Free Film School: What Have We Learned?

At this point, my dear students, I hand up my mortarboard. After 135 articles in CraveOnline‘s Free Film School, and many many lessons on film history, film theory, genre theory, the technicals of film, the personalities of film, the addenda to the film world, and just some outright professorial editorializing, the time has come for this feature to come to an end.

135 weeks might be considered a proper film course for some major film schools, and while I haven’t required that you do all the homework, I feel like you – you, the regular readers and students – know your way around film as well as I do at this point. Sometimes I’ve asked that you make your own short films (which is easy these days, thanks to the low prices and ubiquity of video cameras), other times, just to think about certain film concepts you may not have considered before. I understand if you weren’t able to make the films or do the writing the homework demanded, but you probably did all the cognitive work.

To sum up the concepts of the Free Film School, I’d like to give a brief overview of the most important concepts I tried to parlay to you, my dear students.

Try Something New

As a film viewer, you have hundreds of thousands of movies to choose from on any given night. This means there are filmmakers, genres, and eras of film history that you are still unfamiliar with no matter how experienced you are. We all have holes in our film education because a film education is such a vast thing. I encourage you to step out of your wheelhouse as often as possible. Don’t just see mainstream action blockbusters, see foreign movies. Don’t just see foreign movies, see long-form documentaries. Familiarize yourself with a director’s entire body of work. Spend a few weeks watching nothing but stuff made before you were born. There is treasure everywhere, and it’s all out there for you to find.

Give Every Film an Even Shake

This is the prime directive of film critics. Keep an open mind. If you think it will rule, or if you think it will suck, go into every film with the same attitude: one of cautious optimism. Allow the film to speak for itself, and you may find that movies can provide great pleasures you didn’t expect them to deliver. By the same token, be wary of any film’s flaws, and decide whether or not they are significant; don’t assume something is going to be great. Allow the film to be as great as it is.

Make a Lot

Cameras are everywhere. You probably have one in your pocket right now. If you want to be a filmmaker, try making more movies. Heck, make a one-minute film every day. Set up an establishing shot for a movie that will never be made. See if you can grab people in small ways. Nothing gets you thinking about the mechanics and the technical aspects of a film more than actually having to make one. By actually putting your hands in it, you’ll learn a lot about the way movies work.

Talk to Film People

The world is stuffed with film experts, and not just nerds like me. If you still have a video store in your area, strike up a conversation with the clerk there. See what they have discovered. See if they can give you recommendations. In addition to trying something new, you’ll be learning a different perspective on film. You might make a friend, or you may just brush elbows with someone who knows, but you’ll absorb a lot more glee. If you live in Los Angeles, I recommend you go to CineFile Video or Vidiots, two of the best video stores in my home town. Rent something, or just talk.

Stay for the Credits

I use the credits to relax and reflect. To ease myself out of the movie experience I just had. I know a lot of people get antsy at a film’s end, and tend to flee the credits. I encourage you to stay and relax with me. Reflect with me. Stay at least once or twice, and appreciate the sheer volume of people required to make a single feature film.

Make a Top Ten (or Twenty, or Thirty) list

Reflection on the best or the worst is always a valuable exercise. You don’t need to necessarily come up with something definitive, but it always helps to come up with a top- or bottom-ten list. Use it to remind yourself what has been the best or worst you have ever seen. Write it down. Keep it in your wallet. Amend it over time. See how it mutates as you age. Think about how often you compare new movies to old ones. Consider that all your old favorites were new movies once. You may find that some great films and some new films are more similar than you think.

Films are Important

Movies are perhaps the dominant art form of the age. They carry our culture on their backs. Even when they’re not commenting on our culture, the fact that they are made in the time they are speaks to what was going on with humanity at the time. Films are an excellent marker of cultural history, changing attitudes, and changing technologies. What’s more, they are the way we tend to dream. It’s been said that movies are so popular because they most closely resemble human dreams. Dark places. Flashing images. Fantasies realized. Fears unlocked. Anxieties expressed. Loves re-experienced. These are things inside all of us, reflected in the darkened room of the movie theater. Some films are crap. Most films are fluff. But we wait for the great ones.

I now send you forth, my dear students, out into the world. Make movies, watch movies, never stop enjoying movies. If you ever need a recommendation, just ask me. If you ever need some advice, ask.

My office door is always open.

Homework for the Week:

School’s out.  

Witney Seibold is the head film critic for Nerdist, and a contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. 


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