student filmmaker horror story, need advice & give warni



Hi all,

My name is Mark and I'm brand spanking new to this student filmaker forum, but very accquainted with the magazine.
I have a problem, wondering if anyone could give me some advice. I'd also like my problem to serve as a warning of sorts.

I was a student director of a feature film this last summer. Script was written by student. Produced by an Alumni, EP role assumed by Prof, but all other crew positions filled by students. I recieved (yet to actually recieve, but will recieve) class credit for this production, as will/did the crew and post-prod. crew.
It was a 15 or so week ordeal, 5 weeks prior to summer classes, 10 weeks of the actual summer "class". Everything started from scratch - from the script (an adaptation written in a week's time, amazingly) to the workshopping of the script (really a drag) and additional pre-prod. training, which all lasted for 4 weeks. 6 weeks of production time. I put in a lot of time, effot, creative energy throughout... I made it my baby. But don't we all? :D
We all had to sign agreements saying that our university had the right to display our work for promotional purposes, and that we also retained the copyright for our work, or something to that nature. That's where it's blurry for me, it was sort of signed under diress. (Sign or you're off, 3/4's of the way into filming.)
Production went as smooth as can be with zero budget, under-trained and student crew, and the necessity for around 50+ extras (yeah, try swinging that with no craft services.) The Prof EP wasn't to be seen but for an hour a week for the first 5 weeks of production. I was A-OK with this, because this prof. has been less than kind in the past concerning creative choices. We were a crew, and when a problem came along, we were self-sufficient. Troubleshooting was no big deal. To summate - it was awesome.

Then what could go wrong did go wrong.

Week 4, The DP and Alumni Producer started dating. It started to affect the crew in a negative way at first, but we all learned to deal. I imagine this type of thing is frowned upon in the professional world, but hey, we're all students, and the Prod was just one. Oh well.
A crew member comes to me with a concern that the ordeal is starting to affect the production. I bring the concern to the Prof, asking for anonimity. The Prof ignores this request and brings it to both the student DP and Alumn Producer, only tells them I had the problem. Wtf.
For the rest of week 4, they're as rude as they can be to me. They start having problems with my choices as director. Mutinous rabblings are heard throughout set. I have no idea what's going on, but I figure "hey, it's late in production, everyone's tired, and everyone thinks they can do it better, we're all peers here. This is normal." Wrong.
The drama explodes, we have a meeting with the Prof. He directly blames all rabblings on me. He wanted strict shots to storyboards, I wanted freedom to bend when I got to locations I've never seen before, to bend with the talent's performance, to bend to tell a better story. That's simply where we differed. Not to mention we were knee deep in production, I didn't have time in pre-prod due to re-writes, and frankly, the crew and myself didn't need them. We worked well enough for that. We were a machine. He also gives me a quite remarkable... remak. "I've had 2 people want to quit this production, Mark! I've never had that before!" My thoughts? -Wow- It comes out he started drama with the DP & Prod., he backs off. -Wow- I'm left with a warning. "Do... half the storyboards, but not the other half, and I (Prof EP) am doing the other half for the rest of production, and you have to stick with them to the T." ... wow. It's never mentioned exactly which half I do. We have 5 days of shooting left. ... wtf, omg, wow. :) For the rest of production, things are weird with the DP and Prod. Weird as in they still aren't happy, despite a reconcilliation.
The Prof is now coming every day (cause, y'know, he's getting summer pay for it?) We have a casual day of filming, then he lectures me again at the end of the day because he wanted me to let the DP have more control of look. I yield, I have no choice. The Prof warns me that if he doesn't have more control, I'm off. Okay...
The next day half the shoot is cancelled because the Prod. can't find an actor over 40 to play a boss. ... Wonderful, okay let's work with it, make another guy a co-worker that's younger. The EP Prof comes in, screams at me because I wasn't using an idea of his from Pre-pro, and orders me off set. He curses at me in front of the entire crew. I'm infuriated, but again, I have to leave set. The Prod is in shock. Wonderful.
The crew sets everything up per the EP's orders. He's pretty much directing now. He leaves set, orders me not to return to set until he does, and leave everything to the second unit dir. Okay. So I sit outside, downtown, in the rain. Wonderful again. The cliche puddle splashes me. I'm in tears.
He returns, telling me I'm no longer a part of the crew, that I will retain the Director credit, and that I'm no longer allowed to be apart of post production, and obviously no longer post-production supervisor (a class I was enroled in.) The rest will be directed either by him, my AD, or the second unit dir/DP. I'm to leave set (a half hour walk home in the f'ing rain) and never to return. I tell him my many disagreements (and yes, though in tears, I'm civilized) tell him this is what is wrong with our department, and start the walk. My lead actress comes out and gives me a big hug. I will always love theatre people.
He tells the crew it was due to "creative differences". The crew is shocked. This is the second "firing" of this production. The cast and crew is thinking about mutiny, completely quitting the production altogether. They ask what I want. I say go on with it, we've worked too hard. They go on with it, but it helps that I had the support of the crew. It was an awesome feeling.
He directs the Friday shoot, let's the DP and AD co-direct the rest. I talk to the chair of the department, I get a general "this was his call" response, though a sympathetic one. The writer tries fighting to get me in post, as well as the offline editor, and the male lead. To no avail. "This is his call."

