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Should I go to Film School & is a Film Degree Worth it

Should I go to Film School

When I decided to quit my job & pursue a career as a director, I had a lot of questions. The biggest two being, ‘Should I go to film school?’ and ‘Is a film degree worth it?’. I was worried that if I didn’t go to school I would never be able to thrive as a director. In my mind, a degree from film school was less about what I would learn and more about providing a degree of legitimacy. I was obsessed with all the famous directors who went to film school. This should not come as a surprise, but in over a decade, not one employer has asked to see my degree. However, as a budding videographer with minimal guidance, the question continued to linger in my mind.

I wasn’t ready to commit to a full-time course load, partially due to time constraints, but largely because I did not have the cash. This financial limitation pushed me to reflect on my time attending acting school two years prior. I questioned if I had gained enough beneficial knowledge from those two years to compensate for the cost. The honest answer was no. I realized that the only time I genuinely improved and challenged myself as an actor was when my friends and I got together and produced short films, among other thoughtful projects. I could have engineered my education organically, without paying thousands of dollars to an institution.


Should I Go to Film School


Should I go to Film School?

Attending various courses sounded enticing; I was eager to address my insecurities in videography credentials. I devoted time into researching different schools and even visited a few that appeared the strongest. I compared costs, which ranged from $50,000 to $200,000. Some of the larger institutions had truly impressive programs. They would advertise some bigwig who went there and allude to the fact that as an alum, you have a significantly better chance of working with them. Each program seemed to boast only a few success stories, failing to mention the countless students who slipped through the cracks after graduation and are now serving the coffee I drink as I write this article. Ultimately, I settled on a compromise, I would attend New York Film Academy’s three month bootcamp. The program was roughly $8,000. After travel, room and board, the whole experience came to approximately $14,000. Following course completion, I sat down and asked myself ‘What did I learn from this course?’. The painful reality was that not one lesson significantly improved my insights; it was acting school all over again.

Should I Go to Film School

Is film school worth it

Once you understand the general principles of any craft, each new book will only help with marginal improvements, important as those may be. On that note, one book I would recommend (it is actually a series of three books) is called Master Shots (Link). For me, the best way to further expand my education and get past what felt like a plateau in this field was to make Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound goals, or S.M.A.R.T. goals. For example, by taking a book like Master Shots and executing the assignments within a set timeframe or committing to producing at least one hour of footage each week, even if it’s just fun videos on YouTube. Just like any skill, to master it, you must be disciplined. The more you can laser focus on your goals and take productive action, the more your skills will blossom.

The single best element of any type of formal education is the content creation. Students learn to make movies by actually making movies, not just by watching, criticizing, or analyzing them. I fully admit that watching movies and reading about the industry can provide useful insight, but you are not going to learn anything substantial until you go out and try for yourself. Remember, this is an art form. No one has any business telling you what is worth creating. Some of the best movies make little to no sense if critiqued by the technical elements taught in school. Take David Lynch, for example: most professors could easily point out the holes in his plots or talk about inconsistencies in character development. If you have time, check out the following clips:

David Lynch Clip

Is film school worth it

David Lynch Clip 2

Should I go to film school 

The characters in these clips make no sense to the storyline: they show up for a few minutes and are never seen again, but you never forget them. Lynch breaks the traditional formula of storytelling through film. As a result, we have incredibly innovative scenes that have progressed the craft.

I have a friend who is a big advocate of formal education. Unsurprising, since he graduated from one of the best film colleges in the country. He argues that the program provided enough structure and incentive to keep him focused and on track. My counterpoint to this is simply, what happens after graduation? You still have to get a job in this notoriously competitive industry. The potential connections made in class could help with that, but the key word here is potential. Think of the thousands of Americans that graduate each year with some form of arts degree, and go on to do anything but make use of that degree. Their dreams didn’t magically disappear; sadly, they were not set up for success. I can tell you the school I attended definitely did not motivate me to stay with this craft. Many prestigious schools highly restrict camera access until junior year.

As a freshman and sophomore, the curriculum is predominately conceptual material, which is valuable, but a fraction of the cost and just as beneficial if delivered through Amazon’s Audible or Skillshare, or some other online education platform. I know of one instance where the senior project was a class-made feature film. Mind you, this is the capstone project of your four years at film school. In this scenario, each student gets assigned one job. So, you might get lucky and end up as the director. Or, you could get stuck in the lighting department or props or sound or any other post-production task. All of those positions are important and crucial to have some exposure to, but my point is to make sure that the curriculum is designed with your interests in mind and not just the interests of the institution.

Point blank, don’t go to film school. I know for me, that was the right decision. That feeling was reinforced when after four years, my film school friends slowly started to ask me for a job. With the majority carrying no practical experience, I unfortunately had to turn most of them down. So focus on creating quality content. Work on projects that you are passionate about or projects that will get you paid, but make sure you know the difference. If it is a money job, use the cash to buy more equipment or otherwise move your business along. If you are considering a four year school, consider a short program first and see how you like it.One more for the road: teachers can sometimes pass their limiting beliefs onto their students. I remember hearing a professor telling one of my buddies, Jakob Owens, that his dream of being a music video director was stupid and he wouldn’t make an actual living if he pursued that. Five years later, he is one of the top music video directors in the world with millions of followers on Youtube and Instagram. He has even written multiple books about the industry all before the age of 30. Look him up, he is crushing it! My point is that if you do end up pursuing formal education, be careful not to drink the Kool-Aid too much and become another critic with minimal work to show. You might be asking yourself how to get into the film industry without a degree. Be better than everyone else. If you work on something long enough and hard enough, there will be a tipping point where you become so good people cannot ignore your work.

Is a film degree worth it

A picture of a bunch of cameras at film school.

Is a film degree worth it

If you decide not to attend school, take that time and money you would have spent and produce something that you are passionate about. There is no substitute for authentic action. Start by making short films; do not worry about spending money on an expensive camera. They are for practice, but they will help you learn the production process and get you ready for a feature film.

Is a film degree worth it?

In conclusion, the best rationale for attending film school is the experience itself and the friendships you will form. These could be people you build lasting relationships with and work with for years to come. Should I go to film school? If the answer for you is yes, be sure to truly evaluate the film making courses for their curriculum. Pick a school that is heavily oriented towards creating content, not just a school that made it on the list of Best Film Schools 2020. Is a film degree worth it? I personally say no for the simple fact no one has asked ever to see my degree and sometimes the better programs are ones with no degree. I also say no because your time is best spent making projects, and if you are buried in books, you are not working. Unless your dream job requires a bachelors degree, a film school is not going to open any additional doors that you can’t open for yourself.

Is film school worth it