Are you a teenager who wants to work in film someday? Take high school Drama classes. If you’re not a teenager, keep reading anyway. Maybe you can inform a prospective young film maker why they should take Drama courses from Grades 9-12. A quick testimonial: High school Drama is where the co-founders of Thought Plane Media got our start, and it was one of the best career choices we ever made (without even knowing it)! Read on to learn why…
Addressing Your Objections
I can already hear your objections: “I can’t act”, “I get stage fright”, “Why high school Drama and not some kind of community theatre?”, “I want to be in film, but not on camera, so why should I bother?”, etc. All of these would be valid points but I believe that the benefits of Drama class outweigh such negatives. Allow me to clear a few things up before moving on:
As to the first point (“I can’t act”)– many Drama students can’t act either (although, in my experience, Grades 11 and 12 contain the most solid all-around talents). So, even if you’re the worst actor in class, I doubt it’ll be by a wide margin. High school Drama is harmless fun. Don’t worry about it.
Addressing point the second– The fear of public speaking/ performance is common and understandable. Not everybody is a born performer. However, the film industry is largely based around collaboration and group effort. A certain level of sociability is required, even if you’re not in a leadership/ prominent role. If you’re unable to speak around large groups of people now, you ought to learn before getting a career in entertainment– and high school Drama is a safe space to hone those skills.
Dressing up in costumes and playing make-belief is inherently silly. You only stand out in a bad way if you don’t own the fact you’re being foolish. Also take comfort that everyone else in class looks ridiculous too (some even more spectacularly than you ever will).
And about point three (“Community theatre?”)– I’d argue that high school Drama is better for teenagers interested in film than any kind of theatre group. If you’re focused on acting, go ahead and take whatever opportunities you can get. Don’t let me stop you. But high school Drama is easier if you’re just looking to casually learn some skills (acting and otherwise). For one thing– it would be part of your daily routine anyway. You wouldn’t have to make time for another extra-curricular. And the nice thing about high school Drama for those of you who aren’t hardcore into acting is that it’s way more informal. The environment is also arguably more hands on. In addition, you get to spend time with your friends during the day. How can ya’ go wrong?
Regarding your final objection: “I want to be in film but not on camera”– High school drama will teach you a tonne of valuable skills applicable to more than just acting. That’s kinda what the rest of this article is about, so let’s break down the benefits now, shall we?
Learn How to Work on a Budget
So you wanna make movies, but then you realize something– you’re broke and you don’t have a job. One bright side to high school Drama classes: they’re slightly less broke than you are. Even a bad Drama department ought to have a few old costumes and props laying around. It may not be much, but it’s better than nothing. Your mileage may vary on this, but my teachers were generous enough to let me borrow the occasional costume pieces or use sets around the room on my lunch breaks. For a young filmmaker with limited options, you’re not likely to do much better (unless you have access to a good high school Technologies department, but that’s an article for another day).
But even if you’re not allowed to use the department’s stuff, Drama will teach you a thing or two about ingenuity. Playing around with various set-pieces and costumes in your regular class is good practice for using whatever’s on hand to its greatest potential (a skill useful in both low-budget and high-budget film-making). After getting creative for a couple years in class, the old junk laying around your house will suddenly feel a lot more useful than it might right now.
Makes You a Better Screenwriter
Want to write movies? Great! I wrote a lot of movies back in high school too (so I’m particularly biased on this point). That said– if you don’t know how to act, you hold yourself back. Writers with no concept of acting tend to pen dialogue too difficult for average human beings to deliver convincingly, or which otherwise sounds unnatural. I’m guilty of this. Just look at my early high school films…
Acting out scenes for yourself –specifically ones NOT written by you– and watching other performers allows you to more easily determine the difference between good and bad dialogue. Take notes –be they mental or physical– and you will inevitably learn how to write realistic-sounding characters. Future actors will thank you for your efforts, and one day critics will adore your dedication to diction.
Drama class will also improve your sense of story structure and narrative flow. The more performances you put on– be they improvised or scripted– the more you’ll intuitively understand what makes a scene work on paper, but also what makes for good entertainment. And because most young filmmakers/ screenwriters don’t get to experience how story and narrative are translated to film on actual sets, Drama class is a fantastic alternative. It’s at least close enough to give you a solid starting point.
