Should You Go To Film School?

If you’re just starting out as a filmmaker, deciding if you should attend a traditional film school is something you need to decide. And it’s a costly decision – some of my friends here in Los Angeles are over fifty-thousand dollars in debt.

While most of my friends value having a college education, all agree that having a  film school degree will not guarantee success in Hollywood. Like any industry, becoming successful requires passion, commitment and hard work.

Last year, I was introduced to filmmaker Seth Hymes. When he was in high school, he worked as Production Assistant, Sound Tech and an Editor. After high school, he went off to film school. In fact, he graduated from NYU with honors. From there, he was an editor for Fox News Channel and also managed to get two features into production.

So I sat down with Seth and asked him some questions about his experience.

Jason Brubaker
Seth. After visiting your website and chatting, you seem to have an interesting perspective on formal film school education. What are your thoughts? Is there any value in film school?

Seth Hymes
No, there isn’t. And it’s a great question. What does “value” mean? It means that something adds merit or worth to your life for a reasonable cost. A lot of people say things like “you learn the basics” and it’s a “good place to experiment”.

Jason Brubaker
So in your experience, you think film school is over priced?

Seth Hymes
Well, in film school, you write a check for $100,000. In return, they give you a $2,000 video camera and tell you how to push the on button. Are you going to learn something? Sure. Is it valuable? No. There is no value in learning basic technical concepts for an obscene mark up in cost.

Jason Brubaker
In the past, students enrolled in film school because held the promise of networking, as well as access to equipment. You’re saying this sort of stuff is no longer relevant?

Seth Hymes
The 3 main “values” of film school are no longer relevant. They are, access to equipment, lessons in filmmaking craft and connections. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when people like Lucas, Scorsese, and Spike Lee went to film school, it was probably a good investment. You couldn’t just pick up a high quality HD camera and start shooting. Filmmaking equipment cost a ton of money and was hard to find. You really couldn’t learn about things like continuity and storyboarding without either apprenticing with a filmmaker or going to school. And it was a good place to meet other creative professionals.

Jason Brubaker
But all of that has changed.

Seth Hymes
Yeah. If you look at today, High Definition filmmaking equipment costs less than a semester at most film schools. The craft of filmmaking, from lighting, editing, shot composition, writing – all of it is available to learn on websites like yours, as well as other sites all over the net. And these days, most connections happen through the net. And further, many new filmmakers find their agents because they produce a short and get some heat on youtube, rather than meeting them in school.

Jason Brubaker
Sort of a silly question. But would you recommend that anybody attends film school?

Seth Hymes
I do not recommend anybody attend film school. It is an unholy waste of money and time. And not only are the schools making a huge profit, they also neglect to teach their grads about anything of real value or importance when it comes to having a career in the business. Things like real networking, fundraising, or film distribution.

Jason Brubaker
So instead of film school, what suggestions do you have for any students who is considering a degree in filmmaking?

Seth Hymes
If you’re considering film school, here’s the litmus test. If it’s a community college or vocational school where classes are anywhere from $60 to $1000, go for it. If anyone is charging more than that, they are making an obscene profit and should be dismissed outright. You will be mocked within the film business for attending such an institution. Instead, I recommend that students save their money, buy their own equipment, and learn how to shoot their own movie.

These days, filmmakers can learn everything you need to know in a week or less.

Jason Brubaker
Reading your posts on other websites and the comments that follow, I can see why some filmmakers, especially the filmmakers sitting on film school debt can get a little emotional with your perspective.

Seth Hymes
Most film school grads and filmmakers agree with me, but there are a few haters. Some people hate hearing the truth. It’s hard for some people to admit they got hosed out of $100K, but the consensus everywhere is that film school is a waste.

Jason Brubaker
I took a look at your website. Tell us what you teach there.

Seth Hymes
I teach people first, exactly why places like NYU are a complete joke and secondly, what to do instead of film school. There’s a lot of pressure to go to college, and I understand that. My book “Film Fooled” is a powerful reality check, a class by class account of NYU’s film curriculum to help people realize that no, they are not missing out on anything by skipping film school.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like you think film schools should improve their curriculum.

Seth Hymes
Yeah. I get into the stuff they should be teaching in schools. Mainly, how to be taken seriously as a director from day one, how to get on real film sets, meet real working filmmakers, write feature scripts, manage a set, hire film students, and get seen. Anyone taking my course will be 4 years ahead of any film school student in just a week.

Jason Brubaker
Ok. So tell us about your online film course.

Seth Hymes
Ok. To find out more about my courseware at Film School Secrets, prospective filmmakers can Click Here!

Jason Brubaker
Thanks for stopping by Seth.

Seth Hymes
Thanks for having me.

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Screenwriting: write what you don’t know

An interesting twist on the old “write what you know” adage comes from aspiring screenwriter Mark McCann, who also is a policeman. One of his shorts was produced and has won some prizes and one of his feature scripts has just been optioned–for the fifth time.

