“Trying to make a feature film yourself with no money is the best film school you can do…When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, ‘No, I went to films,’”
– QUENTIN TARANTINO
Imagine it. Imagine having the confidence of a 20-something year old boy who has seen all of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman’s films, who thinks he’s above anyone who went to university, and that he’s the next Stanley Kubrick. While it may sound like I’m bitter towards, Tarantino: I’m just suspicious of his confidence and skill. How can one just go out and make a film like Reservoir Dogs with no formal training?
University is both expensive and time consuming, and if you, like me, are a teenage girl in this economy I assume you have neither time nor money.
So what I do is try to “go to films” in a more constructive way than just staring at a screen. I am an obsessive nerd about movies, and I fill the time I’m not watching movies reading about them and trying to learn about filmmaking. My number one tool for this compulsive research is Video Essays.
I can’t really remember much of my life before I started watching Video Essays regularly. They have taught me so much about every aspect of movies and I think they are one of the most helpful tools if you want to feel like an all knowing film student.
There are video essays on anything and everything, here’s one on the History of Video Essays
Although I may sound like a Vimeo executive pretending to be a teenage girl to advertise, I really do just think that this site is a goldmine of movie knowledge that needs to be shared. So, this is my Video Essays 101 guide. I’ve tried to narrow it down, but the internet is a bottomless pit and there are so many great video essays out there, you won’t even have to look that hard, just type in a film or technique you’re interested in! I recommend creating a Vimeo account so that you too can have a watch later list as long as mine.
There are many pretty and well thought out montages that can help you see things differently, or appreciate smaller aspects of specific films. Encouraging you to look for common themes and shots across director’s body of work. Vimeo user Jacob T. Swinney is excellent at making these:
What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film? This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes. Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film?
Want to see every single extreme close up Paul Thomas Anderson has ever shot? Steal his style!
Or just enjoy this montage of sad girls in Sofia Coppola’s movies
The spine curling sound of Tarantino:
Other than good montages, there are some great longer video essays that are actually videos with someone reading an essay over them. MUST SEE FILMS on Vimeo offer some of the best shot by shot analyses. Listen to Darren Foley calmly explain exactly what makes your favourite films so great. Here he talks us through the reasons that the opening three minutes of Drive are so good, for reasons you’d never realise.
Tony Zhou makes some of the most comprehensive ones on specific director’s style’s and themes with narration:
Q: Why do all action-comedy films suck apart from Jackie Chans?
Q: Why do I only laugh at comedies that are directed by Edgar Wright
Q: Why is David Fincher film a thrill ride, even when it’s about computer nerds?
There are videos like this that focus on aspects of cinematography, and even whole albums of essays on cinematography.
How Adam Wingard made The Guest both informative and stylish with the use of colour.
Or maybe you have a lot of spare time to learn about editing in this 25 minute guide to Whiplash
Or just spare one minute to discover why Mad Max didn’t ever get to visually muddled.
It’s even possible to know everything you want to know about sound before you’ve even had the chance to plug in a microphone, the Sound Works Collection is a personal favourite, they interview the sound team of films and show behind the scenes how soundscapes and effects were made:
But if you’re not so interested in drawn out explanations of single film, you can listen to someone else discuss broader issues than Steve McQueen’s use of the colour blue for Brandon’s sheet’s in Shame.
Consider the pro’s and cons of graphic violence in the movies:
Hear Kevin B. Lee’s argue who deserves an Oscar,
So once you’re done with the heavy information, your hand are sore and notebook is full, there are lots of clever light hearted videos on vimeo. A few notable mashups:
Or even just some awe-inspiring montages:
YouTube is also pretty good, though what’s on offer on in the way film information is interviews, conversations and talks which are often more like podcasts. My definitive list:
EYES ON CINEMA is updated almost daily with talks and interviews with some of the ‘greats’ – plenty of archive material.
BAFTA GURU provides interviews from 60 seconds to 60 minutes with every actor and director you could possibly think of.
FILM SOCIETY OF LINCON CENTRE More panel talks than you will know what to do with
KERMODE AND MAYO Mark Kermode providing regular reviews and debates
THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD And if your interested in the people in front of the camera, does some very in depth informative interviews and panel discussions – again which work well as background podcasts.
FILM SCHOOL COMMENTS offers a bunch of conversations with directors: here is a video they posted of Richard Linklater explaining how he ‘went to films’.
And while we are on the topic of podcasts, there are hundreds of FREE podcasts – mainly interviews like in this ‘Meet The Filmmaker’ Series (I recommend the Lost River and Beyond Clueless Q&A’s). These are pretty frequent and current, but the Museum of The Moving Image has a lot of good archive conversations, dating back to 1989. A personal favourite is this John Waters talk from 1998.
Is anyone still reading this far? And if you made it this far, how are you still able to see? Have you not destroyed your eyes from staring at a screen for so long? Are you so much wiser and ready to start making a movie?
So there you have it, these resources are my bible. I find myself re-watching many of my favourites and checking back on them all the time. I’ve started watching films a lot more purposefully in hope of getting an education for the same price as a cinema ticket.
By Reba Martin
Reba Martin is an 18 year old from Bristol. She’s been obsessed with the Simpsons since before she could walk, and watches it religiously to this day. Her hobbies include planning to go to the cinema, and going to the cinema. A few favourite films are Eraserhead, Ghost World, and Clerks. You look at her movie diary here and she tweets @rebaxmartin