To date, the movie is nearing the end of cut to time. I've dealt with all this. But there are two things I want: to speak at the premeire, and to make a director's cut. I signed off, so I may have signed off my rights, I don't know, but I was wondering if anyone knew what student filmmaker rights were. Like do I have the right to a cut and to speak at the premeire? Because part of me really just wants the option. Things have cooled down with the Prof, he's still a huge dick, but he's cool with me now. (He needs me.)
It's such a strange circumstance. In one hand, I want the premeire to happen for everyone without a hitch. On the other, I don't want this experience to be had by student filmmakers after me, and I feel like my only recourse is to make this all public. That's a lot of pressure. And my "firing" is like the secret of the department - the department isn't proud, it seems, that this happened. So if it "gets out" it makes the department look bad. But then it's like "how will this make me look to employers?" You know? I've spent 4 years working up what I think is a killer reel, and would doing what I think is right (getting the word publically so this doesn't happen to another student next year) jeopordize my future?

So yeah I'm willing to answer any questions regarding this whole ordeal. There's a lot involved, I know. The whole drama thing goes even further in depth. The Prof literally insisted I include a scene concerning bird homicice. It was a romantic comedy. Wtfomg.

I wouldn't wish this upon anyone. My advice? NEVER make student films in class (unless you have to of course). Never have the Prof be an EP. Be as independant as possible. We have our whole lives for people to basically tell us our art is "wrong".

I'd really like to hear what others at have to say about this, too. The fellow directors and pro's. :) I'm thinking of going to the dean here, so I could use advice.

Sorry for such a long post. :)

Thank you!

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
Need to think about it

Need to think about it

I am not sure what to say about this yet. I need to think about it. I want you to know that I read it. one thing that came to mind is a story or film about this situation and what happens in the lives of the characters over the next 20 years.


New member
Wow. This is quite a horror story.

It sounds as if the EP wasn't at any point looking for compromise, but only for his part within the film. It is truly awful the way he treated you. No director should ever be reprimanded in front of the entire crew, it is a very improfessional and immature way to deal with a problem. Moreover, it is terrible for the moral of the rest of the crew, and begins to divide people.

So much could be said about this, but I'm still taking it all in...

There is nothing that could exactly forbid you from speaking, that right is protected in the first amendment. As far as being allowed to speak. It might be helpful to patch things up with the dp and alumni producer. Even though you weren't at fault, it possibly could be a good idea to apologize, or open a dialogue just to stop the negative feelings. Possibly talking to the entire crew first if that is possible. The idea is that your voice is heard through the crews support.

As far as will it hurt your career later on? That's an extremely tough call. I think that humanistically any decent person is interested in fairness, and the people you want on your side in the real world are people who sympathize with your situation, not dismiss it. Of course, there are respectful ways to reveal what happened. I think if you decide to reveal the situation, it would be important to remain calm throughout, and not lose your temper at any point. This would give you quite a bit of credibility, and anyone with a heart would completely understand. But would it damage your career? I don't know... You have to calculate the risk factor, and then decide if the risk is worth it. It sounds as if this film meant a lot to you. I'm hesitant in posting this, but it was extremely eye opening. Just be confident with whatever decision you make.


