Sunday, January 13, 2013

Film schools and alternate routes to success

I watched a documentary, PressPausePlay, on the effects of digital media on art in general, film and music.

At one point, we see a film school graduate at work. He explains to the camera that all the Oscar winners are film school graduates. There are occasional non-film school grads in the movie industry, like Quenton Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. (Robert Rodriguez did go to film school, but not USC or UCLA.) He didn't mention Steven Spielberg.

It's such a long shot anyway. How many film school graduates achieve their goals? If you manage to become a director (like most of these guys want) you're probably going to be in your 40s before they trust you with the tens of millions of dollars it takes to make a movie.

I would look at the careers of people like John Waters. He started out making extremely cheap movies and worked his way up. Even if he hadn't made it to Hollywood----even if his career had ended with Polyester, he still would have something to show for it. With film school graduates, it tends to be all or nothing, Hollywood or bust.

And with the extreme expense of film school----the only film schools that count tend to be USC or UCLA----it's a very big gamble. You'll spend decades paying off your student loans and have nothing at all to show for it.

You also end up with a lot of white bourgeois filmmakers this way. No offense to white bourgeoisie, but there are enough of you.

You know how many black students were admitted to the UCLA film school this year? None. Zero. (This was mentioned in a discussion of Django Unchained.)

I think Robert Rodriguez had the right idea. He made El Mariachi to sell on the Spanish language home video market. If he had made the thing as a calling card trying to showcase his talent, as a stepping stone to a career in Hollywood, it probably would have failed on every count.

No matter what you do, you'll probably fail, or at least fail to become a Hollywood director, which is what the vast majority of film school students hope to achieve. It's a good idea to look at any alternative routes you can find.

Melvin van Peebles became a French novelist. Michael Cimino made TV commercials, as did George Romero before he made Night of the Living Dead. There are countless actors and writers who've become directors. There were the movie critics-turned-auteurs of the French New Wave and some in the US like Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.

There was Glen Pitre who made Cajun language historical dramas for the Cajun audiences in Louisiana.

There's Michael Moore, print journalist turned documentary filmmaker who also made a scripted comedy, Canadian Bacon.

Columnist Tony Brown produced an anti-drug kung fu movie. Record producer Barry Gordy produced a couple of musicals.

I saw a short educational film a grade school principal made in his spare time.

And, something you probably shouldn't do, there was very cheery, enthusiastic girl who became an actress in porno films because she thought it would lead to her being an Oscar-winning director. And, really, in her case, it may have been her best bet.

And, really, I would say go for money. Aim at making a profit. Even in Communist countries, this was how success in film was measured.


Now there are self-published novelists making pretty good money selling their books as downloads on Amazon. Which is good. The novel has come back. For years, there were fewer and fewer novels being published and the ones that were published were getting longer and longer. I think it's probably why fewer people read them. Look at old paperbacks from the '50s and '60s. They were thin. 150 to 200 pages long. Today they're all four or five hundred pages.

Today, independent movie theaters are long gone. The video stores, which killed the independent theaters, are themselves shutting down. The independent video stores were already being wiped out by the big chains which wouldn't stock low budget movies, and now the chains are disappearing as well.

Now I hear Amazon us doing the same thing with movie downloads. You can sell your independent films that way, charging a small sum for people to watch on computer or on Roku.

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