Cohort 12 - Nick - Hike - Peru

The UnCollege Blog

Interview Series: Christian Keller, Filmmaker

After Swiss-born Christian Keller dropped out of high school, he quickly became a more efficient and effective learner. He passed the required high school exams in one year instead of four, and started learning in the way that best suited him: by working on real-world projects. Besides directing a film about Mexican singer Gloria Trevi, Keller also created and runs a startup in San Francisco.

What motivated you to take your education into your own hands? How did you do it?

I was hungry to pursue my passion and to start actually doing things, so I didn't really have a choice. The thought of spending four years in high school, and then another four in college was unbearable. School felt like a bad dream, and I always hoped that I would wake up and find out that it was over.

When I was 14 or 15, I faxed my school telling them that I wouldn't be coming back. I didn't have my parents' permission, of course! After that I studied on my own for the high school finals in Switzerland, and managed pass in one year, instead of four.

But I've always been a hackademic — the things I wanted to learn weren’t taught at school, so I had to search for information and mentors by myself.

What is something you wish you had learned earlier?
I wish I had been more open to taking risks. Often, the choice that seems harder and more "emotionally-unsafe" is ultimately better. I wish I had realized that sooner.

It was also really important for me to learn to accept feedback and advice — especially negative feedback — and not to dismiss it without first carefully thinking about it.

You're working on a lot of projects! How do you balance it all, and how do you keep yourself on task?

I want to do a lot of things, but the reality is that everything requires a tremendous amount of time, energy, and focus.

For about 7 years, I was completely focused only on my film project. I’m afraid of getting side-tracked and becoming someone who starts ten projects and ends up with nothing, so I only do three things in my life. I work on my film, I manage my tech-venture, and I sleep.

How did you initially decide to make a film about Trevi? What are some challenges you’ve faced in the past seven years of filming?

Her story just feels like a story worth telling.

We haven't actually been filming for seven years. What takes so long is the development of a film — getting the rights to the story, writing a script, assembling a team and money. The process has been quite rough and crazy.

At one point, there was a rights dispute and we got sued out of the blue. I had to camp out near McAllen, Texas on the Mexican border for 6 months until everything was signed. In the process, I lost 60 pounds for lack of money! But pushing through the hard times was the only way to hold the project together.

How did you learn how to pitch yourself and your ideas?

By doing it over and over again!