New member
student filmmaker horror story

student filmmaker horror story

Several points:

1. It's difficult enough to deal with romantic comedy, which, unless its
emphasis is *situational*, can be a difficult sell anywhere because humor
tends to be
culturally-based (film: show, don't tell, etc.). If it's reasonably
good, it can help on a student reel. I wouldn't blow my chances for a good
piece on a reel
just because I'm hurt or angry.

2. On the issue of copyright (and, perhaps, who gets creative credits),
student should try to get a pro bono 30 minutes with an intellectual
property attorney who
has a strong entertainment background. Go prepared with a one-page
summary of the issues. Remain calm, remain quiet. Student should be
looking for
advice, not a sounding board. This is advice I follow personally,
especially dealing with entertainment attorneys. When it comes to "rights,"
you need to
know both your rights and your options (no pun intended).

3. Student is dealing with academe, with which I have more than passing
experience (former college prof). If you want to turn an aggravation into full-blown MAD
destruction), that's fine. I advise against it, strongly. In my
opinion, the last thing anyone needs is for the Dean to contact some
untenured assistant professor
with a reminder that his or her career depends upon FTEs (full-time
equivalents, e.g., number of students in class) and good class evaluations
(those dreaded,
end-of-term "evaluations" that some numchuck thought might be amusing).
In the words of that tragic character Richard M. Nixon, "There are times
we must rise above principle." This situation is not about
"getting-even," it's about balance and professionalism. That means
protecting your career and
reputation for being able to work through adversity. The last thing I
would do is give a speech at the premiere about what lunatics were up to.
else: some of my best professors were crazed, mean geniuses. Student
needs to ask this sobering question: in the final evaluation, is this
project edgy,
evocative, and a creative stretch for director, cast, crew, etc.? If
the answer is "yes," where did that inspiration come from?

4. Summary: 1. get some quiet legal advice on issues that are substantive
(including your treatment, etc.). 2. make sure student gets credit where
credit is due.
3. Avoid MAD. Student is going to need a. a reel, b. long-time
friends in the biz (e.g., that whiz kid with lighting or sound who makes a
project come alive),
and c. a recommendation from those crazed, mean genius professors that
uses words like "creative, mature, professional, able-to-make-film on-time
budget in the face of serious adversity." Take the long view and read
Chester Karrass's book, The Negotiating Game.


Thank you all for your replies. I greatly appreciate them.

Thank you KimWelch for reading that. Yes, this is a good story, would make a decent film. The gears are turning. "Longview", perhaps?

Lazlo, thank you for sympathizing. Finding the way of revealing what happened is the problem, I think. I simply don't want this to happen to another student at my school. It did mean a lot to me, and others, and it's like a half-written book now, or half-painted mural. The metaphors go on... :) I do have the crew's support, they've made me aware. I'm not sure about patching things up with the DP, but the Prod. and I were decent friends before this. I may try to patch things up there.

globebiz, I greatly, greatly appreciate your input. You're a former college prof? You're exactly who I needed to hear from. Thank you.

1. I'd say the humor was actually a blend. No matter what, it's still on my reel if I want it - I am retaining director credit. Who knows how post will play out.

2. Absolutely, the meeting is in a week, set it up already. Good to know I'm on the right track. Good to see this advice if I wasn't. Thank you.

3. Despite how this Prof treated me, I DON'T want to hurt him, his career, anyone. I realize that by bringing this over his head, I could do that. My objective is simple - do what I can to ensure this doesn't happen to others at my school in the future. Because, this could have been the best thing that's ever happened to me as a filmmaker.
I've set up another meeting with the dept. head, and yet another one to try to talk it out with this Prof. I don't think he should solely facilitate the project in an EP kind of way. It needs to be made clear that he is faculty first, and he still have a degree of respect for students. If he still acts ... draconian? to me in this meeting, I'll simply smile and walk away.
I understand what you mean by "crazed genius", we've got one in our department. The difference between my Prof and him? He's a lunatic, but he still seems to have an innate understanding that we're students, we're learning, and we're people too. He's just a bit ... off. I don't like the crazed genius reasoning. To quote the same lunatic "The tortured geniuses may be geniuses, but they suck to work with."

