It's a common saying in the industry: Instead of going to film school, you should spend that money making a film.
It's always bemused me, this notion. Because so many people in the entertainment industry have money and come from some level of money and opportunity, and I tend to think that this thought process, especially ten-ish years ago and before, comes from that worldview. Whenever I would hear someone say this I would think, "Yeah, but the government won't give you money to make a film, but they WILL give you money to go to film school." Plus, if you make a bad film that no one sees - which happens all the time by the way - then what do you have?
I didn't have much money. When I went to Florida State University Film School, I emptied the couple thousand dollars out of my 401K, borrowed the max financial aid, and put every fourth month on credit cards for two years. I landed in Los Angeles with enough money to live for about month (and the rent prepaid for 3).
Beyond that practicality, however, the reason I really value my FSU education, is that in those two years, I did learn more than I could ever have learned making one film. I did almost every job on a film set for at least one day, and I regularly find that my breadth of film production knowledge isn't matched by many, unless they went to FSU. Even as things change, I have a base of understanding about what everyone around me on a film set does, what it feels like, and what their perspective on the production is. In the last ten years, I've even filled that out by working (once) in a role/department I hadn't experienced before.
This knowledge was of specific interest to me in my goal to become a working director. I like understanding a little more intimately what everyone around me is doing. It adds depth to my respect of them and their work.
At my current rate, and thanks to my years of unemployment and forebearance, I will pay off my student loan when I am 65 years old. It was worth it.
FSU paid for the production budget of my senior thesis film short, "Every Little Girl's Dream." They also submitted the film to festivals; they do that work and they pay for the festival submissions. This is a huge blessing when you end film school with barely any money, but it's also a bit of a curse. They picked where the film was submitted, and I relied on them to tell me where it was playing.
Of course, I was broke. It's really important to go to film festivals when your film is playing, and I usually couldn't go. "Every Little Girl's Dream" got into quite a few, and I went to exactly one: The Sarasota Film Festival in Florida. It was fantastic, a great little festival, and I'm still friends with two amazing filmmakers I met there. I HIGHLY recommend it; the community there is wonderful.
And then there was the day I found out by word of mouth that "Every Little Girl's Dream" won silver in the student category at Philafilm 2003. This was a joy and a heartbreak. The major city of it and the timing meant I could have gone, and been there, and I didn't even know. The winning of it meant that the people there liked my film. And that just one award meant that "Every Little Girl's Dream" - and by extension, to some extent, me - became "award-winning." It was a bittersweet blessing and a validation that I clung to in my heart.
Fast forward ten years. Or actually, work really, really, really hard for ten long years in Los Angeles.
The school sends an email: They're cleaning out the trophy cases. Do I want the trophy that "Every Little Girl's Dream" won at Philafilm in 2003? I didn't even know there was a trophy.
To the surprise of no one but them, apparently, everyone contacted wants theirs. So a recent graduate drove them across the bottom of the country, and about a month ago, I drove to a production company in Burbank and picked up a trophy for "Every Little Girl's Dream" dated 2003. It's silver, and it says, "Liz Rizzo, Director."
I felt a little silly. A little humbled, ten years later, to be picking up this trophy which couldn't help but make me consider how far and how not far I've come. Where I'm at today. My level of filmic accomplishment. My continued obscurity. My increasing ability.
So much hard work. Hard times, good times. I don't know that it matters, really; I'm still going and I certainly don't intend to stop. I don't know that this trophy means anything more but that a film I directed ten years ago was liked and admired by some (brilliant!) people I never met. But I felt a little... awed by it. By how much I wanted it. By how much it meant to me. By how it illuminated for me the still here, still working-ness of my life, and who I am. By how much happiness it brought me to hold it for the first time in my hands.
Thank you, PhilaFilm. So much.
Young women at the front desk as I pick up a ten-year-old trophy for short little film from long ago. "Just the one?" she asks.
Just the one. That's all it takes.