May 26, 2014

Director Kevin Smith: This is What You Can't Learn in Film School

While this website might be called No Film School, we have always acknowledged that there are positives and negatives for attending or not attending film school.

Writer/director Kevin Smith, a film school dropout himself, talked during a Q&A about whether going to film school is worth it, and the skills that really can't be taught in school. Thanks to the wonderful filmschoolthrucommentaries, here is Smith on what they can't teach you in film school (this is Kevin Smith, so there's always plenty of NSFW language):

He also had some great words about being a director:

Directing isn't about having an insanely grand vision -- for some directors it absolutely is and we get some really cool-looking movies -- but directing is all about like communication. If you can communicate to somebody else, if you can communicate a thought, you can direct, it's that simple.

The point he makes about writing is also great -- something which is echoed by plenty of writers and screenwriters: if you keep working at it you will get better. Whether or not you should go to film school is a complicated answer depending on who you are and your situation, but as Smith mentions, it's really the connections you make with other people there that can be the most fruitful part of the experience. These are connections that can last an entire career -- which we have seen over and over again with successful filmmakers.

For more terrific collected audio commentaries, head on over to the YouTube page.

Your Comment

32 Comments

Who'd say we'd ever be taking advice on directing, or even better; communicating - by no other than Silent Bob!

May 26, 2014 at 1:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Raul

You've got a mistake in the title, I believe it should read;
Director Kevin Smith Talks About the Things HE Can't Learn in Film School

May 26, 2014 at 3:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bobby Silent

He's better filmmaker than you, that's for sure.

May 26, 2014 at 4:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

No, I'm pretty sure they got the title right.

May 26, 2014 at 4:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

not sure if serious considering the username you have yourself as... Are you in an abusive relationship with Clerks?

May 26, 2014 at 5:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Franco

Spot on Bobby. I've will never understand the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality that has infected our culture. Smith is subpar, aside from "Chasing Amy" I see nothing in his filmography that was worth watching.

May 26, 2014 at 8:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agree

The title is spot on...I too felt like a "dreamer" in film school...sat in the back of class writing my own stories & studying movie clips while they preached mega-budget Hollywood technical mumbo jumbo (which I strongly believed would become outdated in time...and the way things are going, I'm pretty sure I was right).

Once it was clear that they would never touch on the creative/artist aspect, I bailed. Each artists' style is so different, complex and subjective, and I assume it would be pretty hard to teach something like that to a class of unique individuals.

May 26, 2014 at 8:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Red State was awesome.

May 26, 2014 at 3:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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VinceGortho

The guy who asked the question was really annoying.

May 26, 2014 at 6:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Nathan

Totes

May 26, 2014 at 7:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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NoScopes

There is a lot of truth to what Kevin Smith was saying. I went to film school with the same mind set as Kevin but I used film school to get my hands on top notch equipment and meet people who loved the art form as much as me. My only regret with film school is that I didn't make a No Budget Feature or two with all of the equipment and free crew I had access to.

So if you are in film school now make a feature it will take you a lot further than the shorts you leave with.

May 26, 2014 at 9:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kevin Smith is a comedian first and foremost....so
he shouldn't really be compared to Kubricks and Scorsceses

May 26, 2014 at 10:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sammy

I don't see how someone who did not go to film school (or dropped out) can possibly tell anyone what they "didn't" learn at "film school."

There are many "film schools," and many teachers/professors, to make such a dumb blanket statement flies in the face of the film school generation and those who continue to learn and develop their craft under the watchful eyes of classmates and teachers. And meeting other, like minded classmates, is one of the best reasons to go- just ask Smith who met Mosier at school before dropping out- where else might you find life-long collaborators?

Also, looking at the best director nominees (certainly not a representative list, but instructive), it seems like half went to film school, a few dropped out, and one went to art school. So perhaps film school has some value.

But these are directors at the very top of their game, Smith has never been in the same league (he'd be the first to admit that). So then, who cares what a guy who's only had modest 17 years ago thinks?

May 26, 2014 at 10:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

Are you a film school instructor? I'm not being facetious...I'm just curious.

Almost 100% of aspiring director/film school grads who I've spoken with wish they would have dropped out and made a film instead. I'm not referring to DP/AD/UPM/Grips etc. Those looking strictly for technical, set structure and etiquette, and hands-on gear seem to get much more value out of it.

May 26, 2014 at 10:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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20 years.

And I've heard versions of this argument since the 80's, when I was an UG, thinking of grad school. As I wrote above, the BEST reason to go film school is meeting like-minded collaborators. IF, however, you have friends who push and challenge you, or you challenge yourself, you don't need film school. But most folks don't because friends tend to be, well, friendly towards your work, not critical.

However, a good professor/teacher will challenge a student by asking questions that "friends" might not, like: "Why the hell are you making this?" I've asked students this, watched them stare at me blank-faced, then stumble through their "vision" (which is usually a version of some popular "vision"--- if I had a dollar for all the "Zombie" ideas since Walking Dead....).

But then I dig deeper and find out what the student is trying to say, I ask questions, reference and suggest other films/TV shows, music, and art that the student should look at-- all in the hopes of having the student leave with more questions and a willingness to search for the answers.

Friends don't always do this.

I agree that the technical stuff can be learned anywhere- IF you have access. But the soft-skills that a filmmaker needs, for many, come from being sequestered in a “film school.”

May 27, 2014 at 11:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

At film school you actually get to make films so I'm not sure why they are making such a complaint, unless they never went to a decent film school?

