate producer in films is the one has gotten the worst rap because of how people seem to give them away in the last few years. But ask Mark Wahlberg if his Executive Producer TV credits don’t mean anything.
Many, many, many investors with Executive Producer credits in name only have turned into prolific film producers and filmmakers by having access to a movie set. Arnon Milchan being just one small example.
The main credit that matters for learning to make a film A-Z is straight-up Producer. But if you invest $3500 on a $10,000 feature, do you not deserve respect as a major funder of that film?
He who has the gold makes the rules. I would say that an Exec producer/investor trumps producers and many other players on a film set.
So yes, do shorts – invest in your friends’ or other movies on Kickstarter and produce your own movies. And yes, I say if you invest (crowdfunding or in a private equity setting), get your damn credit! Point is, there’s no one way. And your way will be your own.
A Matter Of Respect
In terms of respect, sure you may not respect the guy who’s cutting your check while working on your film, but they still may be your boss.
Everyone answers to the UPM/Line Producer. The UPM answers to the producer and the producer may or may not answer to the EP. Respect or no.
Who decides “Equity”? What is “Equity”?
It could be money, it could be something else.
The hierarchy of a film is based on titles and what’s described in the Corp or LLC operating agreement. Most titles are represented by credits and are listed on the call sheet or contact page.
If not, then people respect (in the workplace hierarchy sense) who the producer says to respect plain and simple. If the producer says that his wife is in charge of the art dept, then so be it.
Now, many indy producers work on their projects for free. In fact, most do. In fact, I’d say most low-budget film or media producers pay out of their pockets to work on their film.
In fact, in California, I’ve been looking for any labor law that defines ‘Pay To Work’ problem or even ‘Equity for work,’ or how a producer might get in trouble for accepting donations, contributions or investments, allowing access to the set for the same with the contributor participating on the creative team if possible.
It cuts against the sensibilities of most people who are employees and working for a wage. It doesn’t make sense and seems stupid to pay anybody to work. But that’s not what we’re talking about at all.
The contract of an investor (whether it’s donations or a structured offering) is completely different than a contract with an employee expecting a wage.
That’s what I believe a judge would look at if presented with the situation. Anyway, what person on a film set would be the one calling the District Attorney or the cops about labor laws and so-called “pay for work” violations for mistreatment of a credited producer? Whose business would that be to make that call?
Seems like at most a civil issue to me. Especially if a contributor was mistaken and thought they’d get a piece of the pie or were in fact going to be paid as an employee.
But I digress. Getting back to the original topic about to film school or not to film school. Learning by experience is the best way. By making movies.
Thanks for reading!
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