If my and my crew's story , told to the dean, or whoever, will make sure students aren't treated this way again... well, y'know, that's what's important to me. From the first day I signed on as Director, I made clear to my crew and cast my objectives. And yes I'm quoting myself :).
1.) That the cast and crew have a good learning experience.
2.) That we make a kickass film together.
I don't want another student to have to try to explain open framing to the Prof and then him get in their face and literally scream "You're ideas are fucking retarded!" That's not professional. It may be real, as you could definitely find EP's out there who will do that, I imagine. But we were all students, learning to tell stories through film. His behavior hurt students, and created a threatening environment. The entire crew literally had to leave set when he went on his tirades. Continuity cried. Okay?

I'm completely willing to face some self destruction if I can make this better for others. I don't want to destroy the Prof in any way, but I know deep down he shouldn't be running this thing again. He has too much of a temper. I do not believe he did his job.

What I'd like to say at the premeire, if anything, would be
1.) Ample praise for my awesome crew.
2.) A simple reminder that filmmaking is an art, and that my school should always remember it.
It wouldn't be vengeful. Though of course, I completely admit the thought has crossed my mind. Who doesn't like "sticking it to the man"? And V for Vendetta for that matter. Okay bad example... maybe.

I appreciate your final question as well. The project was edgy, evocative. The creativity box was too tight to stretch for all, as I gather. But having fear of losing a grade because you fear having an opposing opinion from the Prof is too edgy. It becomes his creativity, not yours. And the project evoked good things, like peer support, peer empathy, peer good feelings. Even peer bonding.
But it also evoked a sense of "I can't trust professors anymore" from myself and several others in the crew. We all find ourselves less trusting and more skeptical of other professors we once looked up to. I was simply glad I wasn't alone in that feeling, because it is a strange feeling. In short, it evoked a type of subconscious Professor paranoia and skepticism. We've talked about it.

globebiz, I know you're asking the right questions, making the right points, and saying what needs to be said to some anonymous student Director named "Mark" who, for all you know, could simply be looking for self justification for a personal vendetta.
But believe me when I say I really just want advice, and I want to take this slowly. I want to know what rights I have to my work. I have time to think this through, and I will. I really do care about everyone involved, even the Prof who I feel at odds with. I seriously won't be able to live with myself until I at least try to do what I can to make people with power aware that this happened, and that it shouldn't happen again. So thank you again for asking the right questions and making the right points.


To be honest here, I've found an important lesson through all of this. I'm not going to make films for EP's. I'm not for hire. I'm definitely not cut out for that. I care about what I make too much, so that I lean less on the side of filmmaking being a craft, and more an art, or expression. So I will concede the point that yes, I did learn a lesson. Something about that conceding just itches a bit of my mind for some reason. Like I'm admitting to something that's logically right, but somehow wrong.

I've always loved post-production as well, and I'm headed in that direction. Editing someone else's stuff? No problem. :)
Again, I'm not going to be told that my art is "wrong"... or fucking stupid. I figure a decent 40 hour a weeker, get me and my filmmaking honey enough money to make Indies on the weekends, post it online like I've done in the past. Always a blast doing that. Thank God for digital filmmaking.


Uhhhhhh... also, apparently the F-bomb is replaced with "puck" on these forums so yeah... sorry about that. :)


New member
student filmmaker horror story

student filmmaker horror story

Well, the nurturing kind of response didn't seem to work. Let's see
if I can be more direct.

There's an old saying about life: be good to everyone on the way to
the top so that they'll be good to you on the way down. Idealism was great during the `60s. I was there. Now it's the new millennium. SAT scores and the general level of student achievement was the highest in recent recorded history when I was in college. Now student achievement is at damn near an all-time low. I blame my generation for that. We were smart; we got lazy. I had a media job interview once in which the guy hiring asked me if I were literate. I said "yes." "Fine," he said, and handed me a book to read. It was in ancient Greek. "Where do you want me to start?" I asked. He said, "Anywhere." I read him a couple of sentences then began a translation. He stopped me. "You start tomorrow," he said. It's a test I have used. No one today passes.
Before you assume that you are gifted enough to begin MAD with your professors and others you believe have invaded your space, take that to heart. Frankly, if you came into my office and told me your story I would do two things: 1. listen carefully and 2. kick your butt up around your shoulders. I'm giving you a break here and assuming you are extremely talented. You have got to learn to take a blow to the head. If you can't, find some other profession. Moreover, the very last thing you need is for someone to recognize that talent and call your department and ask around about you. "Kids a talented hothead." "Brilliant, but can't see the forest for the trees." I was on a movie set last year where the lead actor, a damn good one, got extremely angry because a mother, who was an extra, was having trouble keeping her kids focused. You know what the director said,?"Son, keep that anger for your role. You're going to need it." Keep the anger for the role you are going to play in life: you.
The best people in the film business don't have big egos. They don't need them. They have big talent.


