August 5, 2015

10 Reasons Not to Go to Film School

Film School Practical Guide to an Impractical Decision by Jason B Kohl

The following appears as a chapter in the new book Film School: A Practical Guide to an Impractical Decision (out today on paperback from Focal Press).

As the founder of a website named No Film School, I should first state that I actually agree with the ten reasons author Jason B. Kohl gives for going to film school in his book Film School: A Practical Guide to an Impractical Decision. We are not named No Film School because we are against the concept of film school; we are named No Film School because not everyone has geographic access or the financial wherewithal to go to film school, and we want to make valuable filmmaking information available to everyone. 

For many prospective students, film school will be a career-boosting, connection-making, work ethic-encouraging choice. Indeed, sometimes I wonder where I would be right now if I had gone to film school myself. It's been fourteen years since I won my first filmmaking award, and I'm only now on the cusp of getting my first feature made. Had I gone to film school, would that have accelerated my career as a writer/director? You never know  and that's what makes the decision hard for so many students.

I want to make it clear that to argue against going to film school is not to argue against the benefits of education and hard work. Jason notes in his book, "Mozart famously practiced until his fingers were crooked. The only way to get to greatness is to get your fingers on the keys and keep them there." I could not agree with this statement more! But nowadays you don't need to go to film school to get your fingers on the keys — or cameras. The decision to go to film school in the 21st century has changed entirely in a digital, connected era, and it's these changes that I'm going to focus on.

Here are ten reasons not to go to film school:

1. It has never been more expensive to go to film school, and it has never been cheaper to make a movie

The internet has disrupted a laundry-list of previously irreproachable institutions, and specialized schools — especially film schools — are prime examples. We are living in an age when digital tools have drastically lowered the cost of shooting, editing, and distributing movies, and they have democratized the ability to make a movie. We are also living in an age when, in my lifetime, the cost of higher education has outpaced the cost of inflation by a factor of five. Thus, and it bears repeating, it has never been more expensive to go to film school, and it has never been cheaper to make a movie. Financially, film school makes less sense than ever.

2. Many of your favorite filmmakers didn't go to film school

Some of today's top directors didn't graduate from film school: Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Spike Jonze, to name a few (a couple of those guys — and I'm sorry these offhand examples are all male — dropped out of film school, in fact). Of course, you also can find plenty of famous directors who went to film school. But when pointing out famous film school alumni like George Lucas, Martin Scorcese, or Francis Ford Coppola, keep in mind that many of them enrolled in a very different era. The next two reasons highlight two of the major differences between film school back when movies were actually shot on film, and film school today.

If you think you need that super expensive cinema camera, keep in mind that for almost all film students, the camera is never the obstacle to making a quality film

3. You don't need access to expensive celluloid equipment

One of the primary reasons to go to film school back when Scorcese et al. attended was to gain access to the tools. 35mm or Super 16 equipment was too expensive to own, and celluloid film was much more costly to shoot on and edit. Back in their day, the only way to get a high quality image that didn't immediately scream "amateur" was to shoot on film. Video cameras yielded interlaced, smeary footage that seldom worked for narratives. Nowadays, however, most films are shot digitally, and the 24 frame-per-second, shallow depth-of-field aesthetic that is the generally accepted motion picture standard is attainable as a setting in almost every digital camera. Today, you can approximate the film look on a camera costing a few hundred dollars. I cannot tell you how lucky you are to be getting into this today! When I was getting my start, we were shooting on VHS cameras, and the gap between what was possible for us and what was possible for a "real" movie was never wider. If you think you need that super expensive cinema camera, keep in mind that for almost all film students, the camera is never the obstacle to making a quality film. Focus your energy elsewhere; gaining access to equipment is no longer a good reason to go to film school.

4. Every movie and book is at your fingertips

Classic, avant-garde, and generally obscure films used to be hard to get your hands on. The school's archives, once upon a time, were a great way to see movies you couldn't see anywhere else. But 99% of the movies you'll see in film school today are available online (or even on "old fashioned" media like DVDs). Many film schools have excellent film libraries, including out-of-print films, but in the face of six figures of debt, seeing a rare 35mm print of a classic is a luxury, not a game-changer. In addition to film libraries, book libraries have also moved online, and that gives you the ability to create your own critical studies course. A few trips to Amazon — be sure to check out the topical user-created lists — and you can get yourself a set of film history and theory books. You can even browse many syllabi online and read the exact same books they're reading in the high-priced classroom.... on your own. Access to a physical library is no longer a good reason to go to film school.

5. A film degree is optional

It's easier to justify the cost of a specialized graduate program in a field that requires a specialized degree: for example, if you didn't get a law or medical degree, good luck starting your own practice. But no one puts "directed by so-and-so, Ph.D" in the credits. At least if you graduate from law school, the job applicant pool will be narrowed down to others who also spent a lot of time and money passing the bar. If you graduate from film school, on the other hand, the job applicant pool will consist of other film school graduates like you... and everyone who didn't spend any time or money on film school too. You're putting a lot of stock in that one line on your resume.

