Read how attending film school inspired this student.
Film School Graduate
Art Center College of Design
When Randy Walker and his partner, Jenny Shainin, graduated with master’s degrees in film from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., they set about doing what they loved—making movies. With a feature-length film, “Apart From That,” under their belt and accolades from South By Southwest, the Seattle International Film Festival and Cine Vegas Film Festival, among others, Randy and Jenny have many insights into the ups and downs of film school.
Why did you choose to attend film school?
Initially, film school was a means by which we might learn the tools and technology involved in filmmaking. Also, it was a place that would give us the time enough to meet people, experiment, make mistakes and dive headlong into a new medium during a period of our lives when we didn’t know anything about anything.
I had just received my degree in English, and was interested in writing and directing narrative films. Jenny was attempting to be a DP, and having worked on several commercial sets in the industry, she was surrounded by union guys who would advise her to “forget film school” and just “work your way up through the system.” When she discovered that this would take approximately seven to ten years, she decided to go to film school in order to skip the wait and simply start doing what she wanted.
What was the best part about attending a film school?
If you’re lucky, you sometimes have the opportunity to have one or two instructors who end up messing you up in all the right ways. They push you away from your comfortable, safe habits and challenge all of the accepted rules and formulas that tend to dominate the common film school curriculum. They blast open the box, allowing you to see what’s really possible.
What was your favorite film school class?
We both loved two courses precisely because they allowed us to break our bad habits. Master’s Film Workshop shoved us out into the world, forced us to make a film each week, and because we didn’t have the time or money to spend on making it look “slick,” we had to stick to what was important: true artistic expression.
Another class, Designed Obstacles, basically did the same thing with respect to writing. I hated writing about rich people, because I didn’t care about them. In my opinion, all the rich, privileged characters in films simply didn’t appear to have any real difficulties in life. So, the professor forced me to climb into a three-piece suit and sit in an ostentatious L.A. bar for 3 hours. I sat. I listened. And I saw the other side.
What is the most surprising aspect of film school?
Many film schools prepare students to make studio films or high-profile commercials. There are two problems with this. First of all, the chances of someone breaking into this system and “making it big” are extremely slim. Also, this system has almost nothing to do with art. We see filmmaking as an art form that is largely unconcerned with money. But, it’s also why we have the opportunity to actually do what we love and make feature films on our own terms.
Do you feel prepared for a career?
I feel prepared, yes, but I don’t necessarily see what I’m doing as a career. Many people who want to become filmmakers are waiting. Waiting for their script to be read by the “right person.” Waiting to work their way up through the ranks. But, in the end, waiting isn’t doing. And, no matter who you are, there is always a way to make your film, especially with today’s technology. Film school helped because we had two instructors who showed us this was possible. Then, instead of waiting for permission to make feature films, we simply gave ourselves permission.
Do you have any advice for new film students?
Be careful of rules and people who claim to have all the answers. Read everything that Ray Carney writes. Also, read everything that Jean-Pierre Geuens writes. His book is called “Film Production Theory.” Make this your bible. Expose yourself to all kinds of films from around the world. And not just films, either. Dive into prose, photography, poetry, fine art—things that you would normally never look at in a million years.
See how Randy Walker has been using his film degree.