Tales of the Student Filmmaker
As many people many already know, I'm a professor of Film & Television. The department is a small one with just myself and one other full time professor teaching the many aspects to filmmaking needed to actually create a film. Although my favorite class to teach is The History of Cinema (no surprise), I also instruct on most of the hands-on aspects of production such as Lighting, Editing and other basic techniques. I also teach the production sequence that includes Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. Besides completing the assigned work, I require the students to write a paper about their experience during the course. These papers are usually illuminating as the college students reveal the highs and lows of the process experienced during the quarter. Inevitably, their expectations are massively different than their actual experiences. In this article I share some excerpts of these papers, and although I have been given permission to do so, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as the not so innocent. These are true sentiments offered up to warn the novice filmmaker that there is so much more to filmmaking than they can possibly imagine. They should prepare themselves accordingly. Here are some of the realizations made too late, but will serve them on their next shoot.
A recent student had this to say about working on another student's project: "I was there from the first day of shooting to the last day, and it was one of the most soul crushing experiences I have ever gone through". Now, I'm not a cruel person, but I actually laughed out loud when I read this and thought that this person was going to have to whether a lot more demanding shoots in the future. I hope he makes it. He continued his observations with, "Every night after filming, I had stress dreams about working on set. Even well after shooting, I still have some bad dreams about it. Now, I'm not saying the shoot was bad. Everything went well and I love working with [the director] and everyone on set; they were all fantastic and did their jobs well. What I am saying is that working as an Assistant Director (AD) is such a dreadful job on set". This made me laugh even harder, as I use to be an Assistant Director and know exactly what that's like. It's why I became a teacher. Another student on a different shoot made a comment that reflects most student films and the AD position, "I don't quite remember there being an AD on [name withheld]'s shoot. I may be wrong but there was a huge difference between [the two] shoot[s]."
That's the power of good organization. When it's there you don't notice it. When it's not, boy do you notice it!
The first student later added, "Some people have no time or inclination to others who seem amateur. It appears to be a very snooty and smug work environment at times but you do the best with what you have". Yup, that's pretty much true, and you better get use to it if you want to work in the film industry. He continued with, "There were also times when I was suppose to do something and I would get called out by other crew members. It didn't feel good and I found it unnecessary at times, but it did help me learn more". And, "I believed [what] should be mentioned more in class is how to deal with conflict and working with others on set." Welcome to my world, my friend. Unfortunately, this can not be thoroughly taught in class. You just have to experience it yourself and figure it the best you can. The student concluded their paper with this reflective thought, "The experience did crush my spirits a bit and turn me off from film a bit, but in a weird way it gave me confidence in knowing that I now know what to expect. I feel more secure with myself as I go into other projects."
And that's exactly what I hope each student gets out of the class; that they can tough it out and learn what they can improve upon for the next project. It's called applied learning, and it's the best way to learn just about anything.
Returning to the second student, they had a definite opinion about the differences between what is known as "Crafty", or Craft Service. It's the snacks that are provided on set for crew to have between meals. The idea is that it helps keep energy up, as well as keep the crew hydrated. It's an area that can be forgotten by amateurs. The observation was, "Crafty was not the greatest. On the last day the snacks were almost gone and they were all the same". The subject of Craft Service was continued in the observations made on a very different shoot, whereas, "[The] kind generosity they had with his crew. Crafty was available at all times and it was impeccable."
It may seem silly, but I am constantly emphasizing the importance of good food for the crew. It's the least you can do for free labor. And a full crew is a happy crew.
The final thoughts of the students' experiences included some very insightful reflections. They in turn had these thoughts, "It was great being in this class and being on three different sets... I know there is an imagination and creativity hidden inside [me] that I limit myself to expose for some reason... I hope to learn more in post-production." Another student had a similar take, "Looking back at this production quarter, I absolutely learned more and furthered my skills as a filmmaker... there are a lot of techniques and lessons I learned on set and in class that I believe will help me in filming my own film in the future." A third student added, "I knew this was going to be the hardest part. Yeah, with pre-production you do all the planning getting everything ready, but in this part of the sequence you have to actually do it. It was just stressful and annoying." The student concluded with, "Overall... it was a great learning experience."
The scheduling of a shoot day is very important. You don't want to overwork everyone so that they are tired and less efficient the next day. Also, students just aren't prepared to work the long days that are usually seen on a professional set.