Finally, unlike lawyers or dentists, the vast majority of filmmakers don't make a lot of money. Offsetting the cost of your student loan is a lot harder when you can't bill $500 an hour for a legal consultation or $2,000 for putting a crown in someone's mouth. Often it takes years of grunt/free/spec work to work your way up a well-paying film gig. Paradoxically, what this means in practice is that a lot of more lucrative, non-film jobs are going to end up looking more attractive after you graduate from film school because of the debt attached to your expensive film degree.

Focus on your own personal needs by examining and acknowledging what kind of learning environment is best for you.

6. Not everyone learns best in the classroom

Different students learn best via different methods. Some are visual learners, others auditory. Some need guidance and encouragement while others thrive when left to their own devices. Personally speaking, I was never a great student in the context of a classroom environment. After graduating from college with a decidedly average GPA, however, I learned that in the context of the real world it turns out I'm a very hard worker. There was something about the classroom — or more likely, something about being told what to do by an authority figure — that failed to motivate me. I knew that I would be better off cutting my teeth outside the insular environment of the classroom — but that is not true for everyone. Don't focus on general debates (like this one) about what is "best," as there is no one-size-fits-all approach; instead, focus on your own personal needs by examining and acknowledging what kind of learning environment is best for you.

7. Lessons and answers can be found on websites, forums, and DVD special features

Film used to be an industry where the secrets were closely guarded. Movies were considered magic because so few people actually understood how they were put together. But since the advent of DVD special features and behind-the-scenes breakdowns, the doors have been blown open to anyone to discover how a film is made. Don't underestimate the impact of director's commentaries and "making of" features... which are not tied at all to film school.

Similarly, you can learn a lot about film online, where some of these behind-the-scenes materials live today (with the demise of the DVD). I won't name particular websites because, well, you're reading this on one, but beyond tutorials and case studies and interviews, the internet also offers a great place to ask any questions you have. For example, I didn't know how to write an expression in Adobe After Effects, so I posted my question in an online forum for filmmakers. A fellow filmmaker showed up and not only helped me with the issue — he actually wrote the expression for me. It was amazingly helpful, and I would've been hard pressed to find a classmate who had that expertise. At this point I probably sound like a broken record for touting the internet so much, but it is the most important invention of our lifetimes, so here's one more for good measure:

8. An online network

Of the ten reasons Jason lists in his book, I personally think "a professional network" is far and away the most important benefit to going to film school. Capable and collaborative classmates are tangible benefits you can see and touch for years to come, as opposed to abstract concepts like "knowledge" and "craft." Just kidding (and don't touch your classmates unless they want you to). However, if you live somewhere where you're not able to find proficient, like-minded collaborators, that to me is the largest obstacle to getting work made in your current locale. This was the reason I left my home state of North Carolina and moved to New York.

But... again, there's this thing called the internet! Millions of people network and even find work through social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and yes, No Film School. I felt my physical location was important, thus I moved to NYC, but you don't need to pay a school in order to pack up and relocate. Instead, I used the internet to network, and got hired at MTV. Not everyone will be so lucky — but anytime you can get paid to learn, that is a better route to new opportunities than accumulating debt.

9. You'll probably make it (or not!) either way

Media titan Barry Diller once said, "there's not that much talent in the world, and talent always outs." Which is to say, if you're going to make it, you'll find a way — regardless of how long it takes, and regardless of the particular obstacles you encounter. Film school can help you become a better filmmaker — it can refine what's already there, and it may accelerate your development (and debt) — but if you don't have the motivation and grit necessary to overcome the disappointments and failures you are sure to encounter, even the most prestigious degree won't help. If you've got what it takes, you'll eventually make it, whether you go to film school or not! In light of Diller's reasoning, it's harder to argue for paying to learn (in a school) over getting paid to learn (in a job).

Your perspective on the world is more important than any amount of craft or production value.

10. The most instructive school... is the school of the hard knocks

They can teach you in school how to say what you're trying to say, but they can't teach you what to say. With the six figures you're likely to spend on film school, what would happen if you instead spent that traveling the world, reading a lot of books, doing odd jobs or volunteer work, and meeting a lot of people along the way? Your perspective on the world is more important than any amount of craft or production value. If you skip film school to travel the world and you're insecure about your understanding of the 180-degree rule, read the Wikipedia entry on it and be on your way. If, in the course of your travels, you discover that you're not interested in being a filmmaker after all, that's probably for the better too, because you would've realized that eventually — this way you didn't spend all of that money on a degree in film first! Live life and discover what makes you unique — that is something no school can give you.

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Film School: A Practical Guide to an Impractical Decision

If these reasons helped push you toward not going to film school, great! If after reading these reasons, you still feel like film school makes sense for you, also great! There is no right answer that applies to everyone.

