On last Friday’s blog post, I wrote:
Directing a student film doesn’t really count for anything.
As long as it’s clearly labeled as a student film section [on your resume], you can include your directing and producing credits. Just understand it’s not going to help you get anything better than a PA gig.
Over on Facebook, John replied:
Yet student films get optioned for features all the time?
A 49 year old film.
There’s probably a more recent example of a student film being optioned for a feature, but sure, let’s talk about George fucking Lucas’s student film.
Lucas went to USC, which is my alma mater, so I happen to know a lot about how the film was produced. It was made for a class called CTPR 480, which is the senior level production class. The school doesn’t pay for anything; the entire budget comes out of your pocket. Lucas volunteered to teach a class in order to get free film stock and access to locations. He was actually quite ingenious in how he got such high production value for a student film. Almost like he’s a better producer than he is a director…
But it’s not like Warner Brothers just saw THX-1138 and said, “Here’s your money! Go make a feature!” What actually happened was, the film was good enough for Lucas to win a contest to visit a set on the WB lot. The movie was Finian’s Rainbow, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
The two became friends, and formed American Zoetrope together. Warners signed a seven picture deal with Zoetrope, and Lucas wanted to make a a feature-length version of THX. But that wasn’t because they liked the short so much; Coppola had made several films for them at that point.
So, THX did set Lucas on a path to directing his first feature, but a lot of things had to break his way and he had to respond to the opportunities correctly. This kind of networking and luck can happen to you, too. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t go out and make short films, but it’s unlikely to be your meal ticket like it was for Lucas.
Just as important, there was less competition back then. There were fewer than a dozen film schools in the 1960s. Now there are a hundred just in the United States. Completing film school with a degree and a student film is no longer as impressive as it once was.
You don’t even have to go to film school to make short films, anymore. You can shoot one on your cell phone.
Unless you’ve won some kind of award, you’re not going to impress anyone with your student film. It’s certainly not going to help you get a job as a PA, because most student film shoots are clusterfucks.
Which is totally okay! When you’re a student, you’re still learning. But it’s not the kind of experience that gets things done on real film shoots. Bear in mind, THX wasn’t Lucas’s first and only student film. Lucas has several others in the USC archives. I’ve seen them, and they’re mostly terrible.
I haven’t seen your student film, but, just playing the odds here, it’s probably terrible too. If you’re willing to accept that, you can face your future with an honest assessment of your job prospects.