Films Cool, Part Three


In the previous installment we discussed the academic path to becoming a working filmmaker and the merits and hazards that such a endeavor may entail. Today we look at the proverbial flip-side of that coin, what some people call Guerrillas, or simply put, filmmakers who evolve from a completely self-taught environment and often espouse an outsider mentality.

There have always been filmmaking outlaws and renegades; it could be argued that the Lumiere Bros. and Thomas Edison were were themselves guerrillas (no formal film education structure existed back then). Today this category of film craftsmen is particularly interesting with the advent of the internet having rendered classical forms of education less relevant to the times.

Amateurs are becoming, with adroit use of online resources, entrepreneurs rather than hobbyists. The line between trained professional and auto-didactic enthusiast is becoming blurred all the time.

Guerrillas have always found a way to make their films, regardless of limitations or lack of professional know-how, but today these individuals are armed with more than just dreams. Much of the technology and production methods have been demystified, simplified, made ergonomic, and most importantly, affordable.

For all the things pros and upstarts may now have in common, there are some fundamentals that may never overlap by simple virtue of the difference in the environment that breeds these two types of filmmakers.

Here are some notable characteristics in self-made filmmakers that are less likely to develop in a film school educated professional.

1. One problem with many film schools (and in Arts in general) is that they forget to emphasize entrepreneurship. Being artistic and profound is paramount in any undertaking, but none of it is likely to count if you can’t organize a production and get your project “in the can”, as they say. Like it or not, you have to do business and knock on doors if you want to get anywhere in this industry, and academia has become shockingly inept at preparing people for the real world.

Guerrillas are entrepreneurial by nature and necessity. They are given no opportunity to sit in class workshopping scripts and to discuss the finer points of camera movement, film theory or drama. Film school shelters you from the real world for a time, giving you perspective on your process, but also in a way disconnecting you from the real world. Outsiders learn to craft and live in the now.

2. Guerrillas are quintessential self-starters, a trait that will literally determine your success in filmmaking (and life itself). Many film school graduates fall into a creative funk once their degree is concluded and find it difficult generate the ideal conditions to pursue their craft. The outsider rarely faces this nuisance as he/she is largely driven by willpower to begin with.

3. A formal education may enrich you in many ways and open your mind to worlds you would have never considered otherwise, but it can have another effect on an individual; it can train you out of instincts and quirks that make your perspective unique. There is raw, unchained quality found in guerrillas that might be stamped out by a few years of institutional learning.

Both trained and untrained filmmakers draw from a vast catalogue of films and television programs they were exposed to during their formative years, but guerrillas don’t feel compelled to stick to rules or genre conventions simply out of academic reverence for the classics. In many ways they labour with a much greater freedom and lack of restraint, and that may lend their work a more genuinely creative edge.

The Bottom Line

To claim that either class of filmmaker is superior is nonsense; they each have their strengths. The trained professional is better equipped and tested, the guerrilla is more resourceful and daring. In a way the ideal filmmaker is the one that has found a way to sample and consider both approaches to the craft, and works to combine the important and useful lessons that either aesthetic has to offer.

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