He told Arkansas Online: “I try to avoid writing movies about cops.  That may seem illogical, but let’s face it… being a cop is not all roses and sunshine. Nobody calls 911 because they’re having a good day.

“Being a cop means you are there for the worst time of people’s lives; they’re bleeding, crying, or both.  Rarely are there happy endings.  So when I write, I create my own world with happy endings.”

In that sense, writing about what you don’t know may be a great strategy. Stuck in an office? It’ll probably make you happy to write a story set on an idyllic island. (If you’re stuck on an idyllic island, will you want to write about an office?)

Writing about realities we wish were so is a powerful motivator. If you’ve felt constrained by the ‘write what you know’ idea, give it a try.

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For more tips on screenwriting, visit Filmmaking Stuff every Tuesday for a new post from Jurgen Wolff and also check out his site, www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com. You may also find his “Your Writing Coach” book useful.

Professional Filmmaking Process – When To Make Your First Feature

Jason Brubaker - Los Angeles Based Indie Film Producer

Sooner or later the filmmaking bug hits you. . . It’s like a far off voice or compulsion. But like breathing, for the serious independent filmmaker, the need to make a feature is always present.

BEFORE YOU GET CRAZY

If you’re not making short movies with your friends, making a feature will be like running a marathon before you know how to walk.  SO, before you make your first feature film, do this:

  1. Spend the next couple of months making little movies with your friends.
  2. Read EVERY screenplay you can!
  3. Constantly write and refine your feature script.
  4. Cultivate relationships with rich and successful people.
  5. Avoid anyone in your life who sucks your filmmaking energy.

The Result?

Follow this system for the next six months and you will have no more excuses. You will diminish a large portion of fear regarding your movie making future. Sure, you’re about to formally enter the club of feature filmmakers. And this transition, like any, can represent change and fear of the unknown can be spooky.

But push through your fear and  the cumulative knowledge and experience you’ll gain is more than most wanna-be filmmakers will learn in a decade.

What are you waiting for?

Think of it this way, the average American lives for only 27,010 days (Just take 74 years multiplied by 365. Honestly, I don’t know if 74 years is the average or not. But 74 years old seems like a pretty good age.) Break your life into days, how many days do you have left? Not as many as you thought?

Well then, what are you waiting for? Create your career in the movie industry!

I’m serious about this. I know you’re reading these words right now because you want to make movies. Well, I’m here to remind you that it’s possible. But you must first take action! So without further adieu. . . Make Your Movie Now!

I wrote my first screenplay, now what?

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For those of you who already wrote your feature script, congratulations. It’s a super cool accomplishment to write a screenplay. But don’t go crazy. Just because you have a script doesn’t mean Hollywood is going to knock down your door. Like any business, you now have something to sell. And like any business, part of your job is seeking out and finding the appropriate buyer.

In Hollywood, agents and managers have long standing relationships with the heavy hitters. It is through these relationships that material gets read and sold. But assuming you don’t have representation, you’ll have to get crafty and creative in order to get your material read. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the fact most industry players will refuse to read your work. Why? Because they don’t have a trusting, working relationship with you.

Even if you mail your script directly to a prospective buyer, more than likely it will be sent back or go in the recycle bin without being read. Think of it this way: What if I (as a producer) spent the last 3 years developing and raising money for a zombie movie about ninjas (currently in development) and you happen to send me a ninja zombie movie? Then all a sudden you think I’m stealing your idea. Then we go to court or some other form of litigation… Frankly it’s just not worth it.

Hold on… Before you get discouraged, here is the thing. What I just described is the front door. It’s the conventional route to getting your work read. But like most things in life, when the front door is locked, rest assured there is always a back door or a window. Back doors and windows are always opened by people who know you.

Friends will do more to help friends than they will to help themselves. For example, when I couldn’t get my stuff read, I did two things that opened every door to me. One is, I read screenplays for a producer in NYC, which eventually led to a more detailed role in development. When the time came, because I had the relationships, it was very easy to get my script into the hands of a capable producers. Around the same time, I also sent my script to an actor friend who was getting quite a few mainstream gigs in Hollywood. Because the work was good, he felt good telling other people about it.

All of these actions led to further credibility and stronger relationships, which made getting the next script read – well, it was very easy.

What if you don’t live in Hollywood or New York? This is simple. Make friends through the internet. At the same time, research screenplay contests for places that traditionally favor your type of work. Then submit your finished work to the contests. These contests are a great place to have your work read by industry folks. Even if you don’t win, many offer detailed feedback and coverage. If you do win, you can then leverage your win to make phone calls to all the industry folks you otherwise wouldn’t call.

The point is, there are ways to get your work read. So don’t give up at the first rejection.

And please do not track me down… I do not accept unsolicited screenplays. :)

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