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Monday, February 26, 2024

15 Directors Who Never Went to Film School

Film schools are not for everyone, and while there are certainly many filmmakers who believe that attending one is a valuable investment — it is worth mentioning that undeniably talented filmmakers like GeorgeLucas, Chloé Zhao, and MartinScorsese all went to film schools to spectacular results — others just don’t see the point. Be that as it may, striving to perfect one’s craft and learning the arts from knowledgeable experts is a very understandable goal for an aspiring filmmaker.




Still, sometimes the decision is not always ours to make. Although some filmmakers chose not to attend film schools, others either didn’t have the means to, decided to pursue another path, or were sadly rejected. Whether they dropped out or simply decided not to go, these self-taught directors who value the importance of self-experimentation made it big in the film industry, proving that it is possible to come out on top even without a film degree. From Wes Craven to Steven Spielberg, these are 15 acclaimed directors who didn’t go to film school, as well as some of their most notable works.


15 Wes Craven

Years active: 1968 – 2015

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Scream’

1996

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

1984

‘Heavenly Creatures’

2006



Although Wes Craven films such as the iconic Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Hills Have Eyes are widely known, the filmmaker did not have to attend film school in order to earn so much attention from moviegoers. His self-aware pieces of cinema, which often blur the lines between illusion and reality, have conquered a special place among film buffs’ hearts (especially horror film buffs).


Craven did not graduate in film, instead, he earned an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in 1963 and went on to earn an M.A. in writing and philosophy from Johns Hopkins University in 1964. Prior to moving to New York, where he became a humanities professor, Craven had already taught English. It was there, in the city, that he later found his love for cinema by attending arthouse theaters.

14 Peter Jackson

Years active: 1976 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’

2002

‘King Kong’

2005

‘Heavenly Creatures’

1994



Whether one is a fan of cinema or not, it is very likely that they have already seen at least one Peter Jackson-directed movie. The filmmaker is known for his work in The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, two massive productions that earned him recognition. Jackson found his love for cinema when he was gifted a Super 8 cine camera, which led him to begin making short films with his friends.


With a playful tone but meticulous attention to detail, Jackson’s filmography is certainly notable — the LoTR trilogy alone grossed nearly $6 billion and won 17 Oscars. Naturally, it might be shocking for some to realize that the mind behind its director did not attend film school. Nonetheless, as it would seem, Jackson had no formal training in filmmaking or special effects before attempting filmmaking.

13 Akira Kurosawa

Years active: 1936 – 1993

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Seven Samurai’

1954

‘Ikiru’

1952

‘High and Low’

1963



The first Japanese film director to win international acclaim, Akira Kurosawa was undoubtedly a master in his field, inspiring other directors and cinephiles even today with his undeniably bold and overall iconic filmography. The filmmaker is known for legendary successes — amazing features like Seven Samurai (the Western that inspired The Magnificent Seven), and Rashomon are among the best Kurosawa films.


As it turns out, the celebrated auteur, whose characteristic style seamlessly resorts to elements of traditional Japanese cinema (mostly samurai culture and other historical themes), attended the Tokyo Academy of Fine Arts. Nonetheless, Kurosawa is easily one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, so it may come as a surprise that he did not attend film school and got into cinema by chance.

12 Tim Burton

Years active: 1971 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Beetlejuice’

1988

‘Edward Scissorhands’

1990

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’

1993



Known for his characteristic directing style which is now called “Burtonesque,” including eerie visuals and pale characters with over-the-top features, Tim Burton is considered the king of gothic-style films. His most famous works include Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and a few memorable animated features like Corpse Bride. Burton has received great praise for his latest work in the Netflix series Wednesday starring Jenna Ortega.


Instead of film, Burton studied character animation at the California Institute of the Arts, which, considering his fascination with the genre, makes a lot of sense. While studying there, the director made animated short films that caught the attention of animators from Walt Disney Productions. He reached stardom after making a series of short films, which include the beloved Frankenweenie.