I should note that the cost of film school varies drastically from school to school. If the economics of a well-known, faraway film school don't work out for you, there may be a public school closer to home that offers film studies for in-state tuition at a fraction of the cost. These schools can be wonderful options if you want the structure and guidance of a proper film program. Also, if your family is on board with the idea of you becoming a filmmaker, and they can also afford to cut a check without you bearing the burden of student loans, then the calculation is also different. Finally, I want to note that majoring in film as an undergrad generally works out to be the same cost as majoring in anything else. These reasons not to go to film school focus on expensive, specialized graduate programs that will tack on additional student loans. 

If you are going to film school, my one piece of advice is this: don't think you're better than anyone. If you look around the classroom and think you're the best writer/director/DP/editor in the room: forget about it. Plenty of people with more talent than you have failed in this difficult industry. Unlike in a sport like track and field, for example, there are few ways of objectively measuring and rewarding ability in film — and it can be incredibly difficult just to gain access to the track, as it were. It might take decades to find your niche, your approach, and your voice, so if you're enrolling in a film school (or not, for that matter), my advice is to stay humble... and make friends.      

Excerpted from Film School: A Practical Guide to an Impractical Decision. Author Jason Kohl's book is a specific, straightforward guide to applying, getting into, and thriving in film school and in the industry in general. Not only does this book appeal to both prospective and current film students, it also features an in depth discussion of the application process, both from the graduate and undergraduate perspective. You will learn how to choose between different schools and programs, avoid debt, succeed at festivals, and transition out of film school and into the work world. Whether you are a recent film school graduate, or just starting the application process, Film School gives important advice and insider knowledge that will help you learn and grow in the film industry. Film School is a must-have for anyone who wants to know what it takes to succeed in film school and beyond.

Your Comment

39 Comments

This article should be titled "10 Reasons Not to Go to Film School if you want to work in the film industry". Not everyone that goes to film school wants to make independent films, or be a director or a cinematographer. Now a good majority sure, this article is pretty near spot on. But on the flip side I got more out of my degree than just how to use a camera and critique a film. Honestly the biggest things I took away from film school was the chance to just make films and not have to worry about making money off of them or getting them distributed while at the same time making some of the best friends I know today. I wouldn't have gotten the internship that eventually turned into a job and most importantly college was an overall great experience. I know not everyone has the means to go to school and not everyone works well in that setting but for me I have no regrets.

tl;dr film school was awesome.

August 5, 2015 at 3:36PM

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Austin Crow
Filmmaker/Photographer
238

Great statement Austin. Of course, many of us would LOVE to be able to work in the film industry, BUT there is a whole industry out there that WILL require a degree from you. I ran into more road blocks because I didn't have a degree in digital film and video, or multimedia degree, or anything related to this subject. SO, yes, if your sole focus is to only make films and try to break into the film industry, then you probably don't need film school. I mean I had to serve 10 years in the Navy before I could afford to attend film school. But now I've grown a larger network all across the country and have had opportunities to work on so many diverse projects, big and small.

August 6, 2015 at 12:56PM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
604

Thank you! Well said.

August 7, 2015 at 1:45PM

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Austin Crow
Filmmaker/Photographer
238

I was so exited when I finally got the chance of going to film school, but after expending a couple of years there, I realized that I already knew everything they tried to teach me regarding cinematography. I figured out that school will give you 2 things, knowledge and contacts, at least get one of those.

August 5, 2015 at 3:59PM, Edited August 5, 4:01PM

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Edgar More
All
1028

Agree!!

August 5, 2015 at 6:10PM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1019

I agree. Whether you choose to or not to go to film school in both cases you need to know that a good filmmaker is a well rounded person. That means that you need to have a broad knowledge of everything and be a good observer of things around you. In film school I was constantly working on a project.
Film school helped shoot my first movie without spending a penny in the equipment.
You don't have to attend necessary an expensive film school. There are some good film programs at the community college in your area.
I made good contact in film school. If you can

August 6, 2015 at 10:12AM

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Menelikk
Computer Scientist/Film Director
222

I think one distinctive advantage film school has over not going is building that network. Film is collaborative. You can definitely network out of school, but film school already has that built in network where most students are like minded. I know sometimes you have to sift through sucky people to find that group who actually has a passion for film-making. And for me, it's always cool to call up someone if I need help with a project.

August 5, 2015 at 4:25PM

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Tony
359

One of the main reasons I want to go to film school, is because I miss being able to spend as much time as I want to making films. When I was still in regular school, I didn't have any economical pressure, and I had all the time in the world, which resulted in tons of of hours spent on practicing and making movies.

After school I wanted to keep doing it, so I started my own company, but during the two years I worked for myself, I couldn't find any time to do what I wanted to do. All I did was making boring infomercials and commercials so I had enough money to pay for rent and food. During those two years I only made two shorts (around 3 minutes each) and two music videos. The rest were jobs to maintain an income.

Instead, I chose to get a regular job, so I could save up money for movie making and/or go to film school. Now I work 10-13 hours a day, and I'm almost never off during weekends, which is the best time to gather people and make movies, because they also have day jobs. I try to do as much film as I possibly can, but that leaves me no time to sleep. So during these two years I've had a regular job, I've also not been able to make movies.

However, I have saved up enough to go to a film school, and I really miss being able to just spend ALL my time and energy on making films, and to me that is something I really miss. That's why I've chosen to apply for film schools.

