One of the perennial dangers for modern directors is to get caught up with all the new technology that's out there--from micro HD camcorders to affordable 3K cameras--and to believe that this gives them the ability to make films. Don't get me wrong, the democratization of recording technology and filmmaking gear is amazing. From higher quality capturing cameras to more powerful editing machines to plug-ins that can create magic particles and explosions to much more economical stock footage and effects libraries, nearly all the toys of Hollywood are finally at our hands. Unfortunately, the problem with democratization is that it evens the playing field for nearly everyone, not just one or two of us.
When writing was only taught to scribes, a select group of people could create books. However, when literacy and writing were democratized, anyone could become a writer. As such, over the centuries, nearly everyone has taken a stab at it who had the remotest interest. This didn't cause us to suddenly have a billion William Shakespeares or Stephen R. Donaldsons. What it did was completely fill the world with writing so that the truly great writers had to fight all the harder to get noticed, since there was now so much more of it out there.
I don't say this to depress you, rather I say it to remind you that the power of filmmaking in all this new school technology is the same power that's existed in filmmaking since the dawn of the art at the end of the 19th century: the power of story. An amazing story will captivate an audience, whether it's recorded with a 70mm film camera, a Grass Valley Viper, or an 8mm camcorder. (Obviously, with that said, you still have to be proficient with your tools, no matter what you're using. If your film has horrible audio, it won't matter how pretty it looks—people will avoid it in droves!) I think of some of my favorite films and while some would be more difficult to do with low technology (like The Matrix), almost all of them could be successfully done with immensely low-tech means. In that regard, the somewhat convoluted, yet clever-premised Be Kind, Rewind was right on target.
One of my favorite films of all time is Fight Club. And, as cool as some of the 3D effects in the movie were, it would lose almost none of its impact if it had been shot with a hi-8 camcorder and low-tech practical effects. The story holds up no matter what medium it's recorded in. Another David Fincher movie, the special effects-enmeshed Curious Case of Benjamin Button, could still have been created with the same hi-8 camcorder, makeup (instead of CGI), and old school camera positioning tricks (such as those that were still be used in newer movies like Lord of the Rings). It's main premise and story could be done totally old school and not lose the core of what makes the film engrossing!
With this is in mind, you can learn a huge amount about the art of filmmaking by watching a variety of older films. Even if many of the styles of filmmaking have changed, the core understandings of the moving image have remained pretty solid for nearly a hundred years. The more educated you are in all things film related, the more you can build on what has come before, rather than simply perpetually re-inventing the wheel! In the case of true democratization, the person who most improves his understanding and refines his craft the most will always have the greatest chance to rise to the top.
As such, never pass up a chance to learn more from the past, never miss a chance to improve your skill set, and never pass up a chance to learn to write a more compelling story--for, in the end, you can never craft an amazing film without a truly remarkable story birthing it.