11 Greta Gerwig

Years active: 2006 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Barbie’

2023

‘Little Women’

2019

‘Lady Bird’

2017



Although Greta Gerwig started as an actor (her best performance was in Frances Ha, directed by her partner Noah Baumbach), it didn’t last long. Soon enough, the filmmaker started delving deeper into the art of directing, and in 2015 made her famed solo directorial debut with the acclaimed comedy-drama Lady Bird, which she also wrote. Gerwig’s major project to date, though, was last year’s summer’s blockbuster starring MargotRobbie as Barbie.


Although the filmmaker’s passion for acting and directing has been clear since the beginning (Gerwig wrote rejected plays while in college), she actually has a degree in English and Philosophy. Gerwig’s cinematic knowledge came from acting in low-budget, independent films, and she is now one of the most promising directors working in the industry.

10 The Wachowskis

Years active: 1994 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘The Matrix’

1999

‘Bound’

1996

‘Cloud Atlas’

2012



The masterminds behind the complex, highly referenced science fiction (an often-treaded genre for the duo) movies starring Keanu Reeves, the Wachowskis are also two well-known and gifted directors who did not attend film school. While the movies from The Matrix franchise are certainly their most famous motion pictures, other projects like Jupiter Ascending are also familiar to general audiences. Common themes in their amazing partnerships include identity, reality, and illusion.


As for their education, Lily Wachowski attended Emerson College in Boston but dropped out, while Lana Wachowski attended Bard College (and dropped out as well). Surely, not attending film school did not stop the two iconic Wachowskis from writing and directing one of the biggest franchises ever made, and their talents certainly don’t go unnoticed.

9 Ava DuVernay

Years active: 1991 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Selma’

2014

’13th’

2016

‘A Wrinkle in Time’

2018



An English and African-American studies major, Ava DuVernay is certainly a groundbreaking director working today, having made history by becoming the first Black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director and an Academy Award for Best Picture thanks to her excellent work on Selma, a biopic on Martin Luther King Jr. Although DuVernay is a successful director, that was not how she initially envisioned her future.


Although the director set her sights on a career in journalism, an internship at CBS News quickly changed Duverney’s trajectory. “My story’s also really about age, because I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 32,” DuVernay told Refinery29, highlighting how it is possible to pivot at any point in life. “It’s valuable to have those early experiences to learn what you don’t want,” DuVernay told Elle.

8 David Fincher

Years active: 1980 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Fight Club’

1999

‘Gone Girl’

2014

‘The Social Network’

2010



With three Oscar nominations, Fincher is one of the most talented filmmakers in the industry today. With mostly psychological thrillers under his belt (and very good ones at that), the director is known for his usage of color and attention to detail, often analyzing the “dark side” of humanity and tackling philosophical themes with the aid of outcast characters in his movies.


It may be hard to grasp that the mastermind behind unforgettable thrillers like Gone Girl, Fight Club, and even the TV show Mindhunter did not attend film school. However, it is actually true! What’s more, not getting an “official” education in cinema did not stop Fincher from landing major gigs, including his breakthrough by directing the third installment of the iconic Alien franchise.

7 Paul Thomas Anderson

Years active: 1988 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘There Will Be Blood’

2007

‘Phantom Thread’

2017

‘Magnolia’

1999



Paul Thomas Anderson has been gracing viewers with incredible movies since the beginning of his career; when legendary three-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis is a recurring actor in your films, it does say a lot about your work. Often featuring flawed characters, Anderson’s movies stand out due to their intensity, maturity, and intellectual themes.


The filmmaker’s experience with film school was not the best. Anderson attended New York University at some point but dropped out after only two days. According to Far Out magazine, “one of the first things Anderson heard in film school was his professor asking students to get out of the classroom if they had dreams of making a film like Terminator 2,” something which the filmmaker took personally (and for good reason).

6 Wes Anderson

Years active: 1994 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

2007

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

2009

‘Darjeeling Limited’

2007



Wes Anderson‘s wouldn’t go unnoticed if he tried. Washed-out colors and symmetry are two big visual trademarks in the director’s work, though quirky characters are also a dead giveaway. Apart from directing, the filmmaker writes all of his films, with his most well-known features possibly being The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr. Fox. As for new projects, Asteroid City was his latest and stars an ensemble cast like many of his films.