August 5, 2015 at 5:21PM, Edited August 5, 5:23PM

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Daniel Jek
Editor/Colorist
119

#6 is THE most important one. By far.

I was a miserable student but I pick things up really quickly when I teach myself through trial and error. Learning disability? Probably. Either way, film school would have been the wrong decision for me.

That said, it's probably the right decision for others. I can see how going at it on your own could be equally discouraging.

Ultimately, if you know yourself and have taken time to become confident as a human being...the answer should be as clear as day. If you're young and you don't quite know who you are yet, maybe get an Associates in business while you finish maturing?

If you go it alone (without film school) learning the basics of business will pay itself off exponentially.

August 5, 2015 at 5:56PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2380

i think that going to a film school is not a must yet it helps a lot technically speaking
If you are a lover of short films and similar stuff please Like , Share and Subscribe to the following link PLEASE !

SUBSCRIBE TO POKER VIRAL FILMS

April 18, 2017 at 7:06AM

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You do not have to go to film school!

But you should still read all the filmmaking books, watch all the films, surround yourself with others who share your interest, find mentors who will answer your questions, get access to equipment, work on low budget sets for free, etc. Harder than it sounds.

There is definitely no "one right answer" for this, but Jason Kohl's book should be the first thing anyone reads before going.

August 5, 2015 at 6:07PM

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Interesting Article, yet, one wonders, what is the specific purpose? Is it merely to create debate, or is it more meaningful? If the reason to go to film School is to get hands on equipment, or at least was the reason, I think the students misunderstood. Surely it was more about learning the 'business' of filmmaking?! The financing of a filming, the building of a team, the ability to coordinate efforts and understand the abilities and traits of team members, the opportunity to flex one's creative muscle in a collaborative and structured environment with guidance and standardised administration and processes...

Filmmaking is an art, yes, but it is also a business, and there are a lot of legal parameters around this that most people just won't understand without at least some formal form of education in these areas. Whether or not someone pays for this education, it matters nay--- one is at school either way, whether paid, or paying to undergo that education... one way or another, a person must learn their craft, and it costs no matter what. A formal education facility helps someone to understand the legal side of things and the business process side of the world they are interested in entering... surely that's what film school is all about, not equipment and connections, but Quality, Quantified and Proven Key Knowledge!

For the record, I didn't go to film school, I went to Business School and hold a Masters in Project Management, but I also have a military career behind me and a civilian career in the business world. On the side I have always made film or created something of artistic form and value. I am a very creative person, and sometimes my limited skills prevent my visions being realised, but I have never been prevented from trying. That being said... no matter what it was, even if profit was made from sales of associated materials, the experience cost money and time, and I was 'at school' while learning and making mistakes at my own behest and drive! Would change nothing, it has driven me to be the person I am today and hopefully it will lead to others enjoying and appreciating what others may consider to be insanity in my own self-designed feature: #Ex70N. Without the experience, costs and education behind me from the last almost 30 years though, it wouldn't be possible to take these steps.

August 5, 2015 at 6:15PM, Edited August 5, 6:22PM

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Seán Ó Cearrúlláin
Project Manager / Author
101

Well said

August 6, 2015 at 10:17AM

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Menelikk
Computer Scientist/Film Director
222

thank you.

August 6, 2015 at 5:09PM

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Seán Ó Cearrúlláin
Project Manager / Author
101

#7 is the most real thing ever. I was in school during the DSLR revolution and learned on DV tapes. After graduating a learned a ton online. Kids today have to good!

August 5, 2015 at 6:28PM

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Walter Wallace
Spokesperson/Entrepreneur
585

Wrong on so many levels. Let's go over the paragraphs one by one:

