Directors Who Never Went To Film School
Many aspiring directors assume that the best way to reach their end goal is to go to film school, yet some of the most famous directors never went to film school at all. Some of the names on this list may shock you. Let us take a look at these directors and how they got their start in the industry without going through film school and how their careers have made them notable figures in the world of film and TV.
I will tell you the stories of many legendary directors in the film and TV industry, who are listed below:
- Quentin Tarantino
- Steven Spielberg
- Christopher Nolan
- James Cameron
- Wes Anderson
- Tim Burton
If you like dramatic crime films, Tarantino is your best choice, even if he never went to film school. This is how he came to fame in the film industry.
My Best Friend’s Birthday
At the beginning of Tarantino’s career, he directed and produced a short comedic film called ‘My Best Friend’s Birthday’, which was released in 1987. This was made on a budget, which is shown by the renting of equipment from a company that lent it to produce the short, which happened by renting on Fridays and returning them on Monday, since the company was not open at the weekend, and is partly lost to time, with some of its scenes missing, which, according to a legend, is because of a lab fire.
Fast forward to 1992, Tarantino then wrote, with Roger Avary, and directed Reservoir Dogs, a crime thriller film about criminals that failed at a jewellery robbery, leading to a suspicion of an undercover police officer being involved. The film won 12 awards, was nominated for another 23, and is rated as the 95th best film to be released according to IMDb.
Kill Bill Volume 1
Kill Bill, which premiered in 2003, is a film full of action, and focuses on the crime and drama of the Bride’s story, played by Uma Thurman, which is about her waking up from a coma and fighting against her fellow assassins, who betrayed her by killing her baby. This movie has been nominated for 5 BAFTAs, won 30 awards, and nominated for 104 others. It has also been rated as the 150th best film documented by IMDb.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
This comedic drama feature by Tarantino premiered in 2019 and is full of top stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Al Pacino. The film is based on the final few years of Hollywood’s golden age, in 1969, and how everything in the industry was becoming different from how it once was. From this, the movie won 2 Oscars, out of the 143 awards it won and 381 nominations that it earnt in total.
What Has He Won?
As of July 2023, Quentin Tarantino has won a ton of awards. This is simply impressive for someone who never went to film school, and shows that anyone can achieve anything without needing the education that may help you towards your goals!
The Last Gun
Back in 1959, when Spielberg was about 13 years old, he was still at Boy Scouts but did not have a camera for the photography badge but had a film camera instead. This was brought up to the group by himself by asking if he could make a short film with his camera instead, which invented the moviemaking badge and a film called ‘The Last Gun’ along with it. What a way to start a filming career! The film is about a young boy in his teens, who is an orphan, who wants revenge because his parents were killed by a bandit.
The 1975 thrilling adventure movie, Jaws, follows the story of a small group of people, who mainly bases their business on the beaches of Amity Island, where they find what’s left of the victim of a great white shark, and go hunting out at sea for this beast. The production of this film has earnt itself 3 Oscars; one for sound, one for film editing, and one for original score. Other than winning at the yearly Academy Awards, the film also won 15 other awards and was nominated for 20 more, including a nomination at the Oscars and 6 at the BAFTA Awards. To this day, Jaws still holds the title of being an absolute classic.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
In 1982, Spielberg directed yet another timeless feature, which would be E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a family-friendly adventure sci-fi film that follows the story of a young person who tries to help an alien get off planet Earth and go back to his home world. This is a pretty unique plot, and got a nomination for best writing at the Academy Awards, out of the 36 total nominations the film got across all film award events that it appeared in. To top that off, the film won 4 Oscars and 1 BAFTA out of the 52 awards that E.T. won across all events.
For all the dinosaur fans across the world, Spielberg was the perfect film director for you in the early 1990s, specifically 1993, when Jurassic Park was first released in cinemas, a film that is based on the action, adventure, and science-fiction of Central American dinosaur-themed park, which all goes wrong due to a power failure. Jurassic Park eventually spawned sequels in 1997 and 2001 and a reboot in 2015, which got sequels in 2018 and 2022, several video games, toys, comics, and even its attractions at Universal Studios theme parks across the world.
