1. Watch as many movies as you can.
At the core of every great filmmaker is a great student of films, so this is always the first bit of advice I give my future students. Before you pick up a camera, you should certainly get to know the greats (like Chaplin, Kubrick, Scorsese and Spielberg, to name a few), but also try to venture outside of your cinematic comfort zone. Explore the breadth of the classic American and foreign cinema canon. Pay close attention to similarities and differences among filmmakers of different generations, styles, and cultural backgrounds. But perhaps most importantly, get intimately familiar with what you, the film watcher, love to experience at the movies.
To get you started, here are my picks for the top six essential films for aspiring film students (in alphabetical order):
♦ Citizen Kane
♦ The Godfather
♦ Raging Bull
♦ Singin' in the Rain
For even more selections, grab a big bowl of popcorn and dig into AMC’s Top 100 Movies of All Time.
2. Get Final Draft software and begin writing.
Even if writing for the screen isn’t the career you envision, reading, editing, and interpreting scripts are essential components of virtually every role in filmmaking. To me, the easiest and most efficient way get familiar with the art of scripting is with Final Draft.
When you use Final Draft (which you can purchase on Amazon.com and elsewhere), you will begin to understand how scripts are written, formatted, edited, and annotated—plus, you’ll have one more thing in common with nearly two decades of Academy®, Emmy® and BAFTA® award-winning writers.
With a firm foundation in writing for the screen, you’ll be better equipped to tackle all of your projects at TFA, from your first short film to the client projects you’ll take on in your second year.
3. Read Sidney Lumet's Making Movies.
Before his passing in 2011, director, producer and screenwriter Sidney Lumet established himself among his generation’s finest filmmakers during an epic career that spanned nearly six decades. Today, his 1996 opus Making Movies remains a wonderful reference for the aspiring filmmaker. Part memoir, part how-to guide, Lumet’s classic intro to the art of filmmaking is both entertaining and educational, and I highly recommend it for all of my future students.
New and used copies of Making Movies are widely available online, and a Kindle version has also become available for those who prefer electronic text. Read it closely, take notes, and if possible discuss it with a fellow film lover. You’ll be sure to extract many valuable nuggets of wisdom from the author’s years of practical experience.
This piece was originally posted on the Tribeca Flashpoint blog. For more about Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, including information on their two-year Associate Degree programs in Film & Broadcast, Recording Arts, Game & Interactive Media, or Animation & Visual Effects, please visit www.tfa.edu.
Peter Hawley is Chair of the Film + Broadcast department at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. He is an award-winning film writer and director working in feature film, documentary, television and TV commercials. He received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and earned his Master's degree at the University of Chicago, and has been teaching film at the college level since 1996.