College isn’t for everyone. If you’re pursuing a creative career, it can be better to just learn by doing rather than study. Paul Thomas Anderson, director of several of the best movies of the last 30 years, actually walked out of film school because of snotty attitudes towards Terminator.
In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, Anderson recalls panicking after high school when he wasn’t instantly making films. Averse to studying, he decided to go to New York University as a way of finding his feet. As he puts it, he lasted all of two days. “I walked into this classroom, and the teacher said, ‘If anyone is here to write Terminator 2, walk out’,” he states. “That’s not a good way to start, what if I do want to write Terminator 2? What if the someone next to me wants to?”
The pretentiousness didn’t sit well with Anderson. “He was instantly saying ‘We write serious films here’,” he continued. “Terminator 2 is a pretty awesome movie.” One of the best action movies ever made, in fact, and a worthy aspiration for anyone seeking to working in motion pictures (if you ask us).
The first assignment in NYU’s film program involved writing a page of script with a character displaying emotion without dialogue. Anderson handed in something from then-unmade Hoffa, with Danny DeVito. He got a C+, and realised this wasn’t the approach for him.
“There’s a wonderful thing where if you drop out quick enough, you can get your tuition back,” he recalls. His father had saved up a college fund for him, and he used it to make one of his short films. As they say, the rest is history, with the latest Anderson drama movie, Licorice Pizza, having come out this past December.
Anderson is now highly-regarded as a master of his craft. There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, just about every Paul Thomas Anderson movie has its fans. Besides his fine-tuned cinematography and excellent sense of pacing and tone, he frequently gets career-defining work out of his collaborators.
Just goes to show, academia is just one way to learn about a field. For many, the real gateway is getting your hands dirty – especially if you’d like to make Terminator 2.