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What Film School Taught Me as a BFA

Though it’s been a little over three years since I completed my undergraduate program at The University of Arizona, I’ve decided to revisit those years in a post about what film school taught me as a production student. Now that I’m in graduate school at USC, I’ve decided to shift my academic focus to film studies for a variety of reasons, but production is still at the heart of what I hope to accomplish in the future.

A few notes about this list: while I didn’t go to a prestigious undergraduate production program at NYU, USC, UCLA, or UT Austin, I think many of the lessons I learned are somewhat universal at all institutions. Also, this is a slightly snarky, but thoroughly honest list. Long story short, take what you will from it…

  1. You can’t be unreliable. No one will want to work with you if they can’t rely on you to show up when you’re needed and put in the work.
  2. Hearing “we’ll fix it in post” is common for a reason. Yeah, you might be able to make adjustments after your shoot, but it’s far better to think ahead and not mess up your shot or sound in the first place.
  3. You must have a car if you’re going to be making short films, or at least you’ll need a really generous friend who’s willing to let you borrow theirs often.
  4. Whenever you borrow someone’s car, camera or sound equipment, set pieces, makeup, etc., take good of care it! Return whatever they lent you in the condition you received it in. Otherwise, word will travel quickly and you’ll be that person that no one trusts with their stuff.
  5. Giving good criticism is an art in itself. Learning how to provide your peers with constructive feedback, that doesn’t question their creative talent or vision, is paramount. Here’s a great post from Raindance about giving script feedback, which can lead you in the right direction: 10 Things To Remember About Constructive Script Criticism.
  6. Everyone’s work needs to be revised, so along with giving constructive feedback to your peers, do your best to listen to their criticism of your work. Pay attention and don’t take any feedback personally. Remember that someone else’s take on your work may open your eyes to a new direction to take your film – or, maybe not. But you’ll never know unless you truly listen.
  7. Showing sub-par work and getting painful feedback is basically a right of passage. Take it all in stride, and don’t forget, you’re in school! This is a place to make mistakes and learn from your mishaps. No one shows up to film school a bona-fide Scorsese or Lynch – not even they did.
  8. Continuity is so damn important. Pay attention or have a good script supervisor on set. Not all continuity errors can be fixed in post.
  9. Don’t neglect your film’s sound. Getting someone who knows what they’re doing to record your audio is seriously crucial.
  10. While the look of your work is important, make sure that style doesn’t out-do substance. A great film doesn’t have to look good, but an okay film with great visuals doesn’t hold much weight.
  11. Save The Cat is a super helpful screenwriting book. If your program doesn’t already require it, go out and get it yourself!
  12. A solid understanding of film and television history will only help you in your pursuit to make your own work.
  13. Last, but not least, don’t compromise your tastes or creative judgment. Be unique, be bold, and be passionate about your work.
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