“One of the questions you get asked when you’re a professional filmmaker is, ‘I want to be a director, how do I do it?’ And the only real answer to that question is ‘make a film.’ Twenty years ago, even ten years ago it was harder to do that. But with the advancement of digital technology with the fact that, yeah, I can shoot a whole movie that can be on television and in theaters on a camera you can buy at Walgreens.”
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)
From the video below produced for the Cinema Studies program at Oberlin College
Just because screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal took the metaphorical train from Oberlin, Ohio to the Oscars doesn’t mean they are the only ones from the school in Hollywood. Turns out that there’s an Oberlin Express that has produced numerous people working in film and television.
Actor/writer Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio)
Screenwriter Peter Buchman (Che, Parts One and Two)
Director Julie Taymor (Frieda) She’s a Emmy and Tony-winner and has also received an Oscar nomination.
Writer/Director James Burrows co-creator of Cheers
Writer/Producer Nick Wauters (The Vampire Diaries, The Event)
The great writer Thornton Wilder (Our Town) attended before transferring to Yale.
Writer/director Lena Dunham (Girls)
“I was hell bent on going [to Oberlin College]. I had visited Oberlin on a beautiful spring day when I was a junior and found it magical.”
Dunham graduated from Oberlin in 2008 with a degree in creative writing. She began writing short films while in college and the year after she graduated created (writer, director, producer, costar) the web series Delusional Downtown Divas and made the indie film Tiny Furniture which was released in 2010. Somewhere along the way she got on Judd Apatow’s radar and Dunham had a small role in his film This is 40 and in 2012 Apatow began producing the HBO show Girls—which Dunham created and is one of the main actors.
Now to come full circle back to Jonathan Demme. An education at Oberlin College will cost you a little more than that camera you can buy at Walgreens. (Does Walgreens even sell video cameras? Maybe he meant Wal Mart.) But Demme didn’t answer the question how do I become a director by saying you had to go to film school, he didn’t say you had to drop $100,000-$200,000 on an undergraduate program. (Or double that getting a master’s degree.) He said get a cheap camera and make a film.
BTW—Back in the ’80s I was at a talk Demme gave at AFI as part of their Directors on Directing program, and he essentially said the same thing. It’s just back then you did need a small army of people and a chunk of money for film. Below is the trailer for the documentary I’m Carolyn Parker (2011) where Demme was producer, director, and cameraman. Along with a small team of people Demme spent five years documenting one woman’s story in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.