New member


My advice is put this all behind you and go forward. There is too much negative energy all around this project. Get away from it. I have been there, done that as a student filmmaker, as a college prof, and as a producer/director in the real world (over 25 years). Stuff like this happens in the real world all of the time. If you are serious about this business, you are going to have to learn to work in situations like this no matter how painful it is at the time--or, you will find yourself not working at all. No one wants a complainer on the crew. And you are going to have to get used to Executive Producers who don't know anything about production but, because the control the purse strings, they want to control you as well. Look at this as valuable experience. Learn from it. Don't make enemies. And move one. Good luck. JimT


New member
student filmmaker horror story, need advice & give warni

OMG soap opera for da win!!! I haven´t been around lately but something triggered my interest to come back to studentfilmmakers.

Anyways I read most of what you typed Narphobula, not all of it, cause due to the fact that I hate soppy stories. :twisted:

Now something that stuck out to me the most was the fact that you actually care what these people actually think about you.

(Yes I am going about this the wrong way and should be more encouraging and open about sorting out your problem, but I´m sure the others added enough input on that. Lemme give another perspective.)

Ignore these fools; show them that you´re better than them; keep your chin up; don´t make a fool of yourself crying or whatever. Be strong. Stick to your ideas and ambitions, don´t let anyone walk over you. EVER!!! Once they start doing so, they never stop. Unless you stand up. Write down your case on paper, make it official. (dunno if you did it already, got too irritated with the soppyness.)

Address it to the people highest on the hierarchy in your school. Let them know the truth. Fock the EP or whoever that was an ass. The ones that know your case and understand where you´re coming from will support you all the way anyways. Unless you´ve been a real jack-ass being yourself. Argh not sure what else to say. Except leave filmschool. It´s a waste of cash, unless you´re really rich and bored. Become independent be your own voice. blablabla, not sure where I wanted to go with this. Multi-tasking is something I´m great at, but your problem sounds so small that I forgot all about it... :wink:



very interesting thread! hey jody/kim, how bout a "war stories" column in your mag? this dude's experience can be the first article! mc


i haven't read everyone's responses yet, but as for making a director's cut, i think you have every right to do it. If I were you, i'd go infiltrate their base, and steal copies of the footage. was it digital? just make copies. not sure if I have same advice if it's like 16mm reversal stock that can't be duped.

one thought about (some) teachers - a lot of times, they are wannabee directors that couldn't make it so they decided to teach it. it's unfortunate cuz those types of toxic ppl are the worst to be involved with when you're making your film.

sounds like everyone else on the crew was unprofessional.


New member
markcheng said:
very interesting thread! hey jody/kim, how bout a "war stories" column in your mag? this dude's experience can be the first article! mc

Reminiscence :lol:

Tim Kolb

New member

First huge as this seems to you right now, after you get your first job, it will seem less important.

Unfortunately good full-time professors seem to be getting tough to find these days. Of course, there were some real prizes 20 years ago when I was in school too. I had some great ones too. You take the good and the bad.

Regarding the "blow to the head" portion of the discussion...yeah. Your first job in the biz has a very good chance of having a job description that calls for you to be ordered around and yelled at...and you won't even have a position at a level where you can feel indignant about it.

I'd make getting rights to do a director's cut your main focus right now because THAT will have the most effect on you getting the material for a reel so you can get a job and leave school behind.

Professors aren't above being partial and judgemental and if you happened to be complaining about a student who was close personally to the faculty member, that whole deal could have been different.

Get on with it and finish and try to extract the rights to do a director's cut by offering not to announce the "secret." Use something here to your advantage...and let it go.