Anderson started as a Philosophy major and first got attention thanks to a short film he made starring OwenWilson. The two met in 1989 during their sophomore year at the University of Texas in a playwriting class and frequently daydreamed about making movies together. They would go on to fulfill this dream and so much more.

5 James Cameron

Years active: 1978 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Avatar’

2009

‘Titanic’

1997

‘The Terminator’

1984



You’d think the mind behind two of the highest-grossing movies of all time, Titanic and Avatar, would have a film degree, right? James Cameron is a Canadian filmmaker most known for his broad vision as well as the innovative special effects he often features in his films. Currently, Cameron holds the record of having directed the first two of six films in history to gross over $2 billion worldwide and is considered one of the most influential people in the world.


Apparently, Cameron once revealed that he was against going to film school. Unlike other popular filmmakers, the Avatar director did not attend film school and learned from the films he enjoyed instead. “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,” he shared.

4 Quentin Tarantino

Years active: 1987 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Pulp Fiction’

1994

‘Kill Bill’

2003

‘Inglorious Basterds’

2009



The director of many beloved classics, including Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino is known for his highly recognizable work: non-linear narratives, wide shots, black humor, over-the-top violence, and lots of blood. Much like Wes Anderson, he also writes all of his movies. As of now, Tarantino is set to direct his last film.


The beloved Tarantino — a self-proclaimed film buff — did not go to film school. Instead, he dropped school at the age of 15 and worked at a cinema and video store later in life, both places that inspired him for his most popular works. “When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, ‘no, I went to films,'” Tarantino said in an interview. “If you just truly love cinema with enough passion, and you really love it, then you can’t help but make a good movie.”

3 Christopher Nolan

Years active: 1998 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Interstellar’

2014

‘The Dark Knight’

2008

‘Inception’

2010



A man who appreciates the concept of time (and confusing a few viewers with his mindblowing plot twists), Christopher Nolan is one of the most renowned directors today. His movies often feature urban settings and muted colors. When it comes to visual style, he is frequently regarded as an auteur and postmodernist. Nolan always writes his own original stories.


It is almost impossible to believe that Nolan has never attended film school, but it is actually quite true. In an interview with Vice, the director explains, “I’m a self-taught filmmaker. I never went to film school. I never studied filmmaking… I think Following was the peak of what I was able to do on my own or just with friends using our own resources.”

2 Stanley Kubrick

Years active: 1951 – 1999

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘The Shining’

1980

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

1968

‘A Clockwork Orange’

1971



The iconic Stanley Kubrick is famously known for his versatility in directing a number of different genres, which is why he is so adored all over the globe. Raging from horror movies like The Shining to science fiction epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and, ultimately, to visually striking period pieces like Barry Lyndon, Kubrick has certainly left a strong imprint on audiences and critics throughout his career, earning a spot among the most distinguished directors of all time.


Whether one loves his movies or not, it is undeniable that Kubrick’s — believe it or not, one of the many famous directors who didn’t go to film school — filmography is impressive and hugely influential, which is why he remains an adored director all these years later. According to Kubrick himself, “The best education in film is to make one.”

1 Steven Spielberg

Years active: 1969 – present

Notable Movies

Year of Release

‘Jaws’

1975

‘Indiana Jones’

1981

‘Jurassic Park’

1993


​​​



Nominated for this year’s Best Director and Best Picture Academy Award, the iconic filmmaker (one of the highest-grossing directors there are) has directed a bunch of unforgettable hit films that helped shape cinema, including the adventure films Indiana Jones, Jaws, and Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg stands out because of his unique style of filmmaking and storytelling, which fully immerses audiences in the picture and makes the narratives truly believable.


Though he made an effort to join, Spielberg was​​​​​​ supposedly turned down by Southern California’s film school not once but three times, given his mediocre grades. Fortunately, this did not discourage the director from pursuing the right path; after all these years, the prolific Spielberg understandably endures as one of the most prized personalities in the industry.


NEXT: Famous Directors Who Are Known For Being Perfectionists

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