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Paul Thomas Anderson explains why he hated film school

There are very few directors working today who have reached the same artistic heights and gained the kind of prominence that Paul Thomas Anderson has. Through modern masterpieces such as There Will Be Blood and The Master, Anderson has proven that he is as close to a modern auteur as it gets. With his latest film Licorice Pizza, the director has begun this new decade of filmmaking with a bang.

In a past interview, Anderson revealed that he had no plans of attending film school when he was in high school. However, he panicked when he realised that he wasn’t getting the opportunity to direct any projects and ended up enrolling at NYU after having a lot of trouble applying to places and dealing with all the rejections that followed.

Due to the poor grades he had accumulated in school, Anderson struggled with getting into universities and told himself that he didn’t need film school in the first place. However, he felt like he needed something to fall back on and attended classes at NYU for just two days before the professor who was teaching showed him that film school wasn’t worth it.

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. This bizarre elitism left him feeling completely perplexed because it was unfair to him as well as the students who had actually come to film school to make projects like that. In addition, Anderson considered Terminator 2 to be a “pretty awesome movie” so he took that personally.

In order to test the validity of film school, Anderson conducted a fascinating experiment of his own. When his class was given an assignment to write a page devoid of dialogue but with enough action to shed light about the fundamental nature of the character, the future filmmaker actually submitted a scene from David Mamet’s script for Hoffa.

“There was a great scene,” Anderson recalled, “Where Danny DeVito is driving along…and it shows what he’s going through by the method he uses to keep himself awake while driving, which is he lights a cigarette…and he lets it burn down to his fingers to keep him awake. And it’s just so simple, and perfect, and lovely, and it’s Mr. Pulitzer Prize himself, David Mamet. So I took that page, and I handed it in.”

When Mamet’s treatment received a C+ from that professor, Anderson realised at once that film school was a sham. He immediately filed for the necessary paperwork for dropping out in order to get a refund for the tuition he had already paid. Like other prominent directors who haven’t gone to film school such as Quentin Tarantino, Anderson has always preached the importance of self-education and self-experimentation for young filmmakers since his nightmarish stint in film school.

See the clip, below.