On the first day of film school at NYU…

…one department head or another asked the 140 freshman wanna-be Spielbergs/Godards/Raimis* in the room to raise their hand if they wanted to be a Director.

Many, including me, raised our hands.

The faculty response: “You’ll be lucky if four of you make it.” (I’m paraphrasing. This happened in 1994.)

When I talk to journalism students, I try to impart a little piece of that message.  How many of you think you’re going to be a star reporter at a major metro newspaper?  I ask some variant of that question, and hands are raised.

Hunter Walker is reporting for Gawker on his Columbia J-School orientation.

“Lemann also discussed our job prospects. Although he brought up the possibility that we may find work for a news organization he encouraged us to be open to careers as possibly starving internet entrepreneurs saying: “its a really interesting time to be in on the beginnings of the revolution… it’s a great time to put aside thoughts of worldly things and do something really creative if you have the nerve.” I agree with Lemann that this transitional period could lead to great opportunities, but I know firsthand that you need capital along with cojones to start your own business ventures.”

That’s something that approaches the right idea.

What the NYU orientation hand-raising exercise did for me was to focus my attention on learning a craft and a set of skills rather than being an auteur.

So, journalism students about to start school for the semester:  Are you trying to be an auteur, or an entrepreneur?

*I was a wanna-be Godard, and there weren’t many of those left at the end of four years.

3 thoughts on “On the first day of film school at NYU…”

  1. This reminds me of the anecdote the PT Anderson tells about his first day at NYU (I think it was NYU) – beret-wearing a-hole instructor tells everyone that if they’re dream is to make movies like Terminator 2, they’re in the wrong place. PT Anderson drops out the next day b/c he thinks T2 is awesome, starts shooting his own work.

    Moral: if you think you’re an auteur, you’re probably not because if you were you’d be too busy making work to be sitting around (in class) wondering if you’re an auteur or not.

    I say this as someone who went to film school for 4 years myself. 🙂


    1. @John – That’s a funny story, although it does sort of reek of PT Anderson showmanship as I follow the trail of Wikipedia and IMDB on it. 😉

      By the third year at NYU in the late ’90s, almost everyone left on the narrative film track said their favorite directors were George Lucas or someone equally bland. My three favorites in those days were Peckinpah, Godard, and Chaplin, and there were no berets involved. One prof showed the gatling gun scene from Wild Bunch the week after I mentioned Sam P. on the first day of his class. It was a beautiful thing.


  2. ha! I barely remember that orientation. We both must have been there, but did not know each other, yet……I would not have raised my hand, as I already had Editing in mind from a random comment a friend of my parents made 5 years before that. Go figure!

    I think it is wise to be cautious and have real skills/a back up plan, but I believe everyone should aim for and work their asses off to get to their goal. Worst you can do is not make it and fall into something else. And you definitely won’t get there if you don’t believe it can happen.
    There are those dream positions out there.
    might as well be YOU!

    (end of steph’s pep talk)


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