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Film School in the Time of COVID-19

March 30, 2020 | By


The moment I learned I was in the right place came at the end of my first semester as a USC film school graduate student.

A directing professor sat us down for a “parting shots” talk. One of the takeaways he left us was “debt is not your friend.” Meaning, if one’s professional career was taking off while still a student, there was no shame in dropping out and making a living. The best students after all, can pick up the technical disciplines germane to the medium within a semester or two.

His opinion was probably not representative of the entire faculty, but you wouldn’t know it by the signed movie posters adorning the storied halls of USC in Los Angeles.

In addition to each of the famed filmmakers’ signatures came exhortations to “Fight On” and “don’t drop out like I did." I often wondered whether those lines were intended as prudent advice or a subtle, calculated move by industry vets to keep the future competition in the amateur setting of film studies for a year or two more.

Film students should use their current moment of sequestering to their advantage. There are countless hours usually devoted to class and commuting now returned back to them.

So what does one do with the extra time? See my advice below, where each “limitation” might be transformed into an opportunity. Consider the quasi-quarantine as context for a semi-professional test-run

Maybe by the time our country emerges from its self-imposed hibernation, you’ll discern whether or not starting another semester is wise.


With the economy slowing down, we’re all pinching pennies. Think more deliberately about how you spend your money. Tuition for one semester could be put towards directing a short. Tuition for the entirety of a degree could otherwise pay for your first feature.

And for those interested in producing, especially the vital aspect of financing of films, credits can easily be gained by the click of a button on your director-friend’s crowd-funding campaign. This can simulate in some small form a film executive's usual process of evaluating scripts and culling out those not worthy of backing.


So, you’ve been kicked off campus and maybe now live back with Mom and Dad and potentially annoying, younger siblings. At first blush, that’s far from desirable. Use the specificity of your living situation to write some taut script that takes place in one location. Look at the home you grew up in with new eyes. Does your home make for a horror setting? A suburban drama? An upper-class tale?


The CDC’s guidance to cap social gatherings at 10 persons (and less in some settings) puts a damper on assembling cast and crew. But perhaps, family members have some untapped acting talents. Those younger siblings of yours grew up in the “Screen Age”, so trust them behind the camera as crew.

At a minimum, keep the camera on your smartphone rolling. Even the documenting of this unique situation we all find ourselves in could provide the concept for a future project.


Famed auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) dropped out of film school after one day of classes. His reason? He had already “attended” school through years of watching films … not the passive consumption of what bingeing has become, but the post-viewing analysis of dissecting what worked or didn’t work.

In simulating a semi-professional environment, you’ll need a day off as even A-list productions break once a week. (This contrasts film school, which unnecessarily seems to be a 24/7 effort.) Use that day to watch film, especially the low budget, independent work driving Criterion Channel streaming. Google and then watch the nominated films from Film Independent up for the John Cassavetes Award. The award goes to films made for less than $100,000.

It's long been said that necessity is the mother of invention, so get inventing!

Image: Dmitry Niko /

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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