1. "It has never been more expensive to go to film school, and it has never been cheaper to make a movie"
Sewing tools have also never been cheaper. Doesn't make you any better at sewing, if your dream of ever becoming a master of the trade. Take this metaphor as far as you'd like - it still works.
2. "Many of your favorite filmmakers didn't go to film school"
Not "many", no. Some. A chosen few, in fact. The vast majority did. Such exceptions exist for pretty much every field. Einstein was a mediocre student (not failing, though). Doesn't make any other mediocre student any more of an Einstein.
3. "You don't need access to expensive celluloid equipment"
Same as paragraph 1. Yes, tools are accessible. Mastering a craft is never solely (or even mainly) about having access to the tools, and it's foolish to think otherwise.
4. "Every movie and book is at your fingertips"
That is more or less true. You do have online or other access to most critical film and academic assets.
5. "A film degree is optional"
That's a truism. Nobody goes to film school for the degree. Even though having access later on to advanced grad school learning is not negligible.
6. "Not everyone learns best in the classroom"
To some degree - true. It might not be all fun and games. Learning is difficult, doing what you don't necessarily like right now - is difficult. But most of the time you'll benefit in the long run from training your mind and film-making skills, as you're required in film school.
7. "Lessons and answers can be found on websites, forums, and DVD special features"
Do you think attending film school is about knowing by heart all After Effects expressions? How is this a good example for anything? Yes, there are online resources. Attending an academic institution is not nearly the same experience as watching a youtube how-to. Or a bunch of them.
8."An online network"
No working film professional in the industry has ever relied on the net to be his main creative and working environment. Yes, you can network, you can even get the occasional job, but ask any serious industry professional, any prolific and respected film creator, and he'll tell you it's always about collaborating with real people and like-minded creative friends you actually know from real life. Film school is not the only, but by far the best opportunity to establish such connections for the long run.
9. "You'll probably make it (or not!) either way"
In other words - you can't polish a turd, right? Yes and no. Film school, if you're at least half-serious about what you're trying to accomplish, will force you to think, to make actual movies during your studies and not just sit on your ass. Motivation is crucial. Film school gives you artificial motivation, which can jump start your real motivation once you become sort of good in what you want to do. Of course, if you're hopeless and you don't even have the motivation to not fail classes - you're not gonna amount to much anyway; but most people (who seriously consider proper education, that is) are neither shining diamonds nor entirely hopeless, they need that first push - and then they just might have enough inertia to keep them going and eventually amount to something. This inertia is also the creative network of people around you, who more often than not - will motivate you to push yourself, do more and be better.
10. "The most instructive school... is the school of the hard knocks"
"Live life and discover what makes you unique — that is something no school can give you." - True. And once you know the world and yourself - go to actual film school if you want to make actual (good) films about all of that. Yes, film school is more about HOW and less about WHAT. It's pretty much entirely up to you. If you've got nothing to say after film school - you'll never make truly great movies, no matter how good is your craftsmanship. But *professionalism* is about HOW. This is important: every great film you love - you actually love it because of HOW it was made. Every frame, every cut, every camera movement, every line of the script, every actors' delivery - is absolutely specific and unique. If a film made you think about an idea, a concept, about life itself or anything else, if a film made you feel some deep emotion - it's because it masterfully used a precise set of tools to put that thought in your head or that emotion in your heart. And that's what great filmmaking is about.

August 5, 2015 at 6:46PM, Edited August 5, 6:49PM

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Gleb Volkov
Director of Photography
347

Every good learning material today on the net is not free at all. You will have to pay for seminars and good workshops.
It depends on your goal in life. not everybody has the means to go go to film school.
I think that there are some people in life who have it naturally . Others have to study, learn before they can get it.
I finished my associate in Graphic design and my master in computer sce before going to film school. the difference was clear between me and other classmates.
This article said so many things the wrong way.

August 6, 2015 at 10:57AM, Edited August 6, 10:57AM

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Menelikk
Computer Scientist/Film Director
222

There is truth and fact in each of the ten points excerpted in the article. What film school gives you could also probably be enumerated to ten or even more, but the two that I find the most valuable about film school are [1] you will be pushed to do the foundational stuff. It's a wonderful fantasy to think that erstwhile, budding filmmakers will have the discipline to push themselves into even the shallow end of the pool with regard to gaining what is to be learned (and needs to be learned) of film history and film theory. No self-respecting fine arts approach to painting would say, "just learn the brush strokes and mixing your paints and how to work on canvas -- don't bother with studying the masters." Yet, I know that without a directed push from an instructor and the threat of an exam over their heads, few filmmakers would sit down and take in "Ivan the Terrible" or "M" or "Birth of a Nation" or about a thousand others that have so much to impart. And even if they did decide to sit down and read treatises by Bazin or Fassbinder (the filmmaker, not the actor), who will be there as a professor would to help digest and interpret the material?

And [2] there is an immense amount to be learned and gained from other students in the classes when in film school. Not just in a "networking" sense, but in craft, skill and aesthetic senses. Learning from choices and mistakes made by others at the same stage in their progressions as artists and storytellers is an often unspoken or unacknowledged benefit of structured learning.

I know the author has a take on things and is more trying to sell books than create a class war (no pun intended), and I don't fault the author for any of that. In the end though, we (as filmmakers, and as audiences) end up with the films we deserve. Just because Quentin self-taught himself over long nights at the video store counter (or so the legend would have us believe), it doesn't mean it would work for everyone or that it should be recommended or seen as an excusal. Who among us has not complained about the dearth of well-crafted films on multiplex screens these days? Well, if you give permission to the new creators to skip the classical study of the art / entertainment form in which they work, then you end up with films that feel as if no one was at the wheel when they needed to be.

Yes, it's true -- if you can make great films without going to film school, then you don't need to go. Unfortunately, that is no more than marginally more likely than a great tax attorney who never went to law school or a great orthopedist who never formally studied the human form. And yes, equipment is cheaper and more available to new filmmakers than ever before -- and that is a good thing -- but thinking you're a filmmaker because you own a camera would be akin to thinking that owning a car makes you a Formula 1 driver.

While I will likely not avail myself of the new book, I do love this site and its purpose. I read articles from it almost daily. And I easily grant that film school as a concept is indeed overrated and overpriced. It has been from the 70s onward when NYU, USC, UCLA, AFI and others were churning out superstars. However, I have never heard Scorsese, Coppola, Lucas (George or Marcia), Di Palma or any of the others out of those schools say that they would have made films just as good had they not gone to film school.

