Paul Thomas Anderson on Dropping Out of Film School (1999)

“I enrolled in NYU and I went there for literally two days. What happened was I walked into this class and this teacher said, ‘If anyone is here to write Terminator 2, just walk out … just get right out the door.’ And I thought, That’s not a good way to start. What if I do want to write Terminator 2? What if someone sitting next to me wants to write it? Y’know, you’re sort of instantly saying, ‘We write serious films here.’ Well, Terminator 2‘s a pretty awesome movie. So there was an assignment to write a page that has no dialogue in it, but you gotta make sure that you explain something about a character – you show a character trait through action, with no dialogue. And I had read this great script by David Mamet, which was Hoffa, which was not yet made at the time. And there was a great scene that Mamet had written where Danny DeVito’s character is driving along, and it shows what he’s going through by the method he’s using to keep himself awake while driving, which is he lights a cigarette and he holds it between his hands and he lets it burn down to his fingers to keep himself awake. It’s just so perfect and simple and lovely, and it’s Mr. Pulitzer Prize himself, David Mamet. So I took that page and I handed it in. And it got a C+. And I said, ‘Well, now I know I’m right.’ And it’s a wonderful thing that if you drop out quick enough you can get your tuition back. So I had this money that my father had given me, and I just sort of lived off that and made a short film.”

(Excerpted from the Elvis Mitchell interview.)