I get this question a lot. Some people want to know if I, personally, would have avoided film school in the first place because of all the debt I wound up with. Some people are aspiring filmmakers that wonder if film school is a good idea for them. And some people are just trying to reaffirm their own suspicion that art school of any kind is a waste of money. So, what’s the answer? Is a film degree worth the price? The answer is, of course, absolutely maybe.
I found a couple of articles on Digital Video Guru that outline ten reasons you shouldn’t go to film school and ten reasons you should go to film school. If you have any interest in film school (or in skipping it and going straight into the industry or independent films), you should definitely read those two lists. If you’re just curious, here are the 20 reasons without explanation:
Reasons Not to Go to Film School:
- Your favorite filmmaker didn’t go to film school.
- Digital Video.
- Film school is expensive.
- The Internet.
- The Long Tail.
- Netflix + books = critical studies.
- Learn by doing.
- You can’t teach art. Can you?
- Don’t study film, study life.
- You either have it or you don’t.
All of these are true, but #3 and #7 are perhaps the most important. The “learn by doing” principle is why I picked the film school that I go to – the moment you enter the door, they shove a camera in your hand and tell you the only way to learn to make films is to make films.
- Peer connections.
- Industry connections.
- Technical know-how.
- Intelligent feedback.
- Mentors to push you.
- History and theory.
- Time for your projects.
- Stay the course.
- You either have it or you don’t.
I agree entirely with this list as well. #1 is the reason I always cite for film school being a near-necessity. That old adage of “In show business, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is 80% right. What you know is important, but you can know everything there is to know about filmmaking and not be able to make anything because you don’t have a network. Film is still a collaborative art.
There are a few things I would like to add, as well. Film school is a huge undertaking. If you take two years of film school and change your mind, you might have trouble getting your credits to transfer into another major. Additionally, film as a major isn’t offered by most state schools (except, of course, California), so you’re likely looking at an expensive private school (or the high cost of out-of-state tuition for California, unless you happen to already live there).
So is film school worth the cost? I’m still not sure for myself, so I certainly can’t answer the question for you. It’s a highly competitive industry with some huge barriers to entry. And a film degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if you decide to go into any other industry. But if film is really what you want to do, then film school could give you the leg up you need to break into the industry or to start yourself off in independent work.
No degree is worth more than the paper its printed on unless you go out and do something with it. Too many people go to school thinking that a degree alone is going to change their life and have them making all kinds of money. You’ve got to have some passion and drive to back up your degree and to make things happen regardless of your focus!
That’s true, but the problem with a film degree (a Bachelors, anyways) is that it has very little value in any other field of work. At best, it’s about the same as having an Associates degree, but at the price of a really expensive Bachelors (costly private school + the cost of making films). So if you go to film school, you have to be pretty darn sure you want to work in film.
Of course, the only way to really know if you want to work in film is to try, which might just mean going to film school. It’s a bit of a catch-22.
Interesting…I went to law school. There is currently a huge debate going on about whether law school is worth it or not these days since the market’s extremely saturated.
I would encourage you to use your film degree to springboard into other professions as well – journalism maybe?
That’s something I never thought about law school – and that’s even MORE expensive schooling!
I’ll probably end up working somewhere in the entertainment industry with my film degree, since my future seems to be leaning toward Los Angeles anyway. But for now, I can’t say for sure what I’ll be using a degree for – right now I’m just focused on actually getting the degree!
Mrs. Micah says
I think it’d depend on what kinds of things you school offered. Small private Christian college? Probably not worth as much as one which is known for its program and has industry connections, internships, etc. That said, I think a really good student can learn well anywhere–in school or out of school and in any school program. But I don’t know if it’d be worth the debt.
Going to college was a good decision for me. Getting an English degree? Well, I’m a good writer and I took a lot of classes with people I liked. But the overall experience, the variety of classes, etc, were more valuable.
Film School is a tricky course of action. I went to USC Film School, considered by many as a top-tier private school for studying films. It was very costly, very, and many of my graduating peers have decided to move on to other industries.
I still work in Los Angeles in the Film Industry (even through the current WGA Strike). From my personal experience, I can say that “breaking-in” is Extremely difficult to do. Film schools will absolutely help show you how the film industry is setup, the business model, and how to tackle it. But these lessons are taught indirectly as you hustle to make your film for film school, a safe-haven away from heavy weight critics and the pressure to achieve huge opening-weekend box-office success.
