Film School by Steve Boman (pub date 11/1/11)
I’m usually wary of reading about other people’s success stories. Part of the reason is because I’m disinclined to believe that the person really struggled to succeed as much as he or she claims. I often come away from the story thinking “Sure, it was easy for you because you were rich/well-connected/a genius to begin with!” The other part of the reason why I usually shun success stories is because for the vast majority of people, the ‘rags to riches’ story will never be a reality. So for the pessimist in me, reading about the triumphs of another so-called ‘average joe’ can be somewhat depressing.
But this book is an exception. Film School is the story of an actual average person who decided to switch careers in his late 30s and succeeded. Steve Boman was a middle-class Midwestern family man, who worked off-and-on as a journalist while caring for his cancer-stricken wife and raising three daughters. Wanting to make a dramatic change in his life, he decided to take a professional risk (as well as taking on a copious amount of debt) and applied to the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, one of the most prestigious film programs in the nation, if not the world.
The film program at USC has a well-earned reputation of being tougher than medical school (I know a current student there who can attest to this), and Boman quickly found himself in way over his head. Being more than ten years older than most of the other students, and not having a background in film, he found it difficult to convince people to work with him. In his first semester, he was threatened with expulsion for inadvertently violating a school policy. He dealt with constant competition with other students and harsh criticism from his teachers. After his first semester he dropped out of the program, and a year or so later he re-applied, was re-admitted, and then had a stroke on his first day of class. But despite all the physical and mental stress he endured, Boman did graduate from USC in his early 40s, and pitched a television show idea to CBS which eventually became the short-lived series “Three Rivers.”
There are several reasons why Film School is a memoir that’s worth reading. First off all it’s very well written. Having studied writing while attending USC, Boman expertly crafts the story of his personal journey through hardship and success, and his insight and sense of humor are evident throughout the entire book. It’s a little long in some parts but never boring. It’s also a compelling story in that it’s an accurate reflection on what it’s really like to work in Hollywood. Boman was fortunate enough to have pitched a TV show idea that was picked up by CBS…and then the show got canceled. He did make some money from the show, but he did not become a millionaire overnight. That’s the truth about trying to work in television or film: you’re up one day and then down the next. It’s a hard business and it’s not for everyone.
Boman is also brutally honest in telling his readers that admittance to the USC film program in no way guarantees success in the film industry, or even a job for that matter. He describes how some of his fellow students have found themselves disenchanted with USC, and frustrated that the school’s administration cannot (or will not) provide any data on how many of its graduates actually go on to find jobs in the film industry. Indeed, Boman takes the time to express both his gratitude to USC for the amazing experiences it afforded him, and also his frustration with some of the faculty and especially with the political climate:
“At USC’s film school, the fashion is to say that America is a corrupt and villainous empire, with injustice under every rock. It is ironic that in this bastion of wealth and privilege and luxury, I hear almost unrelenting criticism of the society that creates all this wealth and technology and freedom of expression. I notice the loudest critics often have perfectly straight and dazzling white teeth. Sometimes these opinions seem more often based on the desire to be cool than on clear-eyed political analysis.”
Film School is a must-read for anyone who has ever wanted to attend USC (myself included) or any other film program. It’s also a great motivator for anyone who wants to change careers but worries that it’s too late (me again). And have I mentioned how freaking awesome the cover is? I never usually comment on cover art, but this one is just great! All in all, this book is an American success story that’s both realistic and uplifting, and at heart a very interesting read.
P.S. Click here to read an interview with Steve Boman about what motivated him to write the book.