If I could just watch more contemporary films where there was someone at the wheel, I wouldn't care a whit what it took (or didn't) to turn the creators into those kinds of filmmaker.

August 5, 2015 at 7:00PM

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Greg Anderson
Director | Producer | Writer
72

I chose film school because there actually was an affordable option that was also highly rated, and located in my home state. In addition the school offered me access to a lot of incredibly expensive and proffesional gear that allowed my production value to increase at no extra cost to myself. Ultimatly though its all about your personal situation and who you are as an idividual, either way as long as you are making films thats really all that matters.

August 5, 2015 at 9:37PM

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Kevin Stratton
Director of Photography
76

1) Think about shit.
2) Write it down.
3) Learn the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
4) Learn composition, 180 rule, various effects of DOF and basic 3 point lighting.
5) Learn to see lighting ratios the way your camera sees them (very important).
6) Buy a tripod.
7) Buy a camera.
8) Buy an assortment of ND filters.
9) Make a reflector out of foam-core.
10) Buy a digital recorder a shotgun mike and a lav. mike.
11) Buy a wide, medium and medium long lens.
12) Shoot, shoot, shoot.......................
13) Join a film-making group.
Appreciate the fact........that a single SD card can hold up to....and maybe more than 1 hour of content...... A 60 minute movie shot on 35mm would cost about $2200 for a basic work print.....that would then have to be digitized.
Congratulations! You are now a filmmaker.
DO IT!

August 6, 2015 at 6:28AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
860

This is the attitude you need!

August 6, 2015 at 9:40AM, Edited August 6, 9:40AM

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Jake Gorton
Producer
236

Koo, I question whether this is demagoguery or not. Why have you severed the internet from hollywood, why can't someone go to film school and also travel the world and read books? Why would I think I'm better than someone else if I go to film school? Why are these lines subtly drawn through your writing? Why have this "debate" and not get to the heart of the issue? You said film school is six figure debt, There are schools with the same amenities of USC or AFI, sound stages and the like, that cost well under six figures. What does that mean when we can actually go to a quality graduate program without crippling debt for the ideology of Nofilmschool? If your readers knew about these places do you think they would stay here?

Nonetheless you make claims and draw conclusions, but its the internet and you don't need to substantiate. The internet has no rules, standards or ethics, so the people who are positioned first to teach us filmmaking will most likely exploit us. Thats how capitalism works. My value is my viewership, you have no vested interest in my growth only my continued reliance on the site. Thats why Nofilmschool will write articlues about how we need to curb gear addition, but the next day they will continue to supply my fix. This article itself has a similar objective preamble that descends into a subjective perspective.

Nofilmschool is the ideology that the internet has so much knowledge that you don’t need a school to teach you filmmaking, you can learn it yourself. This is true, but what you don’t tell us is that all the gems of information are under 100 feet of exploitive misdirection that will send us on circular paths that it will take literal years to escape. You could never warn us, it would indict those whom you rely on to exist. There's a great irony in Nofilmschool with respect to value and debt.

The truth about filmmaking is that story does not matter most and you should not just "go out there and shoot," but the daunting nature of those truths is fear inducing. Viewership will flee in droves presented with the realities and tribulations of being an artist, so it is much simpler to feed the readers the comfortable dream of "someday" filmmaking.

Nonetheless, there is great merit to learning filmmaking and artistry in general the right way, many here may cringe about potentially reading Aristotle's Poetics, "Thrreeeeeooooory" they might say, but if you have to look up what the word allegory means, I don't care what script or crew you have, your film will be pretentious at best and you will be a detriment to art and culture. The internet does not teach you about your responsibilities as an artist, it says "go out and shoot" you have the right, license over freedom. This is the most cancerous parasitic sin an artist can commit, adding chaos to chaos. If you have not articulated and expressed yourself properly, destroy the film, show no one. But the community here willfully and selfishly neglects the sanctity of culture, because they fear they might be excluded.

To believe that I am entitled to show the world what ever they want, I must ignore the consequence of my actions. The democratization and decentralization of filmmaking has given each of us more power, but that power didn't manifest itself, it was taken from artists who are better than we are, but don't worry, Nofilmschool is here for you to quell that guilt, to calm that fear in your belly questioning whether you truly deserve to exist. I do not believe this article is really about film school.

August 6, 2015 at 10:46AM

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Indie Guy
551

I always love this debate. Mostly because A. I've gone to film school and, B. I want to save people the time and energy they may waste thinking they 'must go to film school.' So, for what it's worth, here's my advice for people pondering the film school debate.

