Thursday, April 23, 2015

Using Netflix as a Filmmaking & Film History Graduate School

So you want to make films? You really have no excuse today for not being a filmmaker if that's what you want to do. The cheap options are entirely at your disposal and a mere summer job at McDonald's should net you enough money to pull it off with some level of professionalism. If you already own a cell phone and a Netflix account, you can get started right now—no job required.

How much is Netflix streaming a month? $15? I'm not even entirely sure. The bill for this service is so insanely low compared to the value it provides, that most of us don't even realize how much it offers.

You could go blow tens of thousands of dollars on a BA or MA in Film Studies, or you could just get a Netflix subscription and sit back and watch and watch and watch. Watching films over and over and over is pretty much the best thing a budding novice aspiring to any area of cinema can do to learn. By watching films you will develop tastes. By developing tastes, you will gain critical thinking skills. You will decide what you like and what you don't like and in doing so your opinions will help form the critical thinking processes necessary for almost any area of film production. Writing, photography, editing, acting, music, and more are all up there on the screen for all to see and scrutinize. With Netflix, you get the best bang for your buck.

There is a lot of crap on Netflix, you say? I know. We all know. There is also a massive amount of under-the-radar masterpieces that many people do not even know about. And you know what? The crap serves an important purpose as well. If you only watch what you like, you might not recognize bad filmmaking—especially bad filmmaking that is being produced by you. Artists often have the hardest time being self-critical. Watching lots of B, C, D, and X, Y, Z grade films are necessary to grow as an artist. If you only stick to highbrow art-house cinema, you will be selling yourself short. There is as much craft and passion in a crappy film as there is in a masterpiece. Watching bad films might wind up surprising you with a charm and quality that you did not expect to experience. The distinction between some of the highbrow and lowbrow labels are nebulous at best. There is still a lot of sludge in Netflix but I stand by my advice that you should not shy away from even the crappiest films. A wide knowledge of cinema is important so that you can have a complete grasp of the world you wish to inhabit.

Now back to the cell phone as a filmmaking tool. No one seriously thinks the films one produces while learning need to be of RED camera quality. Grab a cell phone, write a short story, gather a few like-minded friends and shoot! What the hell are you waiting for? You are learning! Your film industry job will not come till you show that you've been through the trenches. You'll need to make a bunch of awkward crappy shorts and half-assed student films before a serious endeavor can be accomplished.

A lot of great filmmakers never went to film school. Stanley Kubrick himself just watched films and was mostly just hyper-inquisitive and self-taught.

The best education in film is to make one. I would advise any neophyte director to try to make a film by himself. A three-minute short will teach him a lot. —Stanley Kubrick

By watching Netflix you will see what came before, what's being produced now, and decide where you want to take the industry. Each artist adds a drop to the pool and nudges the direction art takes. Do not for one second think that what you do does not matter. Even a short put-up on youtube will have some impact on someone.

Here is a varied group of films I consider great on Netflix right now that I recommend to anyone wishing to grow their film knowledge or learn as a student in any area of cinema. Searching "Classics" on Netflix should keep you busy for a year. And don't think, just click and watch.

The Dead Zone
The Dark Crystal
Fantastic Voyage
Rosemary's Baby
The Apartment
The Graduate
On Golden Pond
Runaway Train
Rain Man
Waking Life
The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover
Beberian Sound Studio
Beyond the Back Rainbow
Cinema Paradiso
Man With a Movie Camera
3 Days of The Condor
Marathon Man
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The Secret of Nimh
All is Lost
Glengarry GlenRoss
The American
My Left Foot
Terms of Endearment
Sunset Bulevard
What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Upstream Color
Another Woman
Russian Ark
Jane Eyre

Here is a list of what many would consider to be of a more lowbrow nature. I often find the label annoying but I'm listing these films separately nonetheless.

Troll Hunter
Escape to Witch Mountain
Night of the Living Dead
Day of the Dead
The Dunwitch Horror
Godzilla Raids Again
9 To 5
King Kong (1976)
Night Breed
The Crow
Zeta One
A Force of One

There are literally hundreds and hundreds more to be added to both lists. In addition, TV shows like M*A*S*H, Star Trek, X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and dozens of other great TV series will keep you busy forever! So skip film school. Get watching. Get filming. Get editing. Get cracking.

You have zero excuses!