Back to School

It’s a very strange feeling to suddenly find myself somewhere I never thought that I’d be. An unexpected phone call led to an offer of a part-time teaching job, focusing on the area of screen production from which I have earned most of my income over the years – being a first assistant director. Having struggled recently to balance earning income with making my (self-funded) feature doco An Accidental Berliner, the idea of having a regular (albeit somewhat meagre!) base income while I develop future projects had a certain appeal. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed watching the pleasure young people get from learning.

Immediately I accepted the offer, I found myself having to confront issues on which I have made comment in the past.

Some of these have created concern across the industry; the proliferation of film schools and courses; the increasing number of graduates entering an often static industry; and the number of those graduates who identify as directors. By accepting work in a film school, was I now tacitly endorsing activities that I have questioned? Was I putting myself into a position to be accused of hypocrisy?

As I prepare for my next class, I remind myself of something Geoff Murphy wrote in his recently published autobiography A Life on Film. Although he was writing specifically about directing, I reckon his words apply across all the roles in filmmaking.


“There are a number of things that a person wishing to be good at directing films needs: skill, talent, creativity, common sense, perseverance and luck … Apart from some skills, I’ve never come across a film course that could teach any of the others.”

When I first joined the screen production world, there were no film schools in New Zealand.

Jane Campion went to Sydney to study at AFTVS, as it was then. I began at the bottom of the hierarchy, and learned by doing and watching – lots of watching!

So when films schools came along, like many, I wondered: were they strictly necessary? When they continued to grow in number, so that it seemed that almost every tertiary education institution was creating a film training school, I wondered some more.