Here’s What Film School Doesn’t Teach You

I’m a filmmaker. This is going on my 3rd year making films. I live in Long Beach, California which might as well be Siberia as far as film making is concerned. It definitely is not in the TMZ zone.

Before I made a movie, I had no filmmaking experience nor attended any film school classes. To date I have finished one 71 minute documentary called Dream Big At 77 about a a 77 year old man from Uruguay that competes with 10 other people in the world in the decathlon at age 75 and older. The film was shot in Uruguay, Finland and Sacramento over 3 years.

Additionally, I also finished an 82 minute scripted romantic drama between a Korean woman and a Greek man that was shot in Laguna Beach, California called My Earl Grey. I started My Earl Grey 2 years ago.

I have since attended various film making seminars at Film Independent in West Los Angeles, UCLA extension courses, and the Dov Simmons 2 Day Film School to see what I was missing in the filmmaking process by not going to school.


What Film School Doesn’t Teach You

After making these films with absolutely no previous experience and then listening to “professionals” in and around Hollywood teach about making films such as at the above mentioned institutions, I have heard very little useful information from the “professionals” about how to make a $20,000 and under film.

The film teachers I have listened to pretty much think a $500,000 film is cheap. I hate to say it but $500,000 in the real world is a lot of money.

I went to a 6 week course at Film Independent where the subject matter was “filming to the edit”. The conclusion of the 6 weeks was this: Don’t edit a film yourself. Leave it to the professional editor.

I asked the teacher how much she charged. She said $40,000 for a low budget film. I then asked her what to do if the whole budget to make a film is less then her fee. She said that I shouldn’t make the movie.

I disagree strongly. Make that film for $10,000 and learn by doing.

I then took the popular Dov Simmons 2 Day Filmmaking Seminar. I was curious to see what Dov had to say. It turns out Dov made one film in 1984 for $250,000. I would say if you know nothing about filmmaking you would be impressed with Dov. If you actually made a film through trail and error.

He basically concluded one should not make a film, but instead write a screenplay and shop that around or find a someone rich that can pony up $200,000 plus to make your 1st film. You will then lose that person’s money, have them pissed off at you, and then you will be done with making movies.

Tons Of Filmmaking Information Is Outdated

I am a lot older than the “young” filmmakers so I get pitched a lot for money. I love to listen to the pitches. I have heard half a dozen variations on the zombie/horror theme of 6 teenagers lost in a cabin in the woods and it can be made for only $300 to 600,000 plus. These young film makers have never made a film and they want how much? $300,000? Let me see, 6 unknown teenagers in the woods? Are you kidding me! Knowing what I know now, if that cost me over $20,000 shoot me.

There is a statistic out there somewhere (I’m not sure if it’s true, but it sounds right) that 93 percent of 1st time filmakers never make a 2nd film. Why do you think that is? I think they will never make another film because they raised a lot of money and lost all that money and now their friends or family or investors are done with backing that 1st time film maker.

I believe strongly one needs to make make a 1st time film for $10,000 or less. Then make the best poster you can. Then be sure to have a camera on set to take some stills. Then make the best press kit you can. Then make the best web site you can. Then make the best trailer you can. Then do the film festival circuit and then do the DIY thing with Jason.

Make The Movie You Can Make

Then don’t get discouraged. Then make another movie for $10,000 or less and do the same thing. By the end of the 2nd movie you will know more about film making then the best professor at the best film university in the country or the top graduates of any of these universities . Why? Because what you just did is up to date and current and you had to learn many skills to make the movie for $10,000 or less.

Most likely the professor’s information is at least 10 years old or that person is used to making large budget films. That is what I have heard from prestigious film school graduates. After you have made your 2nd film, you will have a decent resume that you can then ask for more money. Don’t be like my friend that went to the prestigious UCLA film school 25 years ago and has been trying to raise that million dollars for his 1st film. I hate to say it, but he will never make that film.

By the way, this same person begged me not to make my $40,000 films. He said I needed to go to film school first. Sorry, but I made the films. I am not going to tell you my films are the greatest, but if you can actually muster up the drive, passion, and energy to actually make a feature film you are already 80 percent above the rest the the people that want to make their living making films.

You Just Need To Make Your Movie

I am now finishing my 3rd film. It will be a feature film that will be completed in 4 days. It will have 10 different locations and it cost $5000. I could have done it for no money, but I wanted to pay people a reasonable amount. My suggestion to you is if you don’t have the money to pay people to help you make a film, find people that be a part of your film for free.

