If you’re passionate about film, or are interested in working in the film industry, you’ve probably at one point or another expressed interest in going to film school. It’s only natural to want to learn everything there is to know about what you love!
There are plenty of benefits to attending and it’s one of the most “fun” majors you can choose, but is it the right decision for you? In my opinion, if you’re aiming to start getting jobs in the film industry, going to film school is the last thing you should be doing.
In the video below, I talk about my personal experiences with film school and talk about how I don’t regret going, but would definitely not go if I were to do things over again.
Today I’m going to be breaking down the arguments for, and against film school, and why we think you should reconsider your strategy if you want to do anything related to film aside from being an independent filmmaker. Let’s get right into it!
- 1 There Are A Few Good Reasons To Go To Film School…
- 2 Why You Shouldn’t Go To Film School
- 2.1 The industry does not care about your film degree.
- 2.2 You don’t actually need to pay tuition to do the networking.
- 2.3 The investment would be better spent elsewhere.
- 2.4 Most schools won’t teach you what you need to learn to work in the industry.
- 2.5 You don’t need to go to a university to learn about film.
- 2.6 You’ll only further your career if you go the extra mile in school anyways.
- 3 In Conclusion…
There Are A Few Good Reasons To Go To Film School…
Just to clarify, there are several totally valid reasons why going to film school can be a good idea. There are rebuttals for most of them, but the benefits are tangible; Film school is not an absolute waste of time.
It’s great for networking.
There’s no denying that while I was in film school I met tons of awesome people who not only became good friends of mine, but also got me plenty of work once I got out of film school.
Film students are often the future of the industry, and going to a reputable film school increases your chances of becoming best friends and collaborators with the next Scorsese.
While attending, I always thought that if I wasn’t attending school I wouldn’t be able to meet those people. We’ve got something to say about that a bit later.
You will learn a lot about independent filmmaking & the art of film.
Attending film school is genuinely one of the best ways you can learn everything you need to know about Independent Filmmaking and the art of film. You’ll get a formal education on screenwriting, lighting, directing, camera equipment, and anything else related to the creative side of film.
The most useful information I gained during film school was that relating to producing and screenwriting. Having access to large classrooms of students and professors who could give me constructive criticism definitely improved my storytelling skills.
It’s also valuable to have a more balanced understanding of how film works as a whole. It’s not necessary to get work, but the gaffer who understands writing or the costume designer that understands lighting can create more meaningful light.
You should go if it’s free.
If you have a full ride scholarship, you should go without question. The education is definitely worth your time, you’ll have a ton of fun, and you’ll gain access to a bunch of perks like equipment, crew members, and networking events for free.
Besides, the four years in which your expenses are paid for are a great opportunity for you to start practicing making your own films. You’ll also have the ability to volunteer your time on film sets for free – one of the best strategies we detailed in our guide to becoming a production assistant.
Why You Shouldn’t Go To Film School
Now that we’ve established the benefits, lets talk about why there are better uses of your time and money.
The industry does not care about your film degree.
I’m putting this first because it’s the most important.
In all my time in the film industry, not once has any employer cared about whether or not I had a film degree. In fact, more often than not I didn’t even have to submit a resume to get the job.
The few times that I did submit a resume, they didn’t care at all about my degree or the student films I had been a part of. They only wanted to see that I had experience working in the position that they wanted to hire me for. It’s clear that the people doing the hiring in the industry understand what it’s like to hire a film student.
If you’re interested in becoming a professor of film, or a film critic in a respected publication, a degree in film may be an absolute requirement. For all other industry work however, your experience (and your reel if interviewing for a creative position) will be the only things examined by potential employers.
Jobs in film are driven by word of mouth more than almost any other industry in the world. Getting hired can either be incredibly fast and easy, or downright impossible, based on who you know and what they think of you. This segues well into our next reason.
You don’t actually need to pay tuition to do the networking.
The most compelling argument for film school is that it is where you meet the important collaborators who will help make your dreams come true.
But what if we told you that you didn’t actually need to enroll in order to meet these people and make these connections? Here’s three ways you can do the film school networking, without paying the film school price.
1. Casting Calls
As a former film student myself, I know that film students are constantly putting out casting calls for their films. Their crews are also often very shorthanded, and most people
If you’re interested in dabbling in acting, you can audition and probably land a part in their shorts. If you don’t get the part, or don’t care about acting, you can volunteer to help on their films. You’ll certainly be accepted, and if you work hard, they’ll keep calling you back to help on more! Not only will you be getting tons of valuable experience, but you’ll also be making lasting partners that you’ll have for years to come.
When I was in film school, there was a large group of people I knew that comprised the local “indie/student” community. While a majority of these were film students, many of them were just small time actors taking any roles they could. They were as well-known as any film student, and got access to all the opportunities without having to actually go to class.
