Issue 133 – Get into film

Get into Film

So you’ve decided your future lies in film. But where to begin? Film Ireland’s Charlene Lydon talks to some up-and-coming Irish talent about where they went to college and what they learned there…

There are many schools of thought on the pros and cons of studying film. Some of the greatest filmmakers of our time, such as David Fincher, Peter Jackson and Steven Soderbergh never went to film school. Many are of the opinion that you can’t teach art – you either have it or you don’t. Modern technology has become so compact and so cheap that the ‘learn by doing’ philosophy is more feasible than ever before. Anybody can pick up a camera and shoot some footage, anyone can use a simple editing programme on their laptop and anybody can upload a video to YouTube.

In the past, many people went to film school simply because there was no other way to access equipment. With that no longer being the case, what are the benefits of going to film school? If nothing else, an education in film will help you decide where your strengths lie. Without actually trying it, it can be hard to know if you’re actually suited to directing. Or what about producing? Or screenwriting? You get to try out a variety of roles, gaining insight into how a crew fits together, the importance of each crew member’s role and, most importantly, the job that best suits your skills.

And apart from finding out which way you incline, if you’re interested in certain filmmaking skills like editing or cinematography you can absolutely reap benefits from formal training. You might be full of interesting ideas but without the knowledge of your tools, there are no guarantees you’ll ever reach your full potential. Training in a college gives you the chance to get familiar with the industry’s rapidly changing technologies.

And now, the other benefit of studying film in a structured way. One of the secrets to succeeding in film is getting to know people. Word of mouth is an essential part of getting jobs in film and building a reputation is hugely important. Film courses are a great place to meet the future filmmakers of Ireland and start a New Wave together. Students often find themselves forming production companies together after college or working on each other’s films. It’s always good to have a pool of talented, dependable crewmembers for future projects and college is a very, very handy way to do this.

So read on to hear what successful Irish filmmakers have to say about the place they learned their trade and, you never know, you might learn a thing or two…

How to Choose the Right Course for You

There is a vast array of courses on offer in Ireland, both technical and academic. Technical courses are best suited to those interested in working as crew or in directing their own films. The focus is on practical work and while there will usually be some written work, a large part of your mark will be for project work. The academic study of film will suit you if you’re interested in becoming a film lecturer, a cinema programmer or a film critic. These courses focus on the history and theory of cinema. If you enjoy watching and discussing films, but are not so keen on making them, then this is the direction you should take.

Some courses contain elements of both technical and academic studies. These combination courses are quite broad and will allow you find the areas that suit you. If you know you love film but you’re not sure what you want to focus on then this is the option for you.

Filmbase is one place to find this kind of film training. The film and video training courses are for new and emerging filmmakers as well as practising film professionals. Course lengths vary from one-day to five-day, weekend courses and evening courses ranging from 6 to 10 weeks. This means they’re open to those in full-time work who want to explore a particular area or to film professionals who want to update their qualifications without having to take too much time off. It’s also an opportunity to find out where your strengths lie before you commit to a degree or a diploma or before embarking on a career in filmmaking. Filmbase is an Apple Authorized Training Centre, and all tutors who teach Filmbase courses are film professionals themselves, which brings an authenticity and practicality to the courses. For a full list of the training available at Filmbase, visit

If you want to try film but are afraid of taking the plunge with college fees, why not check with your local vec. They offer a range of lower cost certificate and diploma courses around the country that can lead to further education and will, at the very least, provide you with a substantial portfolio of work.

So, whether you on the post-Leaving Cert precipice, you feel like a career change, or you just fancy a new hobby, there is something there for you.

Ballyfermot College Of Further Education
Nicky Phelan – director, Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (short animation, 2008).

What was the most important thing you learned during your time studying film?
I studied animation in Ballyfermot, where we did a lot of life-drawing and sketching out on location. It taught me the importance of observation – seeing what gives an expression or gesture its meaning, what elements of someone’s physicality tell you about their personality in terms of movement and presentation. All the details that go into making a set feel real and relevant to the world you are trying to create – observation and attention to detail, I suppose, two important lessons.

What was your first project and how did it go?
The first film as such I made in college was a group project, made on paper with pastel illustrations. We were happy with how it turned out, but I haven’t seen it in a long time!

What have you learned that college couldn’t teach you?
Lots of things. Experience is the best place to learn. I think something that comes with time is realising that to make something feel really emotional, it helps to bring your own personal experience to it. It’s sort of intuitive anyway, but it is an important question to ask yourself in terms of relating to your characters and world. You have to look at your story, characters and the world you are creating, and bring your own memories or experiences to them in some way. It all translates to an audience. I also did an amazing course through Screen Training Ireland with Bruce Block on visual storytelling, which was incredibly helpful and is something that I still refer to.

If you could tell students one thing, what would it be?
That while it’s a tough industry to get into, if it’s what you want to do, keep at it. Make films on your computer at home, do whatever, and keep at it. The more you put into the work, the more you’ll get out of it. If it starts to feel too much like hard work, you should probably do something else.

What would you change about film education in Ireland?
It might have changed by now, but in Ballyfermot I think we could have benefitted from a mentoring system – some way in which those working in the industry mentor students. I think having access to people with the technical know-how and experience would help the students improve production values and increase their chances of reaching wider audiences.

Do you think academic film study can inform technical ability?
Yes, to a certain degree, but there’s nothing like experience to inform technical ability.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133


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