There are tons of people that want to be part of the movie making experience that will work for free. If you don’t live in SO CAL that is probably a advantage as people will work for free to be part of something if you treat them with RESPECT. I think one of the keys to making a low budget movie is to find people that at this point in their lives they REALLY want to be part of making a movie. They are excited and they want to do their best.

An inexperienced person can learn a awful lot on you tube about how to operate a camera, audio, and lighting. I believe another key to low budget film making is to be open with people trying new tasks. I think a goal of a 1st time film maker should that everyone on your set which includes talent and crew think your film was the best experience they ever had regardless of the quality of the movie.

From what I have heard there are a lot of filmmakers that don’t understand how to treat people. I have heard stories about how other filmmakers treat their cast and crew. The stories weren’t pretty. Also if your not going to pay them, man up and buy them or make them good food.

Write Your Own Movie

There a tons of stories everywhere. Reporters find stories in your hometown every day. By filming in your environment you will keep the location and talent costs down. I strongly believe starting out that you should write your own script using the following criteria:

  1. Keep your costs down by using the locations you can get for free.
  2. Keep the story in the present then you don’t have to find period costumes, antique cars or old stuff.
  3. I think the easiest thing to do is make a story about something in your hometown.

After I finish filming this 4 day movie in a few days then I want to complete it in a month. As a side note I think it is a must to learn the basics of a editing software such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe. If you do not take the time to learn this then I don’t think you should make films. There are about 20 commands to learn that will get you through the edit. And don’t be intimated by “film editors” that tell you there is some sort of magic in cutting a film.

If I had it to do over again, I think I would have made a few 10 minute films for practice. I wouldn’t belabor them to make them perfect. Just make them for practice and move on. Give yourself a month from 1st page on the script to finishing the 10 minute short. If you go any longer, you are procrastinating.

Here’s what film school doesn’t teach you: The best thing you can do to become a filmmaker is to grab a camera and film something.

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John Case has a long career in various businesses such as real estate, clothing, natural gas vehicles, and solar water. John also founded the non profit in Long Beach, California which promotes urban biking throughout the United States. John grew up in Southern California. He graduated from the University of Denver. He also attended the Univeridad de las Americas in Mexico City and then hitchhiked around the world in third world countries for two years. He then attended the Cordon Blue cooking school. John also lived in Montevideo, Uruguay for a year with his wife and son in 2004.


  1. stfjs says

    He doesn’t make a living from it. He might make a living from it in a few years time but then he would have already done his 10000 hours and he will be ready for everything. I have heard the same bullshit he has the last few years. Educated people spouting nonsense at youngsters about money and funding and now the new buzzword Crowdfunding. Seeing as I am an academic at a prestigious school myself, it’s ironic to me as it came from people who were all looking for huge amounts of money to fund their own vanity projects. they were all willing to blow someone else’s money but not willing to put their own money into it.

    Hardly seems fair.

    If film-making is a passion for you you do something else to pay the bills and do it on the side. you work in a mail-room, you work anywhere you can and you save your money and your holiday time and you shoot what you want when you can afford it. Dont expect to be the big famous director right from the bat, hell dont expect to be ever make a living from it. If you do it just so that you can stand on the red carpet with the bulb flashing at you grow up or become an actor. Directors rarely become famous. That is just how it works. Directing is not something you can learn from a textbook. it is something you learn from working with actors and other people. And no-one is going to fund your little movies where you try out stuff to to see if is going to work. You need to slog, you need to work at it, and you can do that while doing something else. Sometimes you have to do things you dont like, to get to do things that you do like.

  2. says

    I’ve heard the same things so many times! It’s incredible! And with my little borrowed Fuji 5500 camera I’m filming wildlife around my house, and editing and putting free or sample music with it just for fun. And people are getting a kick out of it. (By the way: I also have not formal training.) I’ve noticed that the people who write for money often don’t get what they want and end up cynical and bitter. Those who write and make films out of passion are always happy, smiling, enthusiastic and, eventually, getting places. I’m so glad you wrote this article. I’m going to share it on a few FB writers and filmmakers pages to see the reaction 😉

  3. WC says

    I like this article a lot. Motivation, passion and the will to tell a story is something film school does not and can not teach you, yet it is one of the most crucial components to film making. Oh and another crucial component that cannot be taught (especially at film school)? Creativity. People always ask: how do I become a director? How can I make a living off of this? Sure, that compassion for the title may be there, but those are the wrong questions to ask. Easily. For fun, I have looked up “how to become a film director” on google just to see what sites have to say, and NONE of them overly emphasized the utilization of one’s creative capacity. Huh.

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