First, I'll address the original post as brief as I can.
1. True. Film school prices are ridiculous. Tuition for my program jumped more than a 1/3rd of what I paid in less than 5 years from graduating. And yes, it's never been cheaper to make a film. Yay!
2. There are more filmmakers that DIDN'T go to school than did. Where do you think filmmakers learned before the film schools of the 60's (which are NOT the same as film schools nowadays)? On the job (apprenticing). In the streets.
3. Celluloid. Forgive me purists... but c'mon... do you really want to learn how to cut a film on a Steenbeck, let alone the myriad of other processes one must go through to shoot film? Slow. Tedious. Expensive. I know -- I've done it. It sucks.
4. Another truism. If you can't find the movie you're looking for then you're not internetting hard enough. Back in Scorsese', Coppola's and Lucas' day there was no such thing as a rental store -- you went to the cinema or a film school with a plethora of prints.
5. "Film degree." Bahahaha. Okay, next point...
6. Classrooms. Ick. To each their own.
7. Websites, forums, DVD's... Literally everything you learn in film school can be found on the internet or in your library. That's just the truth.
8. Network. Yes, film school has brought me a few contacts that got me to work for free for resume padding that has never gotten me a job. After film school I made more lasting connections -- much, much, much more. Be PA on a film and meet connections that are working in the industry. I met my producer on a cable access, variety hour comedy sketch show. I was taping cable to the ground. He was passing release forms out. Magical.
9. Either you'll make it or you won't. I agree with this -- film school has NOTHING to do with whether you succeed or not.
10. Hard knocks. Lessons learned there stick. They stick because they hurt when you learn them. Endure the pain and you'll be better for it!

If I were to distill the most useful knowledge I've accumulated... it'd be this.
- Read this book. "From Reel To Deal: Everything You Need To Create A Successful Independent Film. -- Dov SS Simons." I scoffed at it at first -- big mistake. This is more practical, to-the-point and helpful than film school was... it also costs $12.43.
- Get busy making shit. Like now. Right now. With whatever camera you got. I regret not making a feature/short until I went to film school. I should have done that shit at 12 years old instead of dismissing myself as 'too young.'
- Don't ask for permission or look for validation for what you want to do -- have the balls/ovaries to do it and you'll surprise yourself.
- Ignore anyone that tells you: you don't have the right camera, you can't shoot with that little of $, you have no experience, you need X number of crew, you can't act, YOU CAN'T ... etc...etc...etc. There's one thing in common with these people (and I'm speaking from my personal experience) -- they haven't done f**k all or it's of poor quality. A 'can't do this' attitude breeds stagnation and inaction -- hence these individuals never having the experience and failures to learn from and improve.
- Write. Read. Write more. It's the cheapest - and most productive - thing you can do whenever you find yourself not shooting.
- Get over the idea film school means anything. It's astounding how many people making great films and working in the industry haven't gone to school. Honest to Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Hope that helps!

August 6, 2015 at 11:50AM

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What Braden said. If you want to learn something......see "Searching For Sugerman".
After you are blown away.....you will understand what is necessary to make/tell a good film/story. For the equipment whores out there. This Oscar winning flick was shot on Super 8 film and an I phone.
PS Van gogh didn't go to art school.

August 6, 2015 at 12:26PM, Edited August 6, 12:26PM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
860

In a selfish way I'm kind of glad my competition gets hung up on what camera they MUST use, where they MUST go to school, etc. It's a tremendous advantage to have these people in the arena if you're self-driven to just go out and DO IT. It's the most vague and non-specific advice to give someone, but it's completely true.

Here's a list of people that 'did it' (without going to film school):
Tarantino, Gilliam, Wachowskis, Cameron, Taymor, Kurosawa, Kubrick, July, Fincher, Jackson, Scott, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Welles, Allen, Anderson (PT), Chaplin, Wilder, Godard, Truffaut, Herzog, Soderbergh (though he dropped in on his father's - the Dean of LSU - classes at a young age), Bergman, Ford, Fellini, Leone, Wilder, Chaplin, Capra, Cassavetes, Jonze, Russel, Kiarostami, Haynes, Ozu, Dreyer... I mean, I can go on here, haha.

With that said, YES, there are other directors that have gone to film school. It's hilarious to see film grads walk with their chest out as if they're 'above' their non-film school counterparts. It's sobering when you get out into the real world and no one gives two shits where you studied, only what you've done. Which brings me to another point --

The thing ALL directors have in common is a fierce drive to succeed. THAT is the factor that determines success. Everyone thinks they have it, but only after slogging through years and decades of bullshit does the cream really rise to the top, and the rest just fades away.

August 6, 2015 at 7:17PM

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Probably the biggest point missed in this discussion is "sales". Whether you go to film school or not a filmmaker must learn how to sell and negotiate. This is more important for the no film school candidate because someone who has a degree usually has more self confidence in themselves and can "sell" better.

Most new artists in the world are shy and lack self confidence. Therefore they practically give their art/and/or services away for free. Talk to a relatively new oil painter/photographer/sculpturer/filmmaker and they all usually make little or nothing for their hard work. Many times they are even afraid to negotiate. Now working for free and learning your craft as a filmmaker is almost a certain and it's a good thing. But I've seen screenwriters, filmmakers (with completed projects) screwed over by studios and distributors.

