Friday, July 18, 2014

The Film School of Life

Me with a bust of Desi Arnaz at Disney World
Hello, to anyone new to this blog, my name is Christian Sutton.  I am an independent filmmaker stationed just outside of Birmingham, Alabama.  I graduated from the University of Alabama-at-Birmingham with a degree in film, and I am so eager to be a major Hollywood writer/director, I could nearly bust wide open.  

Dreams are important, but life is why we are all here on Earth to begin with, and that is in a nutshell why I have decided to start writing a book.  I don't know if you could call it an autobiography, or a series of essays and memoirs that add up to something larger, but this book is the story of how one boy obsessed with movies has become a better man through movies, rather than without them.  I have chosen to title the book The Film School of Life.  It only seems appropriate, because as I go on to explain in the opening of the book, my knowledge of filmmaking did not come purely from a four year education at college, but from life itself.

Starting today, I am going to release a new chapter at least every other week, till I have covered every single topic and story that I desire to cover.  Maybe this book will someday actually get published, but if it doesn't, I wanted it to be published somewhere where others could read it.  I don't know why this fire has been lit inside of me, I just know that I am being called to share my experiences.  Perhaps there is someone who will read this and will be inspired by it, or changed by it, or simply entertained by it.  I am happy with all three outcomes, or any other outcome that may emerge from this experiment.  All I can say is that I hope you will join me on this journey and have a good time, so let's start the book.  The first piece of business is the foreword, or what I have deemed the, "Prologue."



Should I or should I not go to film school?  That's the main question that drives most teenagers who want to make movies.  I know it drove me nuts.

Being from central Alabama, where the closest film school was hours away and out of state, I really didn't expect to get a degree in film where I was.  Sure, finances were a contributing factor as to why I didn't go to film school, but if I'm honest with myself, I was more afraid than anything else, afraid of moving away from home.  In many ways, I am still fearful of leaving the nest, and that's probably why I'm not rolling in the big bucks yet.  With that said, my passion and desire to make movies is just as strong now as it ever has been.

Taking that next step to being a paid filmmaker is scary stuff.  Leaving the comforts of home and setting up somewhere new is always going to be terrifying, but it's something that I know I am going to have to do someday if I want to make my dreams a reality.  It is those dreams that have taken me to this point in my life, where all of my hopes for the future, all of my regrets about my past, and all of my personal triumphs and struggles intersect.  Throughout all of this, there have been only a few constants:  family, faith, a friend or two, and the movies themselves.

I cannot remember a time where I wasn't obsessed with movies, but I know one thing, I would not be who I am today if it were not for the movies in my life.  Whether it be the movies I have watched, the movies I have made, or the movies that are still in my head waiting to be told, if it were not for all of these movies, I would not be the same person as the one who is writing all of this down.

Returning to that initial question:  Should I or should I not go to film school?  If someone younger asked me for advice, I'd not have enough time to adequately put into words all of my thoughts on the matter.

Yes, if you have the money and the confidence to completely uproot yourself, going to film school can only help you.  Not only will you learn the odds and ends of the technical aspects of filmmaking by going to film school, you will also learn how to better analyze movies on an emotional level, while also establishing invaluable connections with teachers and students that will only help you in getting jobs after graduation.  However, if you are like me, and are too afraid, or not financially able to go to film school, that does not mean you cannot make movies.

You know, I think so often young wannabe filmmakers ask the wrong question.  It isn't really whether or not you should or shouldn't go to film school, but rather is film school necessary to become a Hollywood director, screenwriter, or producer?  The answer to that question is no.

Hollywood is full of self-taught filmmakers.  Quentin Tarrantino, Christopher Nolan, Kevin Smith, none of those guys went to a formal film school and they are some of the more successful filmmakers of the past generation.  For that matter, Steven Spielberg wasn't even accepted to film school, and he's arguably the most successful filmmaker ever.  You do not have to go to film school to make movies, you don't even have to take film classes.  While I did eventually go to a college that had a small, yet growing film department, about ninety-five percent of everything I know about making movies came through what I call the film school of life.

Through my Father, reading books about how movies were made, making my own movies, and by simply watching as many movies as I could, I learned so much more than I ever could have in a formal setting.  I wouldn't go so far as to say I am a self-taught filmmaker, because that would be a lie, but I did not have to go to film school to be where I am today.  I was taught by my Father and so many other smart filmmakers who decided to write how-to books, but if I really had to say who the most influential teacher was, it would be the movies themselves.

Growing up watching movies, I never knew that they were there shaping my life.  Through movies, I have learned so much, not just about filmmaking, but about life and how to approach it.  There are movies that inspired me, movies that taught me, and movies that have changed my life.  I am a different man having seen every movie I have ever seen.

I often wonder what I would be like if I were born two hundred years ago?  I am not an outdoorsman, and I am not very much of a business-type.  In truth, the only job that I feel I am capable of doing from my heart is storytelling, but not stories told through words, but through visuals.  Storytelling is in many ways ingrained in my DNA, and I think I have always known that.

When visual storytelling is in your DNA, you cannot do anything else.  You see the world as one gigantic movie waiting to be realized on a large screen.  In my everyday life, I see moments for drama, humor, and fantasy, in the most mundane things.  I often think, if I were writing this, I would have had the struggling married couple, who have hardly looked at one another during dinner, put aside their differences by simply obliging to hold hands for one brief tender moment.  If it were not for my movie reel of a mind, I often believe life would be so much more drab.  However, learning from movies and seeing the world around you as one large movie, is only a portion of the education you get via the film school of life, the rest comes through simply living.

As human beings, we are constantly learning and changing.  The minute we become stagnant, that is the minute we have stopped living.  As a filmmaker, my life informs the stories I come up with.  My dreams, my fears, my morals, they all form what I create.  The experiences I have gone through, the hurts and pains, the joys and the highs, they all add to the way I tell stories in images.  I cannot force anything that I have not felt or experienced, for it would be false, but the things I do know are the things that I can use, and it is those things that are the most impactful for audiences.

So in short, why am I writing this?

First, let me clear up any misconception, this is not a how-to filmmaking book.  This book is simply the vast amount of knowledge I have learned in just twenty-four years of life, and how movies have played an integral role in that journey.  Throughout the course of this book, I hope you come to think about movies a little bit more deeply, learn a thing or two through my own experiences, and if none of that occurs, at least have fun.  This is the collection of all of my favorite movie memories, whether it be in a theater, thinking about them, or making them, and it is about how I came to be the filmmaker that I now am.  Who knows, maybe some day they'll be teaching this book in a film school somewhere.

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