Acclaimed movies director James Cameron learned how to make films without going to a film school. He felt that this decision ultimately worked better for him. Especially since he found film schools to generally be a waste of time.
When James Cameron realized he could be a director
Cameron was fascinated with storytelling from a young age. His fascination with him would later translate to movies, which inspired his inevitable passion for filmmaking. One of the films that left a lasting impression on a very young Cameron was the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts. Cameron recalled his experience of him watching the Don Chaffey feature as one of complete awe.
“I distinctly remember my grandfather taking me to the local cinema in Ontario, and being absolutely blown away by the film’s vivid colors, the brightness, the reality of the skeleton fight. Of course, looking at it four decades later, it’s laughable. But I came back to my third-grade class and began quickly sketching my own version of the movie,” he once told DGA.
Much later, Cameron would find himself working for film companies. Watching the films that were being distributed, Cameron began to wonder if he could do a better job than those he was working for.
“Well, I had worked on production design for these Corman films, and I had high standards even though we were working on low budgets. I’d watch some directors just consistently screw up scene after scene. They wouldn’t know where to place the camera or how to light it. I thought: if that’s a director, I could do that. There was no question in my mind that I could do it, but that leap wasn’t made until I saw other people doing it poorly,” he said.
James Cameron was against going to film school because it ‘screws you up’
Cameron didn’t pursue his Directorial ambitions using a traditional route. Other filmmakers might study the prestigious directors that came before them, but Cameron learned simply from the casual films he enjoyed.
“I didn’t study film. I never took classes on film aesthetics and so on, so I never saw the evolution of action direction from [John] Ford through Peckinpah, or whatever the evolutionary spectrum would be. For me, it was just what I happened to see that I liked. And I have to tell you, I probably learned more from Roger Corman car-chase films than I did from the auteurs of action,” Cameron once said in an interview with LA Times (via Terminator Files).
During this time, Cameron also avoided film schools. Something that he felt could only do more harm than good to fellow directors.
“Film school screws you up. It takes years to recover. I think the basic requirement of directing is being able to anticipate what an audience wants to see. And having created something, what they want to see next. And the only way that you can do that is to have been an audience,” Cameron continued. “If, at the age of 15, you immediately start becoming a filmmaker, you’ve lost that curative period where you’re just a blank slate and you’re reacting.”
James Cameron’s advice for aspiring directors
For Cameron, becoming a filmmaker is much simpler than spending money on film school. The Oscar-winner Advised another young and aspiring talent that becoming a director was all a matter of initiative.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Y’know, what’s the best advice to someone who wants to be a director.’ And the answer I give is very simple. Be a director,” Cameron once said according to Manufacturing Intellectual. “Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy. No matter whether your friends and your sisters star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a manager. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”
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