I wanted to review Neil Landau's book "101 Things I learned in Film School" for my "Life of a Film Student" blog because I feel it would be perfect for people who are wondering whether or not to attend film school.
I am now in my 4th semester at USC film school, and have spent the last year and a half analyzing what makes a movie great for an audience. Landau puts those lessons into text on a page - as if he read them straight from my class notes.
His lessons cover merely a page, but say so much. He starts with the basics - description of pre-production, who is who on a set, framing and composition - and pushes forward to story development and the 3 Act structure. Judd Apatow played with the concept of Act structures in his film "Funny People." He tried to develop a 5 Act structure which I found courageous but it didn't work -- I felt like the movie ended a few times, yet we still went back for more story... 3 Acts. Leave it at that!
My favorite lesson, Lesson #52, "Signs of a Novice Filmmaker," Landau listed the obvious new filmmaker mistakes. I made a similar list here. I more poked fun of my classmates, but it's really the same concept. Use good lighting and good sound equipment. Nothing says "new filmmaker" like a terrible sound track and poorly lit actors. And please, pretty please, stay away from the "close up on an alarm clock" or the dreaded "staring longingly into a mirror" -- never interesting for an audience.
While reading this book, I wondered if I followed his lessons myself. Was my own use of story successful? Could I do better?
Film School is Not Only About Lessons
It is important to note that these lessons are not the key knowledge for film school though. It is no substitute. The point of film school is to try and fail with a support group. Landau's lessons are from years of failing, I'm sure!
The best use of Neil Landau's "101 Things I learned in Film School" is to make a movie. Read his book. And make another movie. Being a creative person, I know most of us learn by doing, not necessarily reading. So use Landau's book as a refresher, not a substitute for an amazing film school experience. Film school helps you discover who you want to be in this industry - there's no book that can teach you that!
My hat is off to Neil Landau and his book. It reaffirmed my education in film school as being quite valuable. His final lesson, #101 "You are your protagonist" are words to live by as a filmmaker. We are constantly analyzing ourselves in our stories as filmmakers. We analyze how we perceive the world or how we wish we could. This is something that clicked inside me during my first semester in film school. I finally have an opportunity to express myself as an artist and filmmaking has given me that medium.