The Big Thing in Film School & Fiction School

The Big Thing in Film School & Fiction School

Here’s part 2 of my interview with Alexander Georgakis, a young filmmaker fresh out of film school, who has lots of smart things to say about making art in and out of school. Read part 1 here.

A lot of people say that young writers are not “ready” for novels, that they must learn from shorts. What do you think about this?

I definitely think young filmmakers should attempt to make short films before diving into features. But, in terms of comparing young filmmakers and young novelists, again the subject of cost must be addressed. A young writer can draft a novel, and if she wasn’t “ready” to actually tackle a novel, she can keep revising it, or put it aside completely and value her effort as a learning experience. For a young filmmaker, if he attempts to make a feature, and he isn’t “ready,” he could waste an enormous amount of money, whether his own or someone else’s. (Most do-it-yourself features have budgets in the six-figure range–though sometimes within the five-figure range–while most of what we consider “independent” films today have budgets in the millions.)

Screenwriters, like novelists, do not have to worry about the “cost” of their efforts. I do think learning to write short scripts is a good place for beginning screenwriters to start–it can be easier to focus on specific elements of craft like pacing and dialogue within a fifteen page script as opposed to a one-hundred and ten page feature. But I also think a large part of being “ready” to produce any kind of creative work involves living life–you can spend your whole life studying the craft of writing or filmmaking but if you don’t spend time actually experiencing the world you probably won’t have anything interesting to write or make a film about. Ultimately, though, the only person who can truly determine whether you’re “ready” to create a short story/novel/film/etc. is yourself.

A lot of people feel that creative writing programs only prepare students to write short stories, which are not as marketable as novels. Do you think film schools do the same with short films? Is this as big a topic in your world as it is in mine?

Yes to the first question, no to the second. In other words, in my opinion, film schools do not prepare students to make feature films. However, most debates about the effectiveness of film school focus on other topics.

For instance, many are less concerned about whether film schools prepare their students to make features–and more concerned about whether film schools even prepare their students to work on features, in any capacity. Many argue that film schools can provide a strong foundation for a career, but struggle to teach students the skill sets that will actually prepare them for the entry-level jobs available to them in the entertainment industry (i.e. production assistant, executive assistant, etc.) upon graduation.

There is also much sturm und drang at numerous film school programs in which only a handful of students are selected to direct the highest-level films in the program. Once again, COST rears its ugly head: many film schools do not have the money to fund thesis films for sixty students, or however many might be in each class. So the schools select, say, four students to direct those films, and the rest of the class pays the same amount of tuition to work in crew positions on those films. Luckily, for creative writing programs, you do not have to worry about choosing four students who will get to write a “big thing,” while the rest of their classmates provide feedback, check spelling and grammar, and provide illustrations!

There is certainly a lot of (healthy) debate about how film schools should or should not prepare students for work in the entertainment business. However, because the vast majority of film school students will not begin directing features immediately upon graduation (and, in fact, statistically, most film school students will never direct a feature at all), there is not as much concern about the fact that film schools do not prepare students for features, at least compared to the level of concern may seem to have regarding creative writing programs and novels.

Thank you so much to Alexander for answering my questions, and for bringing my story, “The Lone Star Cowboy” to life.

Alexander Georgakis grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, and moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. As a student, he majored in Critical Studies, and served as the director for USC’s 1st Annual Independence Film Festival and the 3rd Annual LA-wide Crosstown Film Festival. Upon graduation, he received USC’s prestigious University Trustees Award. In addition to pursuing his passion for film, Alexander has also enjoyed working as a musician throughout Los Angeles. He served as the conductor/accompanist for the Los Angeles premiere of The Life with Jaxx Theatricals, and past credits include positions as the music director for Theatrical Arts International’s productions of The Music Man and The Pirates of Penzance, and the accompanist for The Theatre @ Boston Court’s new musical, Gulls.