Becoming a successful director in the film industry is no easy feat. Many aspiring directors are never able to have their films see the light of day. Many take large risks and never see them paid off. However, some directors have managed to make themselves known by their work ethic, creativity and determination. Some of the greatest filmmakers of all time have gone one step further by becoming successful on their own without going to film school. Here are four directors that have beaten all the odds and carved out their place in cinema history without the help of higher education in film.
Quentin Tarantino Quentin Tarantino is one of the most influential filmmakers in modern times, with a unique and ever-changing style that brought moviegoers classics like “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglorious Bastards.” Tarantino has received numerous awards during his career, including two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe awards and two BAFTA awards. Despite his incredible success, Tarantino never went to college and instead put his efforts towards making movies. Tarantino is a great modern example of the type of success that is possible through hard work and creativity.
"Trying to make a feature film yourself with no money is the best film school you can do,” Tarantino told students at a Cannes Film Festival master class.
With 10 movies that have grossed a combined $1.8 billion, Christopher Nolan is the seventh highest-grossing director of all time, according to Box Office Mojo. Nolan began experimenting with film-making at the age of seven with his father’s camera and his action figures. While studying English literature at University College London, Nolan worked on his first feature, “Following,” on the weekends with a few friends and a budget of about $6,000. In order to save money, Nolan and his friends would rehearse every shot extensively so they could limit the number of takes. Nolan went on to make “Memento,” which received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, as well as the famous “Dark Knight” trilogy and the psychological thriller, “Inception.” Nolan never attended film school and admitted that he wasn’t a good student, but the hard work he put towards film-making paid off in major ways.
Despite being a college dropout, James Cameron holds the honor of directing the highest-grossing film of all time, “Avatar.” After dropping out of California State University, the former physics major became a truck driver to support himself as he studied filmmaking. Cameron would go to libraries, study books on technical film-making, print off pages if he was allowed to and take notes if he wasn’t. Cameron’s first major directing job came in 1984 when he directed “Terminator,” and he has since gone on to direct many other classics such as “Aliens” and “Titanic.”
“Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you're a director. Everything after that you're just negotiating your budget and your fee,” Cameron said.
Like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg also dropped out of California State University to pursue a career in filmmaking. Spielberg showed his first interest in the craft when he was a child making short 8mm films for a Boy Scout badge. He continued exploring this passion when he wrote and directed his first independent film, “Firelight,” at 17 before launching into his film career after dropping out of college. Spielberg has had a long and prolific career in the entertainment industry, winning three Academy Awards and breaking numerous box office records. He has directed “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler's List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” movies that span across many genres. By taking his future into his own hands and pursuing his dream to be a director, Spielberg has become the highest-grossing director of all time with a worldwide box office record of over $4.2 billion.