A Horribly Bitter Description of Film School from Someone Who’s Been There
“Film school?” Yeah, I just came from there.
Let me tell you a little bit about film school, you basement-dwelling, Netflix-hawking, Tyler Durdens, out there; challenging your friends to movie trivia contests and answering their “What was that guy from?” inquiries with a sick sense of glee.
Get there. Get there as soon as possible. For the first time, you’ll be home. You’ll bask in the warm sensation of familiarity as you are finally with others like you and you’ll get a chill of thrilling adrenaline when the full workload is bestowed upon you.
Yes. It’s like pissing your pants. Except this time, the entire auditorium isn’t laughing at you. They’re looking on sympathetically, fists in the air: “Been there, dude. Power through. Power through.”
That weird desire for every conversation in class to turn to obscure actors or foreign flicks without the subtitles? Indulged around every corner and with genuine interest from conversing parties. Nobody’s waiting to hurl “The Oxford Companion to U.S. History,” into your guts and laugh, laugh, laugh as you contemplate the social ramifications of asking how to tell if ribs are broken. And that’s the new Oxford edition, too, with the 121-page addendum about the Space Race and the collaborative DVD ROM packaged in the back. That shit hurts.
No more are you alienated by confused parents in front of extended relatives. No more, “Ha, ha, son, I don’t think anybody in this particular Olive Garden gives a shit about the messages via imagery in Battleship Potmekin, whatever the hell that is. Why don’t you just gnaw on the complimentary bread basket until your raspberry ice tea gets here?”
“Battleship Potemkin… is that the one where Steven Seagal is the Navy SEAL disguised as a cook?”
Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez… they are your family now. Dialogue that goes on forever? Heavily digitized explosions? Famous people discussing Marvel comic books? What else does a growing geek need to survive? Burrow in like a chigger to film school, Basement-Dweller. Get under the skin and seek out the spots where it’s warmest. You’re only getting closer to a vital organ. Absorb the residual heat of fellow media-suckers, overflowing their feed-sacks with information nobody else on Earth could want/bare/understand enough to truly live off of—
“You know, they shipped Watchmen to theaters under the codename Old Heroes Never Die.”
“It was Paul Haggis’ real life carjacking that inspired the screenplay for Crash.”
“No, no, no—it’s ‘Mr. Plow, that’s my name, that name again is Mr. Plow.’ Dumbass.”
Chat up the professor. He totally wants to talk to you. Isn’t it obvious that you guys are forming a close, student-teacher bond that will one day bleed into the professional world? In the future, because of every worthless conversation he allows you to have with him, he will give your name to some powerful studio head. You won’t know it, but it’ll be your big break. That’s the kind of people film professors are. How could they not have made massive connections in the film industry if they made it all the way to “professor?”
And best of all, and I mean best of all, someone will ask you what your screenplay is about. But then a funny thing happens. They start don’t laughing, or get ushered away by your father, who then gives you a dirty look, or have to take a call, despite telling you 30 seconds prior that they were looking for an outlet to charge their phone battery.
They listen. And they nod. And they say things that indicate they have been paying attention. If they’re a student, they’ll give you constructive criticism or offer new perspectives. Some may be snide and tell you how they’d do things better but even this is backhanded flattery because it ignited their creative juices. If they’re a teacher, not only do they pay attention, they also give you a grade that reveals how good your screenplay really is.
When that happens, you can sigh as if you’re climaxing sexually and slide down in your chair. You can smile broadly and soak in the closure of being graded, of being ranked based on your creativity. There’s at least one person in this room who didn’t get as good a grade as you. You are better than him or her. You have chosen film and it has chosen you and now there is validation for that because your idea for a movie that they didn’t understand in high school is good enough for a fat, red B- on the last page, right after the main character says “I can’t believe it was all a dream.”
Wrap film school around you like an afghan knit by your softest, warmest fantasies. One day you’ll get to say words like “action,” or “project,” or “dailies,” and it won’t be a vocab quiz. One day you’ll be making a DVD commentary for your first big hit. One day, James Lipton or Vanity Fair will call you because the world wants to hear your answers to the Proust Questionnaire.
One day you’ll be Joss Whedon. When you’re invited to your alma mater for a Q&A session, your quirky-but-serious answers will be given much more laughter than they deserve by brown-nosing parasites, who aren’t nearly as competent as their self-supported IMDB pages would indicate. When you speak at any conference, keynote any graduation, get interviewed on The Treatment, you know all of the folks listening are dying to one day be just like you. Have pity. Scoop them up. Give them hope. Tell them how to be a rock star. Because clearly, you’ve got the formula for success.
Like me, Tower, you went to film school. And it was an excellent decision.