to film or not to film (school)


This blog has been cooking for quite awhile, mainly for the past two years while I've been on leave from NYU/Tisch Graduate Film. I am supposed to go back this fall, at the risk of having to reapply for admission if I don't. Call me a flip flopper, but I've been vacillating between the two options for weeks. I will attempt to write this very quickly or else it will be too long and my carpal tunnel may start acting up. In fact, I think I will copy and paste from an email I sent to someone not too long ago.

" the time I went on leave I was pretty emotionally and financially drained from my first year and i was kind of unsure as to my creative point-of-view, and this uncertainty was difficult to cope with in an environment of highly egotistic, ambitious, competitive and talented people. the creative issues weighed pretty heavily in to my decision to leave, but the financial burden was equally important. i went flat broke for the first time in my nyu you have to raise all ur own funds for your films in addition to writing and directing and i just didn't have the financial wherewithal to start second year. i also wanted to work on my occupational outlook a little bit since film school does not get you a job."

That pretty much sums it up.

Film school is a type of living ecosystem in which the bottom feeders float along taking what comes; the regular fish make a few okay films, then go on to do whatever else occurs in their natural life cycle (usu doesn't involve directing); and the killer fish eat everyone else alive and grow bigger, stronger, and more influential. I didn't really fit well in any of those groups, maybe a regular fish (by technical standards) and a bit of a silent killer (by writing standards).

But NYU doesn't focus much on writing, so without the technical skills to match I was kind of floating around like a bottom feeder. And of course everyone says you're supposed to learn filmmaking in film school, but nobody who goes really buys this because they're not interested in spending real-world dollars to mess around.

That's the thing: film school is actually real-world independent filmmaking, with all its vagaries and consequences, except nobody in the industry really cares about students, and most professors don't respect their students much more than that. The students who do really well are either rich, well-connected, or emotionally unhinged enough to not give a shit. I didn't find myself in any of those camps either.

I think it's important to note that few NYU students have wildly positive experiences. And there are some notoriously bad events that have occurred in recent history. The administration is all mum about a student who died on set recently (by electrocution). Also, a black female student jumped off the Tisch roof a few years ago.

So why go back? you ask. Sounds pretty horrific. Well I think all art schools are, in a way. But I think I'm getting closer to that emotionally unhinged, borderline insane mental space where you just say "fuck it" and go for it. If it doesn't kill me (which it won't) it'll make me stronger. And though I've spent the better part of two years cleaning up my disheveled finances, I would actually risk $80K more in student loans cause I think I'm worth the investment.

But lately it's been nagging at the back of my mind that the program just might not be right for me. Often only one of a handful of blacks, females, and the only African, it's like being an alien life form in an alternate universe. I spent so much time defending my point-of-view to professors and still, more often than not, was misunderstood.

I've never been one to shy away from speaking my mind, but I definitely had my cowering-in-the-corner moments. And I simply wasn't able to "wear privilege" in quite the same way that some of the others did. Was always thinking, Do I really belong here? Am I really a filmmaker? Does my story really matter? Thankfully, I don't have those questions anymore.

You could say that I have a love/hate relationship with NYU. You could say that it is filled with the most egotistical, insane, single-minded human beings gathered in one place on earth. You could also call those people brilliant artists and be equally correct.

If you'd like to debate the film or no film school issue some more, visit:

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