GO HOME! Go to bed! Watch TV instead!
...Ok, just kidding.

Advice to filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers--Questions often asked

What is the first step to becoming a filmmaker?

I am an editor and maybe have a little advice for you. DON'T DO IT!!! No, just kidding. It is a great deal of hard work though--and very little glamor. You don't have to go to school, although school is fun and a good learning and growing experience in general. But the best school is doing it. In other words, instead of spending thousands of dollars a year for four years, just volunteer at a film company, and help them.

You must do and be a few things:

Reliable--always show up on time, do what you say you will do, be efficient and good natured, and communicate with your boss openly. Call them if you will be late, and always be ready emotionally to work.

Work hard--This is what will get you respect (and possibly, future work). Believe it or not, it is difficult to find good workers in Los Angeles. There are plenty of workers, but not plenty of reliable, hard working, high-energy workers.

If you want to become an editor--starting as a PA can be good--but don't lose sight of your goals as an editor. Tell people as you apply for the PA job that your future goals are to be an editor. Tell everyone. After getting to know people on the set, tell them you want to help out in the editing room.

Of course, your goals may change, but as long as you're clear, let people know.

Realize also that you may hit a few bad apples in the film world who will want to use you and abuse you--make them treat you with respect but also realize the only work you can do for them that could be useful is the simple (and sometimes boring and tedius) work. BUT this gives them no excuse to treat you badly. You are an important person too.

Anyway, there are no "normal" routes to getting into Hollywood. You will have to be the best person you can, work hard, be enthusiastic, don't let the bad apples get you down, and keep plugging away. One day, if you want it bad enough, you will get your dreams. The question is, "What are your dreams?"

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Is it necessary to go to film school to be a successful filmmaker?

(Some of the following paragraphs are compilations from emails from others who approved my use. -- DN)

Robert Rodriguez, the director of El Mariachi, did attend film school -- briefly -- at the University of Texas at Austin. That's what he writes in Rebel Without a Crew. Rodriguez was a very mediocre student and like most students, couldn't get in to the film courses in Austin because his GPA wasn't steep enough. He wanted in bad enough to enter short film contests and beat all the film students who had been accepted into UT's program. Out of his preseverance and UT's humility, he finally got accepted. But under normal circumstances I doubt he would have gotten in. To my knowledge, none of the 4.0 students who have been accepted in the film courses in Austin have either made a movie or sold a script.

Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino and screenwriter Callie Khouri are a few of the filmmakers I know of who did not attend film school.

(NOTE FROM DN: Some have told me that Kevin Smith did not attend film school, but they are wrong. He did attend film school--Vancouver Film School, but quit after a documentary he was making failed to go as he planned.)

My understanding is that Rodriguez never actually was in the program at UT, but just hung out there a lot. It was the head of the program there who told me this.

Many filmmakers working today didn't go to film school. People who get the chance to make films rarely get that opportunity on the basis of short films they made in school.

Famous names who attended film school? The Coen Brothers, Scorcese, Coppola, Spielberg

Film school didn't make them successes, it only gave them a brief period to work on their craft before they went into the real world and, through perseverance and hard work put together their first features.

Wes Sandel of Houston, Texas added: "Good advice generally, except you should have mentioned that most fimmaking is storytelling, therefore, anything you study/read/do that improves your storytelling ability should help you as a filmmaker.

I study film in school but have yet to become a storyteller. I love working in the industry and don't regret studying film, because I love watching films and it enhances the experience. But you have to be a story teller."

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Technology and becoming a filmmaker

As far as the technology goes, do what interests you. In other words, if you hate technology, don't learn much about it. You can always find others to do the work which you don't understand.

On the other hand, technology is making it easier and easier to get a project done on a very low budget. Carpati was shot entirely on Hi-8 and Super-8, and then the final cut was transferred to 16mm film.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of technology today. In Hollywood the new technology means amazing effects and, for people looking for jobs in the industry, highly specialized, highly paid work on top-of-the-line workstations. The technology is just as important for independent filmmakers in certain genres. Today you can do the entire post production of a short film (or a feature film for that matter) on a $7000 desktop system. Thanks to this technology, independent filmmakers can make an entire feature film for what it used to cost to do a mix.

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Should I take film theory?

This depends almost entirely on the teacher. I had both helpful and extremely useless theory classes when I went to film school. But in the best theory class I had I decided to become a filmmaker. It opened my eyes to a world I had not seen, and allowed me to envision myself behind the camera, making projects I cared about.

Watching a lot of films is important--and the theories behind what make them interesting is also good to know. But the actual writing assignments that goes on in film theory classes can be a drag.

Enjoy the class, and watch lots of good films. That's the most important thing--Watch lots of films...

The problem is that some film theory classes are completely useless--a waste of time. It depends on the teacher. Film theory is very important for filmmakers. It helps you figure out how to compose a shot, how to create a style for a particular film, how to add music and edit a film. It helps you understand why a particular shot is or is not working and how to change it.

Some theory classes look too much at esoteric video art pieces or insist that you write millions of essays... now that sucks...

I do think film theory can be taught well and that it can be very important.

There is often a battle that goes on in film schools between critical studies people who have never made films and who talk about them as if the films are always deliberate attempts at creating complicated symbolism while the people who have hands-on filmmaking experience simply laugh. Good critical studies teachers can give you insight into why a film does or doesn't work on a story level, but it doesn't really teach you how to make a good film.

Somtimes classes can be filled with irrelevant discussions, and you may get some extensive reading assignments from teachers who like to hear themselves talk.

In response to the above about the importance of film theory, Another person wrote this:

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What does it feel like to have your film seen by so many people?

Sometimes it feels like this...
sometimes this...
And sometimes it feels like this!

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I'm bored. What do I do?

You're bored? Sorry to hear that.

The answer? LIVE! You are alive and your time is short here. So make the most of it. What does that mean, "Make the most of it?" Well, why are you alive? Why are you here? Why are you living in the place and at this time in history? It's not an accident.

If you want to waste time, you could just GO ON THE INTERNET AND SURF. Five years ago I would have said to surf the internet. Now, I would say, instead learn about yourself. Read, investigate, ask questions of your family. Learn from them. What is the purpose of your life? Work at understanding this.

Also, stick your head out the window, look at the beautiful clouds, smell the wonderful air, and then, go to the beach and stare at the horizon and down to the waves for a while. This can help. Then, walk in the streets of city, looking at all the people, all striving for some form of happiness and comfort. Then, buy an ice cream. Then, call your mom or dad or best friend...

Let me know how you feel now...

If you have comments to these notes, send them to us.

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