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A recurring topic in our conversations with independent filmmakers is how personal/passion projects have either launched, sustained, or saved their careers. For some people, like Hunter Hampton, personal projects have kept them from jumping off a creative cliff. For others, like Khalid Mohtaseb, passion projects have become a surprisingly effective marketing strategy. We don’t think there’s a “wrong way” to approach passion projects. But after having dozens of these conversations, the conclusion we’ve drawn is that passion projects, in whatever form, are an essential part of a creative lifestyle and an even more essential part of a creative career.

Learning a craft is never easy, and there aren’t any shortcuts. As we’ve talked with filmmakers over the past few months, one question we always ask is “How did you learn how to do what you do?” Sometimes it feels like that’s the only question that really matters, and yet it’s usually the most difficult one to answer. While only some of the people we interviewed attended film school (and even fewer finished), all of these filmmakers are self-taught in their own way. Meaning, filmmaking is something they internalize—they’re constantly learning, discovering, and working it out for themselves. Just in time for the holidays, we’ve compiled a smorgasbord of insights into the benefits of a formal versus a not-so-formal film education. Salud!