The Film School Commencement Speech

Four years ago, all of you seated before me were blank slates. You came here from all over the country eager to learn, passionate, excited with the prospect of studying, experiencing and mastering the great art of filmmaking.
I’ve gotten to know most of you in that time. All of you shared similar dreams. You wanted to be filmmakers. For many of you, this was a path you had taken at an early age, and you carried with you the passion of a lifetime of anticipation for the very moment you’d set foot in your first film class.
Many of you chose the fiction production route ‘ the route that one hopes will lead to fame and fortune. You were the aspiring Spielbergs and Kubricks, Coppolas and Allens. Others, the not-so-smart, chose the non-fiction film route. You were the aspiring Ken Burnses.
You can’t learn about film without seeing films. And, for the past four years you’ve seen a lot of them. Many of them were black & white, out of focus, German, and 60 years old. They don’t make films like that anymore. Did you see that huge shadow going across the man’s face? That represents the dichotomy of good and evil within each human being. Remarkable filmmaking, that.
For four years now, you’ve been taught by some of the finest teachers in this noble field. People who have foregone the professional track so that they may pass their knowledge on to you. People who have chosen to educate others in the hopes that they’ll get out there, root themselves in the industry, and make a difference.
Let us remember these fine professors, shall we?
There was Paula, the Marxist/feminist/bisexual whose specialties were seeing the things that aren’t on the surface of the film. The things underneath. Subtext. Hidden meaning. She helped you understand that E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial was about Jesus. She made you realize that the character of Plato in Rebel Without A Cause was a homosexual because he had differently-colored socks. And she helped you see the light and realize that Luke Skywalker was a communist.
With Paula, everything was a penis. A shot of a skyscraper was actually, subliminally, a penis. A train was a penis. A tall man was a penis with a penis. Swords, trees, school buses, solar flares: all penises. Paula made you realize that penises were everywhere using her simple formula: tall or long = penis. She explained to you man’s domination of women through the use of phallic imagery.
Oh, how Paula opened your mind. Though you came to this school thinking you just wanted to learn how to make a good film, Paula taught you what you really needed to know. She helped you realize that all men were bad; but mostly white, Republican men. She made you realize the fallacy of making films for profit. She helped you see that the corporation was the enemy. That Hollywood was the evil empire. You too found yourself rooting for the Worker’s Utopia where evil, white Republicans would be in gulags under the watchful eye of President Mumia.
Perhaps you came to this school wanting to direct the next Godfather or Annie Hall. Certainly a noble goal, but not the most noble. Paula had you convinced you wanted to direct a not-for-profit documentary about the indigenous cannibals of Madagascar, and the evil white Republicans who made them that way.
That was the glory of Paula. Let’s have a round of applause for her.
And then there was Kevin. Kevin, the quiet little guy who made an award-winning film you’d never heard of and can’t seem to find mentioned anywhere. Perhaps you never quite understood what he was getting at, or where you stood with him, but one thing was for sure: you knew you were in the presence of an artist.
Artists don’t need to not mumble. They can talk in circles, if it pleases them. And they can arbitrarily like or dislike whatever it is you have created, be it a four-minute black & white exploration of a telephone pole, or a twenty-minute color feature about a woman who sits at a table.
With Kevin, you learned that you need not be boisterous and mean to succeed in a film career. You could always be quiet and meek and teach somewhere, hiding from Paula whenever you saw her in the hallway.
Please, a round of applause for Kevin, who’s not here because he’s afraid of crowds.
An education in film is not complete without studying the craft of writing. There was no better man to introduce you to that art than Steven. He is the author of 14 self-published books, all of which you became familiar with as they’re course texts. Let us pay homage to the author of On Writing Films, Film Writing, Writing a Film, Writing for Film, and How to Write for Film to name a few.
You have to ask yourself, how can a man so knowledgeable about writing films never have written one? The answer is forthcoming in A Life Writing Films, due out in May.
A hand for Steven, please.
Graduates, I look out among you and see your faces, and I remember those faces as they were four years ago. It seems like only yesterday that you were girls and boys fresh out of high school, wide-eyed, coming here wanting to learn all there was to learn about film.
Now you leave here, having learned. You saw the The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Dali short with a donkey and a piano. You know that Big Ben is a penis. Reagan a demon. You know how to splice. You could probably write your own book about writing a film.
We’ve done our best to pass what we know on to you for these past four years. Now it’s your turn to take what you’ve learned and tackle the world. Your experience here comes to an end, but your future is just beginning.
Now get out there, and start scrubbing.