Bridge of Spies
More recently, in the middle of the previous decade, Steven Spielberg directed a dramatic historical war film called Bridge of Spies, where an American lawyer in the Cold War is tasked to defend a spy from the USSR in court and aid the CIA in facilitating the swap of the spy for an American spy plane pilot. The film is quite realistic and accurately represents what it was like in the Cold War, and has won an Oscar out of 30 total wins and has been nominated for 104 other awards.
Where Is He Today?
Spielberg, at the age of 76, is still directing films for the companies that hire him, his most recent directions being made in the production of The Fabelmans, which was nominated for 7 Oscar awards and premiered in 2022. Over the entirety of his career, he has won 3 Oscars out of the 209 awards that he has won in total, and has been nominated 325 times for many other awards! He has certainly been an influential figure in the film industry, without even having to be educated at film school.
Known for his Hollywood blockbusters and complex storytelling, Nolan is considered a leading filmmaker of the 21st century and has grossed $5 billion worldwide from his films, so how did he start his filmmaking career?
Nolan took an interest in filmmaking from a young age, and after studying English Literature at the University College London he made several short films before he created his feature film debut with Following (1998). Created on a minute £6000 budget, Nolan was unable to afford expensive professional lighting equipment and other expensive filming equipment, the film was entirely in black and white, and only 1 or 2 takes of any shot existed to reduce cost and reduce the cost of paying for 16mm film stock. Despite the budgetary concerns, the film would be well received and would win several smaller accolades for its storytelling and non-linear plot structure.
After his successful debut, Nolan was able to garner a good amount of respect, which would allow him to have a more liberal budget for his next film. Memento had a budget of around $7 million and would also be a financial success. Memento was met with critical acclaim, with review sites such as Rotten Tomatoes giving the film an approval rating of 93% based on 179 reviews from critics, with some critics describing the film as a “delicious one-time treat”. However, some critics would criticise the film for its lack of replayability, as the film relies primarily on confusion and mystery to push the story forward and draw in the audience. For this fantastic film, Nolan would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but unfortunately would not win, however, Nolan and the film itself would win many smaller awards, such as the MTV Movie Awards for Best Filmmaker.
Since releasing, Batman Begins has been cited as one of the most influential films of the 2000s and is credited for revitalising the Batman character in pop culture, thanks to its darker and more serious tone and style. The film would also propel Nolan up to a high-profile director and would make Christian Bale a lead-man actor. With its much higher budget (compared to previous Nolan films) of $150 million, the box office doubled that, helping Nolan to launch up as a celebrity director. Despite not winning many accolades for the film, critics and regular audiences alike thoroughly enjoyed the film, with the film receiving an 84% approval rating from 287 reviewers.
The Dark Knight Rises
After the success of Batman Begins, Nolan was permitted to produce The Dark Knight Trilogy, which would include The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises; both of the latter movies would have budgets near the $200 million mark and would score big at the box office with $1 billion in return each. Once again, the film would be received well by critics and audiences worldwide, hanging around the 85-90% approval rating on multiple review sites, and the fact that Nolan had managed to produce two 1 billion dollar films showed great consistency and stratospheric potential for the director to work on any project and make it sell. Interestingly, however, the movie was still unable to win an Academy, Golden Globe, or BAFTA award.
A couple of years after the fantastical success of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christopher Nolan released the historical war film Dunkirk. The film covered the Dunkirk evacuation from Allied perspectives in both land, sea, and air. Although there is a lack of dialogue and constant gun battles, the film received critical acclaim for its ability to create powerful suspense from the cinematography and music, with some critics calling the film a “work of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur.” For its intense use of music and cinematography, the film would win multiple awards, 3 of which were from the Academy Awards, 1 BAFTA, and a plethora of less-known awards.
At the beginning of Cameron’s film directing career in 1978, he, and Randall Frakes, produced and directed Xenogenesis, a film about a woman, along with an engineered man get sent to a spaceship to search for a place to start a new life cycle, where the engineered man encounters a huge robotic cleaner and combat takes place. The film has received a fair few reviews on IMDb.
