(Cannes Film Festival. Photo by Rita Molnár)
At a Q&A session with Christopher Nolan at Cannes (he's showing a 70mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), he had some film school advice that was diametrically opposed to Alexander Payne's advice in the article last week:
When asked about forging a career without a film degree, Nolan clarified. "Just to be clear, I didn’t go to film school because I couldn’t get into film school," he said to chuckles. "My father knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, but he advised me to get what he referred to as 'a real degree in a real subject,' so I’d have something to fall back on."
The director continued: "So I studied English because that was the academic subject that I was best at. But what I found when I studied it, is (that) it greatly informed my filmmaking process, my writing process. I started to become more at ease with a lot of the literary concepts that underline film criticism.”
Studying English allowed him to study storytelling which is basically what film is all about. Although in terms of having a degree to "fall back on"... I'm not sure English is any more "valuable" than a film degree in that sense. At least degrees are free or close to it in most of Europe.
Still... honing your storytelling chops is without a doubt one of the best ways to prepare for a career in film.
UPDATE - Here's a new article with more tidbits from his Cannes interview: More interesting tidbits from Christopher Nolan's press gaggle at Cannes