Stay in Film School or Make a Movie?

Film school: some of the best directors in Hollywood have done it, and some of the best directors in Hollywood have skipped it.

In this section of the novel non-Hollywood, author Neal A. Yeager reads the story of an aspiring filmmaker who is trying to make a decision: is her money better spent on studying film, or is that money better spent on the equipment necessary to make a movie?

It's a tough choice to make, but should she stay in film school or make a movie?

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Indie Film or Film School?

Chapter 36: Indie Film or Film School?

Icon walked through the outer gate of her apartment complex. In her skinny arms the budding filmmaker carried a box which contained her developed film rolls and a hard drive containing a digitized version of said film. Though she was firm to the point of evangelicalism in her preference for shooting film rather than video, she had no problem with editing digitally. In her opinion that was the place for digital: in the realm of editing, not in the realm of shooting.

As she walked by Apartment 108 a dog began barking furiously from inside the unit. Even though she was blasting her Dolphin Mantra mix through her headphones and even though the dog was inside an apartment and she was outside, she could still hear the thing barking away. The dog always barked. It barked and snarled and sounded basically like some doggy psychotic whenever anyone had the audacity to walk by the front door of Apartment 108. Icon had never actually seen this killer mongrel but she had heard it plenty.

“Nice poochie,” she said aloud as she made her way to her own apartment.

As she was about to open her apartment door, Jasmine — her roommate and her favorite shooting subject as Jasmine wanted to be a model-slash-actress anyway — opened the door from within. Jasmine was dressed in her slacks and vest, which meant that she was on her way to her waitress job and not on her way to the non-paying web series in which she played “the girlfriend.” As she scooted past Icon, Jasmine said, “Hi. Can’t talk. I’m gonna be late.”

“No problem. Have fun Jazz.”

“Call your dad Icon.”

“Right, call my dad.”

As Jasmine scooted away and down the stairs Icon entered the apartment and set the box down. She supposed that at some point she would have to return her father’s call, so that time might as well be now.

Or maybe not.

She knew that there were some big things that she had to discuss with her father sooner or later. And as she pondered those things she felt an anxiety attack headed her way. She closed her eyes, let out a deep breath and tried to slow her racing pulse by imagining a quiet, snowy field.

It wasn’t working.

So instead, she headed for the kitchen where she grabbed a soda from the refrigerator. She paced back and forth in the kitchen, trying to get her racing pulse to come back down.

The thing that was on her mind was an interesting opportunity. One of the guys at the film lab had put her in touch with a Hollywood cinematographer who was one of the regulars at the lab. He owned several cameras and such and was said to have a collection of 16mm film equipment which he had purchased during that initial indie film boom in the 1990s and which he had then assembled into a rental package which had been used to shoot many small independent films.

The package included an Arriflex camera, several lenses and all of the accessories, as well as a small collection of lights and a boom mic. Basically, it was a van’s full of production equipment and had been perfect for when independent films were shot using 16mm film, though it hadn’t gotten much use in recent years. Now the cinematographer was retiring and he had decided to sell his equipment, including the 16mm package. And because he was a film lover himself the cinematographer wanted to sell the equipment to another film lover and was willing to let it go at a really great price — to the right person.

Which is why the guy at the film lab had put her in touch with him. It really was an amazing opportunity if she wanted to continue shooting on film. The price he was quoting her was actually a fraction of what all of that equipment would have cost new. Yet though it was a fraction of the original cost, it was still not a small amount of money.

She had the money… but it was in her college savings account.

And such a purchase would take a pretty big bite out of that account. As it was she had not only been using the money for college, she had also been chipping away at it for other expenses. This did not please her father. And though technically the account was in her name, her father had been the one who had put the money into it. He would certainly go ballistic if she drained it on something other than college.

Thus, her anxiety.

She stopped her pacing then walked into the living room and plopped down on the couch, picked up the phone and before she had time to talk herself out of it, dialed her dad at his office.

“Hi Sweetheart,” he said as he answered, “how are you?”

“Hey Dad. I’m okay. Just contemplating killing a dog. ”

“‘I’m not positive,” said her father, “but I’m pretty sure that you get prison time for that. So I wouldn’t do it if I were you.”


“Okay. So what are you up to?” he asked.

“Oh, I just picked up some…” she trailed off as she cast a guilty look toward the box of film and its accompanying hard drive. Then she continued, “…some things. And I saw that you called a few times”

“I did. I did. And if it’s all right, I’ll just jump right into it.”

“Jump away, Dad.”

“Stephanie and I noticed that the balance in your college fund has gone down again.”

Stephanie was her dad’s wife. She was also the branch manager of the bank which held Icon’s college money. And she seemed to see nothing wrong with continually checking the balance of the account and reporting it to Icon’s dad, even though neither Stephanie nor Icon’s dad were listed on that account. It was a little annoying.

Icon cleared her throat, “Yeah, well, I had to pay rent.”

“I thought that’s what the part-time office job was for. What happened to that?”

Icon leaned back on the couch. Here we go, she thought, then she said, “Well Dad, it just didn’t work out.”

“What didn’t work out? That’s a good office. Good pay for only a few days a week. What didn’t work out?”

Icon sighed, “The head guy there was really uptight.”



“How? How exactly was ‘the head guy’ — whose name is George, by the way, and who did me a favor by hiring you — how exactly was George ‘uptight?’”

“For one, he said I didn’t dress appropriately… Things like that.”

Her father sighed and said, “So why do you think that he thought you were dressed inappropriately? What, were you wearing that ratty old ‘Throwing Muses’ T-shirt to work?”

