Film School Report – Brice Habeger

There are a several Juneauites who attend film schools and a smaller handful who are out working in the industry. These filmmakers are the brave ones who have ventured outside our little fish bowl and through their experiences and adventures they offer a wealth of information to the local filmmaker. Brice Habeger, a graduate of Juneau Douglas High School, currently attends Columbia College in Chicago and he wrote up the following article. Thanks Brice!

Tucked away in a non descript, windowless room; a group of men and women sit sipping fruit punch and staring across the circle at the other attendees. Eyes shift from person to person, occasionally meeting, quickly glancing away; feigning distraction with an interesting stain on the ceiling or floor. This group meets often and they go by the name of Filmmakers Anonymous, anonymous movie makers hoping to turn out a product that will secure them some measure of recognition.

A young man with brown hair, dressed in a white t-shirt, jeans because he has nothing else, and shoes because he has no other pair; raises his hand. The group leader calls on him. The man shifts his weight in his seat, slowly raises his eyes up off the floor and meets those of the other members.

“Hi, I am Brice. And I am a filmmaker. I go to school in Chicago. Columbia College to be exact. Not to be confused with Columbia University in New York. I tell people I go to Columbia, they always go ‘Oh, that’s a good school.’ It really is. It’s just not the one they are thinking.

I am not sure exactly what other film schools are like, but this just my experience at the one I am attending.

When you first enter the program you start off with basic classes on how things are. Or what makes a film. You know, the basic components. You take classes on the history of the art form and the aesthetics of the art form. Theory that is intended to educate you on what to look for in a movie and hopefully, in turn, apply to your own stuff. You take a few introduction course to how to develop an idea and how to sort of write a script. This is the point in film school where you decide that it is crap and you already know all of this stuff. It is a lot of money for not a lot of practical knowledge. Or so it would seem.

This first year is intended to wean out the half assers and slackers. And more importantly, provide a ground work for making informed and well made films. It is the most important year of film school because if you wanted you could stop right there. You pretty much know everything you need to make a good film, if you paid attention in class, have talent, and motivation. But mostly motivation.

After that the fun begins. You start to work with all of the equipment that film school has to offer. You get to use big bright lights and cool cameras. You learn what it means to be a filmmaker. This is the point at which you realize the most important attribute of a great filmmaker.

You have to love it.

Because if you don’t, you are just wasting your time because the next three years will be the most back and heart breaking, sleepless years of your life. Unless of course you go on to make films professionally, then you will make a career of disappointments and problems. Film making is tough and you soon grow weary of it and give up…or you realize that it is in your blood. That your heart pumps story development and plot structure.

You work your ass off trying to get a crew, actors, and locations. Then it all falls apart. Your actor bails on you. Your location falls through. Your DP forgets to bring the film canisters to the shoot. Trust me, stuff like this really happens. You quickly learn that film making isn’t actually making a film. It’s problem solving.

As the year progresses you look at the tuition fees. You think about how much money you are spending to torture yourself for something that isn’t a guaranteed career after graduation. About 1 in 3000 film students eventually make a career out of it. The rest are forced to take paying jobs six months after they graduate because of student loans. It’s a lot of work for little or no financial reward. If you think of it that way…

You realize that you don’t care. You have to make movies because it’s the only thing you could ever want to do. You have to love it.

Your life goes downhill. Your friends quit calling because you are too busy making movies. Your girlfriend might break up with you, or you might never get a date because you don’t have the time. This is the truth folks. You don’t have a life outside of film school. Unless of course your life is film. Then you perfectly happy because you are addicted.

You can’t quit. The satisfaction from a well lit shot and good crew. The feeling you get when you’re on set and the actor gives a great performance. The rush and energy of getting things done. The stress before hand and the stress about if people will like the final film or not. You get excited about the story to the point where you are jumping up and down, pacing because it is not going quick enough. All these things are drugs for a movie maker.

When you watch your rushes and everything turns out perfectly. That the last minute adjustment you made to the story worked out even better the original idea. Even more when someone tells you that they liked your film. These are the best moments, combined with the feeling of satisfaction that you get from knowing that you made the best movie that you could make; and you wonder why you ever doubted yourself. And all of the stress and sleepless nights suddenly all seem worth it when you watch an audience watch your film.

It’s an addiction that I can’t give up and won’t give up. Film school is about meeting people and sharing ideas. It’s about connecting with others who share similar interests. It’s fun. It’s tons of hard work.

And I still have two years left.�

The young man stands to his feet, knocking his chair in the process. He looks around the circle. Each set of bewildered eyes stare back at him. All of the attendees already know all of this, or else they wouldn’t be there. They are addicted just like him. They thought they were going to learn something from this young man. They looked to him for answers he provided only questions. Their anonymous faces each wrought with the unanimous expression of the fact that they didn’t learn a thing.

And you really you can’t. Good film making can not be taught in school. It cannot be read in books. It has to come from within and from doing it over and over again. Granted, reading about film does help. Watching movies improves technique. Going to school will make you a more technically proficient film maker, but all of the above will not make you a better filmmaker if you don’t love it. You have to create with your gut instinct and go with what your heart tells you. And in all honesty, you can do that in your own back yard.

The young man exits the room.