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Experience is a Terrible Teacher

Alexandria writes in:

I emailed you a few months regarding PA’ing, and it really helped. So thank you. 🙂 I have another question:

My goals as a director is to succeed within the independent circuit, and more specifically, work within the burgeoning movement of online distribution and viewing of films. I’m a young filmmaker, however, with little experience. Would it be necessary to PA still, even if I don’t want to be a “professional” film director per say? Or should I just focus on creating my own work/sets?

There’s an old saying: “Experience is the best teacher.” That’s stupid.

In your math classes, your teachers assign you the same type of problem over and over, as homework. Coaches, likewise, would make you run drills day after day. Practice and repetition are incredibly important learning tools.

But your math teacher didn’t just throw some equations at you and say, “Have at it!” Your coach didn’t throw a ball at your head and tell you to dunk it.

Shooting short films is very important, but you’ll form a lot of bad habits, and you won’t learn good ones, if you never see how professionals do their jobs.

The best teachers are teachers. People who know how to do the job, and who know how to explain to you how to do the job. You’re not going to find these kinds of people on the sets of short films that you shoot on the weekend, with everybody working for meals and credit.

Creating your own stuff will help you find your own creative voice. But it won’t help you with the real, practical issues that come up on set, issues that can be avoided with proper prep, and understanding what issues can be resolved in post.

It’s not an either/or proposition. You can make shorts, but shoot them on the weekends. During the week, intern at production companies, if you can; work as a PA on larger productions, when the opportunity arises.

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One Response

  1. I disagree that the old cliche “Experience is the best teacher” is stupid. It’s not stupid — it’s true. Granted, being taught the right way is important for anybody striving to achieve a serious level of skill at anything… but without the benefit of experience — the trial and error process that burns that which was taught into our cerebral cortex — the best teacher in the world is just another dog barking at the wind. You have to personally apply what was taught (the theory) to the real world in order to really learn anything.

    That said, a good teacher can save you a lot of grief and a lot of time, thus helping you achieve your goals — whatever they are — a lot quicker.

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