History of Sherwood Oaks

How We Came To Be

From a high-school, to an experimental college, to a film college to the current non-profit, the values and views of Sherwood Oaks have changed little, but we have continued to grow and serve our community better with every name change.

The History

Sherwood Oaks Film School first started as Sherwood Oaks High School then evolved into Sherwood Oaks Experimental College. As Syd Field, who started teaching at Sherwood Oaks, “stated: ‘Experimental College’ was a misnomer, in reality, it was a professional school taught by professionals: producers taught producing, writers taught writing.” As a result, the school became known as the Sherwood Oaks College as it is described in Wikipedia. Since, as Syd Field stated:  the school  “didn’t give any credits and had no university affiliation,” and also as it was not a registered non-profit at the time (which required a name change) it has now evolved into Sherwood Oaks Film School. As the “Going to the Movies” book best defined it, “the purpose of the school was to provide an opportunity for professionals of Hollywood to share their experience and expertise with the community.” And many did, to the likes of Lucille Ball, Michael Crichton, etc. [Syd Field]. Sherwood Oaks started James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated, the Intern), Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), Matt Groenig (Simpsons) among others. Some famous speakers include: Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Robert DeNiro, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, himself.

The founder, Gary Shusett disliked traditional school. Back in junior high school, Gary was notorious for passing notes back and forth with his friends. He found school boring and not useful. He felt as if he wasn’t learning anything practical. Despite being an avid reader, he felt traditional school did not provide students information that they could use in their daily lives and was boring. It seemed to him to be 80% theory and only 20% practical information. Gary Shusett decided to change all that by founding Sherwood Oaks based on the principle of practical, useful knowledge where students would want to absorb it.

The first incarnation of Sherwood Oaks was Sherwood Oaks High School. Sherwood Oaks High School gave students a chance to try a different format, something much more interactive. In a format that was somewhat similar to a charter school, Sherwood Oaks High School was different than your traditional high school. Sherwood Oaks High School took the next step by striving to give students an opportunity to grow by picking your own classes and giving them free time and flexibility which in turn allowed them to grow and develop new skills. Many of the students that attended traditional high schools felt constrained and longed for something different. Sherwood Oaks High School was that something different. Sherwood Oaks was a game changer and impacted people’s lives … even today. Sherwood Oaks High School also wanted to open their doors to everyone whether it was through scholarships, work study programs, providing deep discounts or whatever means so that no student would be left out. That tradition has been carried through the years and is still true today.

What really differentiates the school was not the teachers or being around Hollywood, but the students. The bonds they formed. At Gary Shusett’s celebration, the students from Sherwood Oaks High School have such a tremendous bond that they traveled from other states to be together to celebrate the founder. On stage, I mentioned Sherwood Oaks High School and they stood up simultaneously and applauded with such enthusiasm and glee that one would never know that it had been nearly 40 years since they attended Sherwood Oaks High School. These bonds and strong relationships are what differentiates the school. Sherwood Oaks High School has created its own mailing list and has kept in touch with all of it’s members on a regular basis including having periodic reunions and informal get-togethers.

The bonds formed combined with the openness and raw authenticity is what sets the school apart. It is not just another seminar, but something special. You don’t just learn from many working Hollywood professionals but you learn from the other students as well.  Every event becomes more of an experience that is remembered for years to come.

Due to regulations concerning minors attending schools, eventually Sherwood Oaks High School closed. However, as one door closed, another door opened. Sherwood Oaks High School evolved into Sherwood Oaks Experimental College. The “experimental” title meant that Sherwood Oaks would keep evolving. Rather than being a school set in stone with a set agenda and a set form, Sherwood Oaks Experimental College became more clay like. The school is constantly shaping into something that allows others to grow. Some of this growth is in ways that others did not realize was possible. Every so often, students comment that this school is not just about breaking into Hollywood but teaches you about life lessons. They always feel that everyone can learn from attending a seminar.

When Sherwood Oaks Experimental College first opened the school taught everything from acting, audio production, editing, and of course, screenwriting. In about 2000, Sherwood Oaks Experimental College began focusing on screenwriting although producers, directors, composers, editors, and actors would attend the seminars. In about 2010, Sherwood Oaks Experimental College dropped the title of “Experimental” since so many students said this was the most evolved training courses that they ever experienced and the word “experimental” was truly a misnomer. In 2014, Sherwood Oaks College changed the name to Sherwood Oaks Film School since it was more descriptive and it was not officially a college meaning that we no longer had daily classes which they previously had back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

As the school evolved, the focus became mostly on screenwriters. The primary reason is that having a great piece of material, a great example of writing is the easiest way into Hollywood just like one of its famous alumni, Sylvester Stallone who wrote and made Rocky while at Sherwood Oaks. Stallone was not alone. The queen of TV, Lucille Ball presided over 6 weeks of comedy and teaching her secrets to the Sherwood Oaks students. Rod Sterling, The Twilight Zone, taught eight weeks of mentoring to scribes. Academy award winner, Richard Dreyfuss taught a class to thespians.
“Imagine driving to the studio gates, and your name is on the guard’s list! You enter the lot, and seven producers are waiting to meet with you!” stated William C. Martell, screenwriter (14 writing credits).

Sherwood Oaks offers courses at studios since it is not constrained to a physical location. The classes move to where the action is, even if it is at a conference room at a five star hotel in Beverly Hills next to a close encounter class in Hollywood.

Sherwood Oaks inspires its students toward greatness by enabling them to meet working professionals and building real relationships and networks where they can launch their own careers. Students learn, not only from guest lecturers, but also from each other. The creative industry is built on relationships, …and Sherwood Oaks is where those connections are made.

Sherwood Oaks offers a unique learning experience, something not found at any other college, university, or school: the ability to put your material in front of people that not only know what to do with it, but are often actively seeking it.

Sherwood Oaks have given rise to many great careers, and most often the guest lecturers are former students. They continue to foster relationships and build networks. And the best place to do all of that is at Sherwood oaks, just as Gary Shusett envisioned all those years ago.

Feel Like It’s Time to Make a Change in Your Life, Just Need The Information?

All of our classes, due to the availability of the instructors, are scheduled kind of “last minute.” Almost all of our instructors that we get are not able to commit more than 3 weeks in advance. So when we get ready to schedule a class, if you are not on our mailing list, you will most likely NOT be notified in time to register. So…this is STEP #1, AND MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL! Get on our MAILING LIST NOW!

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If you are able and want to give back to Sherwood Oaks Film School (formerly Sherwood Oaks College) by donating your time and teaching a class to other aspiring future actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers, we would be honored to have you. Please just tell us how to reach you, and what, if any, time accommodations you need to be here. (We understand not everyone lives in southern CA.) and we will do our absolute best to accommodate.


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