I briefly mentioned improvisation in that last section, but I’d like to emphasize: Lessons in Improvisation are invaluable to writer/ directors! They demonstrate how going with the flow often results in better exchanges or moments than the script. Improv teaches rigid creatives types like myself to loosen up and appreciate creative choices that work, even if they aren’t part of the plan.
Above all else– Drama is an ideal place to practice your writing. You know the old cliché “go big or go home”, right? When your drama teacher gives you a chance to write something, you’d better run with it. Make every assignment a showcase of the best you can do! I for one tended to go overboard in comparison to the assignment parameters, but my antics also gave me a great reputation within the department. I was the guy everyone wanted to work with because my performances consistently went above and beyond. Be that person.
EXAMPLE: Here’s a link to my last ever drama class performance in high school, where my group pulled out all the stops. It’s one of the most fun times I’ve ever had on stage. Every other group in class did small-scale 5-minute acts for this assignment (our exam) but mine went unabashedly epic by comparison: combat choreography, multiple costume changes, 5 character stories to juggle, special effects work and multiple distinct set-pieces. Enjoy!
Hone Your Leadership Skills/ Get Work-related Experience
As a filmmaker, you should always be prepared for your shoots (want to know how? Check out this article). And High school Drama is an excellent way to gauge what your film sets might be like! You’re guaranteed to have some hands-on experience with all the major jobs, from costuming/ set-design to direction.
Keep an extra close eye on your teacher/ Director and how they control the environment. What methods do they use to coach good performances from their actors? How do they handle blocking on stage? How do they delegate work to the crew? And most importantly why do they do these things in such a manner? Intention is integral to creative enterprise. Your director makes all their decisions for a reason. Watch and learn and you’ll stand a better shot at controlling sets yourself.
But don’t resign yourself to being a subordinate. Take on whatever leadership roles are available in the class. While technically equals, every group tends to have at least one person who unofficially takes charge. Don’t be afraid to be that person once in a while. But ALWAYS collaborate, always carefully consider the suggestions of those in your group, and never be bossy (because you’re not really in a position of power). But absolutely be decisive, have opinions, and know how to back them up.
Finding a Crew
Perhaps the greatest benefit to high school Drama for young filmmakers is the potential to develop themselves a crew. I remember consistently keeping lookout for the best actors in class. I guarantee there’s multiple people worth asking for help on your movies. Even if nobody else in class wants to be a filmmaker, Drama students (the dedicated ones, anyways) are creative types like you are. They enjoy acting and like to showcase their talents. Some of them even have worthwhile ideas and might possess skills you lack (great at lighting, or choreography, or makeup). Befriending the right people will be invaluable to your creative enterprises. And besides that: these people are used to working together already, so there’s potential for natural chemistry between the crew, both on and off the cameras.
NOTE: Don’t limit your search for actors to Drama class alone. My friend and colleague Matteo wasn’t a Drama student at my high school. And he’s a gem. It’s uncommon to find good actors who aren’t in Drama, but it is possible.
By now you might be asking yourself: Why must I join Drama to meet these people? Can’t I just hang around the Drama department, or casually scout talent from around the school? Sure. You can do that. But joining Drama is the most surefire way to develop relationships with Drama students.
People in my high school class liked me and enjoyed working with me on class projects. So when I asked them to help me out on film shoots, many of them were pleased to help for free (on lunch or on the weekends if they had the time)! I doubt many of them would have agreed if they hadn’t developed working relationships with me already. They knew I wasn’t a talentless hack who would waste their time, or an arrogant jerk who would treat them cruelly.
That said: treat your crew well! These people would be doing you a favour, assuming you’re not paying them, so don’t take advantage of their generosity. Check out this article where I break down my own mistakes in crew collaboration.
Sure, High school Drama classes might not be exactly what every young filmmaker is looking for. Theatre and movies are very different mediums afterall. But I can all but guarantee young filmmakers will learn something applicable to creating movies. I know I sure did. I sincerely hope you will too. Best of luck to all you young creatives out there!
What was your experience with high school drama, if you took it? I’d love to hear any testimonials you have! If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,