The Terminator, a film that premiered back in 1984, is about an indestructible war machine, that comes back to the year 1984 from the future war that happens in 2029 to kill a woman, who would give birth to someone who would be the key to the survival of humans in the 2029 war. The killing machine, called the Terminator, is also joined by a soldier in 1984, who travels back in time to protect the woman that is the target of the Terminator, acted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, another notable figure in the film industry.
The debut film of the Terminator franchise won 8 minor awards and was nominated for 6 others. This film produced a successor that is Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which performed even better than the first movie, winning 4 Oscars out of the 37 awards that it earnt, and 33 nominations that it got. These two films are some of the most quotable films in the industry, with the help of James Cameron also writing parts of the film’s plot as well as directing it.
Much more recently, James Cameron directed and wrote Avatar, released in 2009, which is about the human race invading an alien moon, called Pandora, including a marine that feels torn between following the mission he has been given and protecting the alien world from the destruction that the army causes. The 2009 action adventure fantasy feature won 3 Oscars at the 2010 Academy Awards, along with 86 other awards won, and 131 nominations across several film award organisations.
Avatar also produced a sequel in 2022, Avatar: The Way of Water, which looks incredibly realistic thanks to the high budget set for the film and today’s technology for graphics and film production. The film, which was released last year, has already won an Oscar as well as 62 other awards and 130 nominations! This truly shows that anyone can do anything, considering he started his career with a very small budget for a short film made with his small group of people, while he is now producing high-budget films for top companies.
To start his career, without going through film school, Anderson directed and wrote Bottle Rocket in 1994, a short film that has aspects of both comedy and drama and focuses on two friends who plan and execute a crime. This was made on a small budget, with the starring actors being Owen Wilson and his brother, Luke Wilson, but was originally planned to include some top actors in the industry. Despite this low budget and lack of experience from both of the top actors, the film was a great introduction to the industry for Wes Anderson.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Do you like reading Roald Dahl books and watching films? If the answer is yes, then Fantastic Mr Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, is the perfect choice for you! The creator of Bottle Rocket took Roald Dahl’s 1970 novel and did an amazing job at interpreting the book into an animated film which would premiere in 2009 and nominated for 2 Oscar awards, win 32 other awards, and earn 61 other nominations across all film award organisations that it was mentioned by. Unlike Bottle Rocket, Anderson hired veteran actors like George Clooney and Bill Murray to voice-act some of the key characters in the family-oriented animation.
Isle of Dogs
This 2018 family-oriented animation full of adventures is about a young boy’s quest to find his dog lost in Japan. The plot was also written by Anderson as well as directed by him, which shows that he has earnt himself a place in being a great figure in the film industry for his imagination, without needing to go through education! To show how far Anderson has come, he again hired established actors such as Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray. The animation has also been nominated for 2 Oscars, won 34 awards, and nominated for 92 other awards.
Houdini: The Untold Story
Back in 1971, Burton kicked off his career in film directing by making a black and white 4-minute-long short called Houdini: The Untold Story, which is all about Harry Houdini, a legendary magician from the early 20th century, his life, and how he had problems with the world and people who did not believe in magic. Unfortunately, there is not much more information about this film.
This dramatic fantasy film, with aspects of romance, from 1990 is all about an artificial male person who was made incompletely, and as a result of this, has scissors in the place of his hands. The story was directed and written by Tim Burton and is quite different when compared to other fantasies involving artificial people. The film garnered the film a nomination at the 1991 Academy Awards, along with the achievement of 9 awards and 23 other nominations.
Fast forward to the present day and Burton has directed the first four episodes of the TV series called Wednesday, which can be found on Netflix, a film and TV streaming service. This comedic crime fantasy TV show, about a female student with psychic abilities, which is pretty unique, has been nominated for 2 BAFTA awards, as well as 13 others, and won 8 more awards.
With all of these stories of the greatest directors who have never been through film school in mind, I am sure you will see that you can do anything, no matter what effort you make toward your goals or who you are! Thank you for reading today.
Written by Mark Murphy Director