While at film school I've written and directed my own short films, made a documentary, served as a director on a webseries drama and a director on a multi-camera show for online student television. I have also worked as a writer, vision mixer (in multi-camera production) and an editor and soon will be part of a crew on the film school's feature film. So film school has been incredibly useful and has made for a great insight into how the industry operates. This is how a good film school should operate, it should be a breeding ground for creative talent as well as a place that makes film and television show making students fit for purpose in such a competitive and intense industry, as well as arm students with professional friendships that should last for our entire careers. It should not just provide students with experience in directing, it has to encourage work experience on other student's sets, because that helps gain professional practice.

February 28, 2015 at 3:35PM

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MaxDirector
Filmmaker/Director
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I would say anybody who has yet to actually shoot a feature would care about what he had to say. If someone has gone out there and achieved more than I have, I'm willing to listen to what they got out of the experience.

May 26, 2014 at 2:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

This!!

July 17, 2014 at 10:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

Whats wrong with some interviewers?

May 26, 2014 at 6:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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northfilm

It just shows what a bad director Smith is by that first paragraph...in which having an insane vision translates to him as a great looking movie. Sometimes it's not about visuals, it's setting the right mood, or having the acting be just so, or things like that. Smith is a fairly terrible director, and I think if he started now he wouldn't have much of a career...he basically showed up at exactly the right time.

May 27, 2014 at 9:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Muh

Not much of a career? Kevin Smith is a multi-millionaire who keeps making films and continues working in the Industry and other fields of entertainment. If he wasn't sucessfull, he would of ended on the trash heap like many directors who make one film and are never heard of again.

You may not like his film, but he certainly has the credentials and certainly knows MORE about working in Hollywood then most of the so-called 'experts' teaching film classes.

May 28, 2014 at 12:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sling

Kevin Smith is a whiny hack

May 30, 2014 at 4:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Oh, the irony....

July 17, 2014 at 11:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

Kevin who?

But honestly folks, he's a guy who didn't go to film school, so I can't see how he can be taken seriously. Now if he'd been to film school and then ranted about what he didn't learn there, that would, ahem, carry more weight (lay off the donuts Kevin). His marketing gimmick is hockey jerseys.

May 30, 2014 at 1:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I enjoy the people here pretending that Kevin Smith is a nobody.

He started out making indie flicks, and turned that into a career making him 20+ million dollars.

If you're all so much better than him, why aren't you doing the same?

July 17, 2014 at 10:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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tbone

I know who Kevin Smith is and I know his work, so I'm interested in his perspective on making it as a successful filmmaker without a diploma.

You, not so much.

July 17, 2014 at 11:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

For everyone saying "Well he didn't go to film school, so how does he know", I go to the school Smith went to, and know that he DID go through the entire school experience. The ONLY thing he didn't do was make his thesis film. Instead, he made Clerks. If he had wanted to graduate, he would have had to make Clerks a shell of what it ended up being, and decided instead to make it right. So don't say he doesn't know what film school is.

July 29, 2014 at 2:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jaime

I was lucky and went to film school when it was free (UK) - the devil to get in but once there it was free. I would not have paid current fees (UK now £18,000) in theory, if I had the £ I would have bought a camera and made a bunch of films.
BUT ... a good school introduces you to some new ideas, different thinking, challenges you. Googling does not do that, it just gives you snippets of info and no way to know how to filter it.
You can really tell in Smith's work that he has no intellectual development. at all, and his films suffer. God knows how he came up with Chasing Amy.
Read Jack Cardiff's amazing memoir MAGIC HOUR - - he made his own "film school" at the library and National gallery while working on sets.

June 9, 2014 at 6:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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new real

My advice to the guy asking the question is stop being so annoying that people want to punch you in the face. Then you'll find work in film.

July 17, 2014 at 11:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Seamus

There are, of course, many ways to learn, and the DIY approach is one way. Film school is another. Learning about life in general is another, so you have some wisdom developed through your experiences to pass on to your audience. I've felt in some classes that the teacher was just passing along book knowledge, and was told later that lots of classes are taught by teachers without much if any experience in the subject taught. Maybe an effective school teaches one how to learn. Being around your peers-like minded individuals close in age-is something I miss from the photography classes I've completed. Maybe that is why co-op education is so valuable. A combination of book knowledge and practical experience where you can immediately put into place the techniques right after you learn them.

July 17, 2014 at 11:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Larry Vaughn

I don't know how every film schools is, but I can tell you this out of my film school experience, If anyone one
who as not experienced a film school and is of the idea that film school is kind of a regular school where all the learning is imposed on you and later you update your self from books and then try to excel in your finals, if so its definitely not going to be like that for sure.
It a place where everyone displays their skills and in return get appreciated by others or learn to appreciate others skills or discuss regarding others works, consequently starts find many news accepts of ones own creative ability. Also faculties share their working experiences and everything here is left to ones own comfort to take it seriously into learning or not. Nobody is going to force anything on your creative learning process. You can be same creative person your, but they also there will be a few criterias to be met for your projects to keep it fair and square for every student and also to maintain the safety of their expensive equipments but usually thats nothing largely to be considered as a hinder to your creative freedom. You can also voice out your opinions may it be negative or positive even related to the great masters of cinema, cause very creative person is different and has his or her own opinion expected to work in their own unique way. In simple you can consider its as less harsher, less brutal and a small regulated environment of the film industry in the outer world. One is left to chose to learn it the hard way outside or opt to learn in a safer environment initially. Sadly 2 things that you can't get to do after graduating as a film major. is 1. brag that you are film maker now or boast about your film knowledge unlike graduating as doctor or an engineer 2. to bank on your graduation to fetch a job in the film industry. After film school you will be same as anyone else in the film industry. you might find yourself with little disciplined approach to the industry standards towards film making comparer to the non film school artists.

July 18, 2014 at 4:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ram

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August 19, 2014 at 1:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM