3 Iconic Filmmakers That Are Actually Self-Taught

Contrary to popular belief, a degree in film is not necessarily a requirement to become a great filmmaker. In fact, dozens of the most successful filmmakers actually taught themselves. Of course, a film degree can teach you a lot about the basics, but it can be costly, and attending a film school never guarantees a job. Some filmmakers don’t even realize their passion for creating until well after they’ve graduated, making it difficult and expensive to go back to school. Fortunately, film is something you can learn all on your own with the right motivation and the use of affordable filming accessories. Learn how you can teach yourself the basics of film and get inspired by these iconic filmmakers who learned it all independently.

How to Teach Yourself the Basics of Filmmaking

Learn How to Use Your Equipment

Before you can create anything worth showing to others, you need to learn how to use your equipment. Of course, the professional cameras and accessories used by major production studios are costly, but you don’t need a fancy camera to get started. You can purchase video gear on a budget and begin teaching yourself how to use it. A general mastery of your camera, microphones and lighting are the first steps to becoming a great filmmaker. 

And the best way to learn is by studying other directors and screenplay writers for inspiration. Rewatch some of your favorite films and take the time to write down notes on what exactly you love about their style. Later, once you’re confident in using your recording equipment, you can use this information to develop your own unique style. Through articles, books, videos and podcasts, you have all the information you need right at your fingertips. 

Study Storytelling and Screenplay Writing

A great filmmaker is also a great storyteller. Once you’ve picked out and purchased affordable video gear, you need to learn how to write a story. If you already have an interest in writing, you probably have a good base knowledge for how to create a story but writing something for the screen is much different than a story told on paper. You need to learn how to convey the emotion and the conflicts through imagery to make your movie truly captivating. Read books on writing screenplays and start by writing short, simple scenes or micro-short films. 

Make Connections Within the Industry

With almost every creative industry, it’s all about who you know and not necessarily about what degree you have. If you’re interested in becoming involved with the world of film, start seeking out local filmmakers and align yourselves with them. Through a community of creatives, you’ll learn how to use your equipment and write great stories. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to be presented with opportunities as they arise. Get yourself involved with local film-related events and start to grow your network of connections. 

Famous Self-Taught Filmmakers

Trying to make it as a filmmaker can be discouraging sometimes because the industry seems so large and difficult to break into, but with the right attitude and determination, you can make it. Just take a look at these hugely successful filmmakers who started off with nothing but a camera and their own motivation to spark their careers. 

3. Quentin Tarintino

The father of unconventional films, Quentin Tarintino is known for encouraging young filmmakers to focus on teaching themselves rather than flocking to one of the many film schools. After dropping out of high school at age 15, Tarintino tried to learn everything he could about the world of movies by working in environments that ranged from a video store to a porn theater, which is probably where he gets his unconventional approach from. By immersing himself in this world and teaching himself how to use the proper filming equipment, he learned more than he believes any film school professor could have taught him. He even once told a crowd of students at the Cannes Film Festival that, “Trying to make a feature film yourself with no money is the best film school you can do.” Because he had to learn everything himself, he harnessed a greater sense of motivation and an appreciation for the industry as a whole, going on to become one of the most recognized directors of our generation with hits like Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Bastards

2. Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay has earned herself the name of being the first of many titles including the first black female to win Sundance’s Best Director accolade for her movie Middle of Nowhere, a nomination for a Golden Globe and director of a live-action film with a budget surpassing $100 million. She attended college and earned herself a bachelor’s degree, though filmmaking was not on her list of studies. After college, she worked in a number of industries including journalism and PR before taking to the camera and trying to create her own films. 

1. James Cameron

James Cameron is an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers everywhere. As the director of both Titanic and Avatar, two hugely grossing movies, it’s incredible to think that he learned everything he knows on his own. Always interested in the science fiction genre, Cameron began writing sci-fi stories in his free time as a young adult and studying up on film techniques. He spent the earliest part of his career getting involved on the set of movies through positions like production designer, production assistant and art director. His breakthrough came after writing the ever-popular movie The Terminator, but he struggled to find a studio willing to let an inexperienced director take charge of a full-length feature film. After finally finding a studio to pick up the movie, Cameron produced one of the most iconic action films of all time and continued to explore where science and fiction meet in his later works.

Some of the most famous movie directors started off with nothing but some books at the local library and a handheld camcorder. Though it took a lot of research, practice and motivation, these three directors (and many others) found the power of self-taught filmmaking. If you’re hoping to break into the business but feel as if you don’t know enough about the industry, don’t get discouraged. Purchase video gear basics and start reading up on basic film techniques. Then, let your creativity run loose and just start filming, working on your skills until you’ve created something you’re ready to share with the world.

Author Bio: Ethan Long is the business development director for MovoPhoto. Before starting with them, he worked in advertising in NYC where he gained over eight years of experience in content and video marketing. In his free time, he enjoys being outside, learning new photo and videography techniques, and spending time with his wife and their dog, Rory.

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