Icon said nothing. After a long, awkward pause, her father continued, “I was actually just kidding. You didn’t really wear a 20-year-old concert shirt to work did you?”


“Oh, Mary Elizabeth…”


“…That shirt is older than you are. It was worn out beyond wearing long before you were big enough to put it on.”

“Throwing Muses is mom’s favorite band.”

“Pixies are your mom’s favorite band and that is not the issue Mary Elizabeth…”


“…The issue is that you’re old enough to know that you don’t wear ratty old concert shirts in an office situation. Have you ever seen anyone in my office wearing a T-shirt? Even a nice, new T-shirt?”


There was another long pause. After a few beats her father said, “Look, I’m trying to be practical. I’m not trying to be the bad guy. Practical. And all I’m saying is that your college fund is for college and I’d rather you didn’t spend it all.”

Icon smiled.

He hadn’t said that she couldn’t spend her college fund. He’d just said that he’d rather she didn’t. Icon said, “I understand Dad. I’ll try to find something.”

“What do you mean, ‘something?’”

“Some other job,” she said, “Some other way to pay the rent.”

“Any leads?” he asked.

“Actually, I met this really cool woman who shoots wedding videos. I might be shooting some Super 8 for her.”

“What I meant, was a job. Something that you get paid to do.”

Icon replied, “You get paid to do wedding videos.”

“So this woman would be paying you?”

“Yeah. It’s a real business.”

“But it’s not a real job. It’s a one-time thing. Sure she’ll pay you for that one time, but it’s not a steady job.”

“I know… But I’m trying.”

“All right. Thank you,” he said, “Look Sweetheart, I have to go. Thank you for calling me back. Stephanie says ‘hi’ and we love you.”

“You too, Dad. Bye.”


Icon put down the phone and drummed her fingers on the table in contemplation. She had expected him to be much firmer than that. Maybe she might be able to get away with her plan after all.

She picked up the hard drive which she had carried in and she plugged it into her computer. She sat down at the computer, soda in hand, and started to review the film footage. Just a few minutes of footage, a few takes of a few scenes. Again and again she watched the scene which they had shot on Hollywood Blvd. Onscreen, Jasmine and Seth walked toward one another, paused, then hugged.

Most people would probably have said that the shots were good, but she was intensely critical of her own work. As she viewed and re-viewed the scene she found herself wishing that she had waited just another two minutes to shoot. That shadow would have been better. Jasmine’s backlight would have been better.

She watched the scene again. There was Jasmine. There was Seth. The two actors walked toward one another, paused, then hugged. Over and over again.

Jasmine was a beautiful young woman, extremely photogenic, so it was hard to go wrong with her. Yet if Icon had just waited that extra two minutes…

After several times through the footage she paused the video, picked up her phone and dialed.


“Hey Mom.”

“Hi Mary… Icon. What’s up on your end?”

“I’ve decided. I’ve made a decision.”

Her mother asked, “A decision about what?”

“I’ve decided that I’m going to take my college fund and buy that equipment.”

Her mother laughed. “Great. And of course your father’s on board with this?”

“He hates the idea.”

“Is that what he said?”

“I haven’t actually told him yet. But I can tell you Mom: he hates the idea.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he will.”

And then there was a long silence.

Icon was about to ask if anyone was still there when her mother continued, “Well thanks for giving me the ‘heads up.’ I’m sure I’ll be getting one of those ‘we’re allies on this one’ phone calls from your dad in the next few days,” said her mother. “But who knows? Maybe you’ll win him over? He did let you buy all of that computer stuff and that camera.”

“Only because I told him I’d stay in school instead of trying to find a film job.”

Her mother laughed again, “Yeah. That’s true. And it’s true that he absolutely hated the thought that you might leave school. He called me so many times about that. We talked more about that than we ever talked when we were married. I thought I’d never hear the end of it. So, this one… Yeah. He’s gonna freak out.”

Icon asked, “Well, what do you think, Mom?”

“About your decision?”

“Yeah, about my decision.”

“You know very well what I think,” said her mother.

Icon felt a warm feeling inside. She did know what her mother thought and she loved the woman for it. Icon said, “I know what you think. But I’d love to hear you say it.”

“I think,” began her mother, “that there’s nothing in the world more painful than regret. If you try and you fail, that’ll hurt, don’t get me wrong, but I guarantee that if you don’t try then that regret will hurt a whole lot worse and for a whole lot longer.”

Icon sighed, “I love it when you talk that way Mom.”

Her mother replied, “I know. I’ve been thinking of giving seminars. I hear that Tony Robbins makes an okay living.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome…. And my manager’s giving me the evil eye. I’d better go.”

“Okay… Oh, hey Mom?”


“Pixies or Throwing Muses?”

“Oh. Tough one. I’ll get back to you on that one,” her mother replied.

“Okay. Love you.”

“Love you too. Bye.”


Icon turned back to the computer screen and played the footage again, this time much less bothered by the shadow and the two-minute’s time issue.

Through the open window she could hear the dog in Apartment 108 barking.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that order if you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 38 ]

The better education: film school or making a movie?

It is a question that has been asked by aspiring filmmakers since the advent of film school: is film school the best way to learn film, or is the best way to learn film to just jump into the film business?

Our independent filmmaker Icon thinks that she has found the answer to that question, though the answer to that question may not please her father. Taking her college tuition fund and spending it on the production of a feature film makes all the sense in the world to her.

Staying in film school does not.

Film school or make a movie