2. Networking Events
Film schools have regular mixers and networking events, and often times nobody cares if non-students are attending! Check the website of your local university’s film school for details, and submit your e-mail to subscribe to their newsletter if they have one.
I formed several important connections at these networking events while I was in school that ended up actually getting me work in the long run. Plus, the fact that you “snuck” in is a great icebreaker!
3. Talking With Professors
Finally, you shouldn’t forget that professors usually prioritize educating others over anything else. In most cases, professors became teachers because they love educating others and helping people become better filmmakers.
They have no incentive to care about whether or not the people they are helping are actually paying tuition. Quite honestly, they’re probably dealing with more than a few apathetic students who don’t pay any attention and waste their time.
If you approach one of these professors after (not during) a lecture, or during their office hours, they will likely be very enthusiastic to help someone so interested in learning.
Note: Don’t bug them with dozens of film related questions. Instead, tell them you are extremely eager for opportunities, and curious about what events are coming up that can help further your career in film. Let them know you’ll do anything, even work for free. You might even be able to assist them on one of their personal projects!
If digging to find their office feels too creepy for you, just get their e-mail address off the internet and shoot them an E-mail! Remember, the worst thing that can happen is that they ignore you, or tell you no. You are not doing anything illegal, or even immoral. You’re simply being very proactive with your networking.
Bonus: We’ve actually written a few guides on how you can efficiently network and get jobs in the film industry. We’ll link them here.
The investment would be better spent elsewhere.
Without scholarships and financial help, you’re going to end up paying between 60-100k or even more than that for your bachelors degree in film.
That same amount of money could be invested in camera equipment to give you everything you need to make film-festival quality movies, or to hire crew. You could even get free crew members by reaching out to film students with the opportunities you’re creating!
If you’re committed to using the money on education, realize that paying for a one-on-one instructor is pretty reasonably priced when compared to an accredited university (especially if you end up dorming).
Or, you could even just use that money to live off of while you shadow filmmakers and work for free. Again, working for free is one of the fastest ways to get your name out there and prove your value as a crew member.
Most schools won’t teach you what you need to learn to work in the industry.
Now, we didn’t do an audit of every single film school in the country, but in the experience of myself and my film industry peers, most film schools do not properly prepare you for the industry whatsoever.
Film school is typically geared towards the cinematic arts and learning about the process of independent filmmaking. If you only care about those two facets, it’s a great tool. In my experience however, most people who enroll in film school are enticed by the idea of being a part of major motion pictures.
Film school does not prepare you for the reality that you’ll be working 60-80 hours a week in just about any film industry position. It also doesn’t tell you that unless you’re going the indie route, you’ll likely be doing boring, non-creative PA work for a really long time.
The most important thing absent from my formal film education was on-set protocol. Although I was able to make industry friends who prevented me from committing any major faux-pas, this was definitely not the case for many of my classmates.
In fact, I watched several of my peers get their first PA jobs only to have their reputations immediately ruined for not understanding how to behave on a film set.
You don’t need to go to a university to learn about film.
If you aren’t a very good self-directed learner and struggle with reading books on your own, you could even take private film bootcamps. There are tons of great YouTube channels making content on film form and history, and many websites (like us) that can teach you the things you need to know to succeed in the industry.
Since the advent of the internet, we’ve had the ability to learn about anything we need to know for either free, or very little cost.
Also, most of the classes I took in college were derived from a single book that the professor was a fan of. Simply reading the book alone would’ve been almost as effective as the course, and I wouldn’t have had to waste a bunch of time while the teacher dealt with other students.
You’ll only further your career if you go the extra mile in school anyways.
This applies to pretty much every industry in this day-and-age.
Many students believe that by putting in the work and getting good grades, they are promised a job upon graduation based on those merits alone.
Unfortunately, with how competitive the marketplace is in this day-and-age, just getting the degree and the knowledge is far from enough. If you aren’t making an effort to take part in internships, and work on people’s films, you won’t have any opportunities or connections when you get out anyways.
A lot of people from my school went on to great things, but they were all the people who were taking advantage of every opportunity and internship. For every student participating and putting themselves out there, there were 8-9 students who just coasted, took classes, and ended up working in retail once they graduated.
Your results are largely dependent on the things you are doing outside of class, so why even bother with class to begin with?
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make the right call about whether or not film school is the right choice for you. There’s plenty of valid points to both sides of the argument, but you’re the only one who knows what is best for you.
In closing, we’d like to invite you to ask yourself, “Why am I going to film school?“. If it’s a part of a concrete plan, or something you won’t need to go into debt for, it might just be a good idea.
However, if you’re doing it because you don’t know what to do next in life, or because you’re being forced into picking a major, you should probably spend a little more time thinking about your future first.
Please feel free to debate us in the comment section below. We answer all of them!