This week I had a group of film students in to visit, I gave them a tour of my projection room in groups and enthusiastically demonstrated how to ‘properly exhibit a film’. I had no technical training before I got this job, and I had come straight from a degree in Art History.
The second group of students had a careers talk before I showed them around, and I stood there and listened to the same old advice given to film students of any age (this group was probably aged 17-19) about how you need to be a runner, about studying film at University.
There was never a mention of anything outside of this, or any practical advice on how actual, well-respected film makers break through. In the case of programming films for exhibition in cinema and generally in making them, I strongly believe that you have to understand society. In the same way that a writer really needs to know the world in their own convictions before expressing anything on paper. To programme films, you need to analyse your audience and really know people, to make films… to make strong, substantial work, you need to know so much more than just film.
After they had finished asking questions to the woman running the session, I came forward and asked if they were ready to see the cinema. But I also asked whether they would be interested in hearing my point of view on film making. And so I told them about what University really is, about how you use your bachelors degree as a starting point and you build up a career around it in your spare time, maybe not even in the same subject (rarely ever in the same subject). But University offers you the chance for debate, it broadens your mind and academia really helps you understand society (at least in the humanities and arts).
My basic point is this, if you want to make film, yes… you can get work experience in the technical side (but you do not need a degree for that) or you can be a runner. But if you go to University, unless you really want to be an academic in film theory as a career, pick something else. Pick history, philosophy, literature, art history… because if you want to write screenplays or direct, you need to be able to analyse life. I really do think that a subject like art history sets a great backdrop for any director. And the work up to that point comes alongside the studies and afterwards. Yes, you’ll be a runner, but you’ll be a runner that knows something more than film, you’ll be a runner that has something in common with the director, the producer (because it is unlikely that any great would have studied film at university!)
If you study film, you are just studying film, upon film, upon film. And then how will you craft your identity? I know that there is theory attached, I have studied film myself in the past, but it never opens up the world as much as history might.
I also think this is important for British film makers, because as an industry we sometimes lack identity. Because young film makers today base everything on Hollywood or otherwise. And I don’t blame them, how can you really know if all you have ever studied is film?
I have been criticised for being idealist, but I could honestly give an entire lecture on the important of academia in film. This post probably doesn’t express it well enough.. but this comes from the fact I watch films all weekend, every weekend. And run an Art History blog at the same time. It opens your mind up! I can barely describe it, because I am bursting with ideas.
(And hey, maybe if more film makers got themselves a degree in classics, we’d have a *good* film about the Ancient Greeks by now…)