Dear Filmmakers, Study More than Film

So, you eat, sleep, and breath cinema, huh?

Okay, so you’re an expert on Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Steven Spielberg. You like Ozu and Kurosawa, know the dance from Bande à part, and can spell Eadweard Muybridge without googling it. You, my friend, know your shit about cinema. But still, despite the hundreds of film books and screenplays you’ve read and thousands of films you’ve seen, there may be so much more information you’re failing to feed your brain. Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society suggests that while having an encyclopedic knowledge of and insatiable interest in cinema is great, expanding your education beyond it might actually be the best thing you could do as a filmmaker.

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5 Reasons Not To Study Documentary-Making at Film School or University

I’ve taught at most of the major film schools in London. I also run my own documentary consultancy business ( and teach short courses at the NFTS and Raindance. Increasingly I’m beginning to realise what exceptional value a great short course and/or a good documentary consultant can be – and how going to a film school may not always be the best route if you want to make documentaries that get seen. See if the following convinces you (though please note that I do not include the exemplary National Film & Television School in the film schools that I’m talking about here):

1 A Recent Graduate Of A Top London Film School Told Me: “I Learned Nothing About Documentary Making On My M.A.”
I recently led a one day documentary making seminar at a top London film school on my rules & principles of documentary-making. A recent graduate was there and I asked him what he’d learned about documentary-making on his M.A. His response shocked me: “Nothing”. He then went on to tell me about his graduation film; something didn’t seem to chime with me. I asked him a few questions about it and then suggested a fix. Immediately he got excited and agreed that for the first time his film could work. I find it shocking that so many film schools fail to teach an effective, structured approach to documentary filmmaking, and also fail to help students understand how to make documentaries that an audience might want to watch (and a broadcaster might want to show).

2 Documentary Tutors Can Give Simply Terrible Advice
A student who recently attended my Raindance Documentary Foundation Certificate told me that after struggling to find a focus and a story in her film school graduation documentary the advice that her tutor had given her was to “just keep filming and you’ll find your film.” Two years later – surprise surprise – she still hadn’t found it. In my opinion that isn’t great teaching. In fact I’d argue that it’s a terrible waste of the student’s money to be given such ill-informed advice. If medicine was taught like this then there’d be hundreds of criminal cases against medical schools. In my opinion documentary structure and its concomitant principles or rules need to be taught – and taught properly.

And need I add that it’s always better to learn from someone who has excelled in their field than someone who hasn’t.

3 Many Documentary-Making Courses Are Just Glorified Film Studies Courses

Many students of mine tell me that they learned more over two or three sessions with me as a documentary consultant or teacher than they had over their entire MA or BA. Considering you’re paying in the region of £23,000 for a degree or Masters, that’s in my opinion very poor value.

Many film schools purport to teach documentary-making but in reality teach a glorified documentary studies programme. A friend of mine teaches on a filmmaking degree at a London university and recently mentioned to another tutor how he spends three days preparing his weekly lecture. The other tutor told him that they personally never bothered preparing their lectures as all they did was show a film to the students and then got them to talk about it as: “everyone’s seen so many films in their lives that they have an innate knowledge of it.” I totally disagree with this approach to teaching – by the same logic you could argue that everyone has heard so much music in their lives that all they need to do is pick up a violin and start playing. There’s a huge amount of knowledge to learn before you can go off and make an engaging documentary and much of this is counter-intuitive and so has to be taught clearly and effectively.

4 I Learned Nothing About Documentary Making Over 3 Years At My Film School

At my film school I learned a lot about feminism, cod-psychoanalysis and post-structuralism. I could even drop the words “Jacques Derrida” into an essay, however when I left film school I went straight to unemployment. It was only as I started develping my own documentary ideas that I had to go out and discover how to make documentaries that the BBC might commission. All my teachings as a documentary consultant or film tutor come out of my hard-earned, tried and tested rules that I developed through research and practical experience working as a researcher and later as a producer/director at the BBC.

5 It Might Be Better To Spend Your £23,000 Film School Fee In A Different Way

What if you do as Paul Thomas Anderson did and eschew the film school route? What if instead of studying documentary making at university you instead spent, say, £750 on a short, truly inspiring course and several great documentary consultancy sessions? This can be a far more cost-effective way to learn what you really need to know to make documentaries that audiences want to watch.

As Werner Herzog says: “All you need is $ 10,000 (and guts) to make a feature film.” So with the £22,000 you had left you could go out and make two short and two feature length documentaries.

To see how Col Spector could help you with your film and to read some testimonials from filmmakers who have used his service go to

The post 5 Reasons Not To Study Documentary-Making at Film School or University appeared first on Raindance.


Study Italian Neorealism in the Heart of Tuscany

Where better to learn classic filmmaking techniques than Italy? Alt Studio will bring you there.

Earlier this year, we let you know about an incredible opportunity to study filmmaking in Tuscany, Italy this summer with Alt Studio. As part of the five-week program, you work with industry pros who have been nominated for Academy Awards and shown work on the BBC, The Discovery Channel, History Channel, The New York Times, LIFE Magazine, and The London Sunday Times.

We’ve since learned more about the program’s enticing curriculum, which will help you produce three short films, a personal essay film and a documentary, and is complimented by weekly field trips to other towns in the region like Rome and Siena. Below are examples of two of the projects students will work on in Italy.

Classic Italian Neorealism

One of the exercises students will participate in is the creation of an homage to Classic Italian Neorealism of the 1950s. See the trailer for a previous semester’s work:

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Earliest dinosaurs may have originally come from Britain, new study says


Dinosaurs just can’t get a break. First, a comet slams into the Earth and renders them extinct. Now a group of scientists wants to dramatically shake-up the dino family tree. 

A new study, published this week in the journal Nature, proposes a major reordering of dinosaurs’ evolutionary history. 

The revised tree swaps around large subfamilies and adds a new branch for the Tyrannosaurus Rex and its ilk. The study also suggests that dinosaurs may have originated in the Northern Hemisphere, possibly in an area that is now Britain — not in South America, as scientists have long assumed.

More about South America, Britain, Scotland, Evolution, and Family Tree

Study Filmmaking and Photography in Tuscany with the Pros

Applications are open for Alt Studio, a new filmmaking program in beautiful Tuscany, Italy.

Are you a film student looking for an opportunity to learn and cultivate your inspiration? Look no further than Alt Studio, a visual arts study program in Tuscany where you can study filmmaking or photography under the guidance of professionals working in the industry.

“To spend time shooting in this charmed land will change any artist forever. I know it changed me forever.”

In Alt Studio’s five-week program, Tuscany’s culture and beauty will be your muse as you learn from a diverse faculty who have been nominated for Academy Awards and shown work on the BBC, The Discovery Channel, History Channel, The New York Times, LIFE Magazine, and The London Sunday Times. During the program, visiting artists will also serve as mentors.

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No Film School