Like many other types of formal education, going to Film School meant leaving home and going to a university. A particular one, because film schools are not all that common. Making movies is an art, a craft, that requires great skill, determination. These are not the sort of things one can teach long distance.
Or are they? Technology has advanced pretty quickly in the last decade, and now filming on digital cameras and using computer programs to edit and finish films is becoming more and more the norm. These sort of skills can be, and currently are, being taught in distance education courses.
In order to direct a motion picture, a person needs to know the craft from the ground up. You can’t run before you crawl, and much of film school is learning the basics; the minutia, the nuts and bolts, so that as a director you have complete control of putting everything together into a cohesive film.
So what exactly does one study in film school? Film History and Film Theory teach the past, how movies developed, how techniques and styles evolved over the years, and how technology affects art. These courses give a solid background on how movies work to properly tell stories and project emotions. Different film genres have different approaches to making films, and learning the background and evolution of the craft is important.
Other courses teach different technical aspects of shooting and producing a film – lighting, sound, and cinematography, and digital production. Writing for the screen, for both short and feature length movies, are required courses. Other courses involve the hardware; cameras, editing equipment, computer programs, etc. Beyond the basics, students can also take course in broadcast and episodic television, advertising and commercials, animation, audio engineering, or documentaries.
Film schools blend classroom or home learning with hands on practice. The hands on practice involved using what was learned from class to shoot different kinds of short films. The assignments will vary, to give the students experience in working in different styles and genres, and with different techniques. Making these films gives the student real-life field experience, teaching them how to troubleshoot on the set, how to recruit and deal with actors and support staff, how write scenes that can be effectively shot, how to position actors, lighting equipment, and background details in the context of a shot. After that, an aspiring director learns how to complete “post production,” involving taking all the footage shot, editing it into a movie, and finishing the sounds, the music, and the odds and ends.
Directing a film ties together so many different aspects that getting ones hands dirty and making film (even if its terrible at first) is the only way to really learn. The professors job is to give you valid criticism, pointing out the weaknesses in form, style, or content, to help you improve your craft. It’s an education of trial and error.
Is it the education for you? Check back later, when I will discuss some different film school and on line programs.