Do not go to film school expecting to find your artistic voice or vision. Do not go to film school in hopes of getting a better job in the film industry. DO go to film school to learn from your mistakes. Reading the blogs above I disagree, a film degree is worth much more than an Associate Degree. It requires a huge amount of project management skills, artisty, execution, business, and most importantly Entrepreneurship. Go to film school to sharpen your set of tools and ready yourself for a career in moviemaking. If you want to learn how to step up a production from your friend’s garage to an actual set (city permits, on-set medic, fire, animal handlers, weapons, etc.) then you’ll gain that experience. If you’re still nervous and looking to findyour voice and deciding whether this industry is for you, then work on an independent production (they always are looking for help http://www.mandy.com) or sit down and put pen to paper – cheaper than film school and just as difficult.
Bob Ferguson says
I got an easy answer to the question: Should you go to film school. Yes, If you can get a scholarship or someone to pay for it. When I was younger, was presuing a film/tv career in LA. In the 80’s it was who you knew that was most important. I did get a film degree, and moved on to working in the IT Field. Now I think it is a little easier to get noticed. Do’nt go to film school, if you can’nt afford it. Move or Visit Offen, the Cities you want to make films in.
Make your own project, write, direct and film on digital video-Get it on YouTube and Myspace, and if it’s good or memorable Hollywood will contact you. There are many employees in LA now searching the internet for the next ‘big’ thing. Also, I would go to film school ala cart. For example taking a few courses at UCLA. That way you can learn something you do’nt know and will be able to afford the tution. If you have somethig to say, or are outragous I think in this current enviroment, you can make your mark. Also do’nt put all your eggs in the Hollywood basket. Work it part. When I was in LA saw couple people that droped out of film school that did very well. A Accountant who is now a cable series actor, and besides Paris Hillton is famous, just remember that.
Thank you for your perspective – from what I’ve seen, I think you’re right on the money. I wish someone had said exactly that to me before I went to film school!
However, I wouldn’t have listened, and I’ll tell you why. High schoolers have no concept of what it means to be able to “afford” college. As a senior in high school, I thought I could afford it because I could get enough loans to go. I mean, everyone has student loans, right?
Wrong, and the people that do don’t typically have as many as I do. Someone needs to go into high schools with a calculator and say “loans above $XX,XXX will crush you for 10-30 years after you graduate. If you need more loans than that, you actually CAN’T afford it.”
No Budget FilmMaking says
Let me say my point of view on this one. First, we don’t have to be in Film School if we want to learn and create our own video or film. We can learn it on our own. But perhaps, film school can make us expert on film industry.
It’s my personal belief that “film school” is only for people who have the financial means to afford it, if not then your next best bet would be to learn from other films and from life itself.
A word of advice….no degree in the WORLD! is worth 10 to 30 years of debt. Just think about your first home. That on its own can rival your student loans.
Think twice about film school and your future as well as your “financial future”.
I would go to film school Ala cart. For example taking a few courses at UCLA. That way you can learn something you don’t know and will be able to afford the tuition. If you have something to say, or are outrageous I think in this current environment, you can make your mark. Also don’t put all your eggs in the Hollywood basket.
Seth Hymes says
In 2010, Film School is one of the most laughable investments one can legitimately take out a loan for. It’s kind of like going to school for Typewriter Maintenance. Back in the 60s it might have been a good idea to go to film school, because equipment was hard to find and expensive. And back then you couldn’t watch a movie without a projector. Nowadays, all of the so called “advantages” of film school have vanished. The equipment at every major school from NYU to USC to NYFA is sub par and can be purchased for less than the cost of one class. Netflix and online classes abound. The so called “guidance” is a myth. In the industry we refer to these schools as “chop shops”. As many students as possible paying $10K to $30K a year are rushed through these programs. Critique of films is limited to a screening, and a few comments from peers, a letter grade on a synopsis on a paper from a “Professor”. Film School Grads are nothing more than cheap labor holding a boom pole or bringing a Director his coffee on a film set.
There are young people who have made stellar videos and films you can see on YouTube, for a fraction of the cost of even one “class” at a film school.
Filmmaking eBooks says
In an era where film school costs several times more than actually shooting a digital feature, I’d have to say that no, film school is no longer a sound financial investment. Everything that film school can teach you can be learned with a couple of good books (or ebooks), a Netflix membership, and a bunch of time spent with a camera in your hands, then editing the resulting footage in Final Cut Pro or a similar program. As Seth posted above, YouTube is the new film school. Your “classmates” there will let you know whether or not you’re doing good work.
C Barry says
As a former film student I can assure you that film school is not worth the cost and is a waste of an education.
If you are not in advanced mathematics, advanced science, law, medicine, finance or computer science, you have no business in a university program.