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Film School: Now What?

By Patrick Kirkland · July 29, 2011

WILL:  You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda' picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.

CLARK:  But I will have a degree, and you'll be serving my kids fries at a drive through on our way to a skiing trip.

WILL:  Maybe. But at least I won't be a prick.

– Good Will Hunting (1997)

Congrats, you finished film school. Now what?

I wouldn’t know. I didn’t go.

Now the comments should start rolling in at the bottom of this article. "Wait, who is this guy? What's he done?" Should you really be reading an article about screenwriting, from a guy that didn’t go to film school?

If you've gone to film school, are you smarter than me? Probably. Are you better than me? Maybe. Have you had more experience? Wouldn’t be surprised. Have you made more student films than me? God, yes. And are your chances any better than mine of selling a script?

Absolutely not.

You've had more classes, you've had more lectures. You've had classes where working filmmakers, some legends, come to tell you what they've done with their lives. How they made it. How they became the auteur they are today.

I've read books. I've read biographies. I've watched a lot of movies, and I've read a lot of scripts. I've written a lot of reader reports, and I've studied a lot of camera work. And yes, I've spent several hours of my life doing a scene by scene of The Godfather AND Casablanca. And what I've realized is that I (over the course of all these books and films and reports and movies and conversations) and you (over the course of all these books and films and reports and movies and conversations) come to the exact same place: we both say, "Now what?"

It's a good question. In fact, it's the only question. As writers, now what do we do?

The answer is obvious. In the words of the immortal Grateful Dead, we keep truckin', down a one-way street. We keep writing. Whether you went to film school or not, the path is the same. We sit down at the keyboard, and we write. We fill up the page, word after word, sentence after sentence, story after story. A page doesn't fill up for me any differently than it does for you.

At the end of our story, we'll both write the same thing: The End. We'll both celebrate. We'll both be ecstatic, and we'll both do the exact same thing once the high has worn off: we'll start on Draft #2.

Someday, we'll both come to the same point. Our script will either be good enough to mention to someone, or it won't. We'll either throw it in the trash, or we'll start making phone calls. And this is where you and I differentiate. You (who went to Film School) know others who went to film school, and those people know people in the industry, and those people know people, and those people know people, and so on. You'll have the instant connections that school afforded you, pressured you, and required you to make. On the other hand, I (who did not go to school) will have the connections that I made from those around me. Some, working in the industry, some wanting to be in the industry, and whether you're in New York or Los Angeles, it's the same. You can't stand on a street corner without standing next to someone who wants to be, or who's in, the entertainment industry.

We want the same thing. And whether or not we went to school, we're at the same point. You have an advantage, maybe. Or maybe not; I can't say for sure. Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese – all went to Film School. Soderbergh, Jonze, and Ridley Scott? Not so much.

Confused yet? You shouldn't be. Film School is an awesome experience for those who go, but it's still just that: school. If you want to be a successful writer, or a director, or an editor, you have to DO. And you have to do a lot. The real truth about school is that it's a focused environment, where you live, eat, and breathe film. You do so many drafts of a screenplay it becomes second nature, while on the outside, you may have to write while working extra shifts to pay the rent. Either way, if you want to be a writer, you write. End of story.

David Mamet said it best for an interview with UT Austin- a film school, that he didn't go to. When asked if he had any advice for beginning writers, he said this:

"Yeah, keep writing. I mean, that's the only place you can, the only two things you need to do to become a writer is, you need to read a lot; love to read. You need to write a lot and love to write, or hate to write as long as you write a lot."

Go to school. Don't go to school. It's up to you. Either way, if you want to make it, you have to do one thing for sure: Keep writing.