As a filmmaker you need how to sell and negotiate. Getting an agent and sales rep for your film is down the line. A few examples you may encounter now-
1) You need to negotiate for equipment rental
2) You need to sell your film skills to an actor who is hesitant about working with a first time director,
3) You need to convince your uncle to invest in your short
4) You need to convince your crew/cast why they should work for free or for little money,
5) You need to sell yourself/company to that high tech company that wants some short videos for their website,
6) and lastly you need to convince your wife the money you are putting into your filmmaking will pay off big in the long run.

Whether you go to film school or not you need to learn how to sell. Get a full or part time job selling "something". Learn to negotiate. Learn to overcome objections. Learn to "always ask".

Aquire that "self confidence". Self Hypnosis worked for me. Most artists don't believe in themselves in the beginning. You have to think of yourself as the greatest filmmaker in the world and they are privilege to have you in their presence. Now I'm saying you should not learn how to "bullshit", sound conceited or tell lies. You need to just be straight forward and sound confident. After all, if you don't believe in yourself-- why should you expect anyone else to believe in you?

August 6, 2015 at 1:06PM, Edited August 6, 1:09PM

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William Scherer
Producer, Writer, Director, Aerial Photography
362

Interesting post. It’s great for young filmmakers to be able to really weigh out the pros and cons before jumping into a film program. I remember how difficult the decision was for me 4 years ago.

I did ultimately go to film school, and I’m extremely happy that I did. Although there was plenty of bullshit that we put up with, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think there is one single right way to go about it, like the post states very well in reason number 6.

There are endless variables in one single young filmmakers journey, so we can’t view the subject in black and white. Fortunately, I was able to produce enough content in high school to receive a good scholarship to film school, which made the program affordable for me. It can definitely get incredibly expensive without help from scholarships. But if you have good taste and work hard you can definitely find ways to make it work for you.

I think if you seriously want to be a filmmaker (not a videographer), and have a good work ethic / really give a shit about your work, film school is a really great way to streamline the growing process.

These are the major benefits I gained from the experience:

1) Collaborators/Relationships

Like the author mentions, film school is a great place to meet like-minded peers who are willing to just make stuff. I also went to an art school instead of a film conservatory, so I was able to work closely with so many different types of artists on a wide range of film/video projects (advertising students on spec ads, fashion students on fashion films, sound design majors, motion graphics, VFX, etc.) I met many amazing, talented people who not only nurtured and challenged me as an artist, but also became some of my best friends who I’ll continue to know and work with for the rest of my career.

2) Gear/Resources

Our department was equipped with five RED ONE-MX’s, four Sony f3’s, two Arriflex 416’s, a Sony f65, two c100’s, a full G&E department with the essentials, a fischer 11, and several stages and recording/foley studios. We had access to great equipment and were able to practice and learn the gear without great risk and solely for the purpose of improving our craft. Almost everything I know about lighting comes from the fact that I had access to the tools so I could just get out in the field and figure it out. We also had access to super 16mm cameras, which is a rarity outside of film school early on in a DP's career. Being able to shoot film a number of times while in school really enlightened my philosophy of exposure and pushed me forward as a DP. This is simply too expensive and difficult to do outside of some form of training program.

3) Portfolio

I shot some of my best work while at film school. I grew exponentially as a filmmaker and my cinematography greatly improved. Having great resources and plenty of friends/crew to work with goes a long way. You also learn a lot from crewing for other DP's while in school. Everyone has their own methods that you can apply to your own work. There’s no way to know for sure, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have my current body of work if it wasn’t for the people and equipment available to me at film school, and I likely wouldn’t be working as much as I am now.

4) Mentors/Motivation

Although there were some not-so-great professors at my school, there were several that were a great influence for me. That’s one aspect of film school that I feel rarely gets talked about: mentors. Having a mentor early on in your career that you can ask questions and have review your work is extremely beneficial. Also, having assignments is great because it forces you to get off your ass and go shoot. A lot. Having that ultimatum really helps build momentum so you don’t stay stagnant. And eventually, if you care and work your ass off, you get better.

5) A Well-Rounded Education

Honestly, I learned so much from other classes outside of my film degree, like liberal arts courses. Much of what I learned in those courses influenced my filmmaking. I also took several fine-art/drawing courses that certainly helped me really understand light and shadow. There were also loads of acting classes that the school offered. I would probably say that I learned more about directing from those courses than I did from several of my film classes. Having a college education is certainly a benefit. It’s not about getting a degree, it’s about applying yourself and gaining knowledge and experience.

7) Student Discounts

Pretty self-explanatory. But most rental houses have awesome student discounts (some up to 75%, and some are even free.) This is an insane advantage. While in school I got the chance to shoot on the original Alexa for free, and I also rented a 5-lens set of Cooke S4’s for next to nothing compared to the usual price. Having this resource gives you access to great tools for even small, low-budget shoots.

All in all, it’s certainly different for everyone. There are so many different paths. But I don’t think any young filmmaker should be discouraged from attending film school. I certainly don’t regret it. There are ways to make it work for you and your budget. Sure, there is some bullshit. There are a few unqualified professors and that can be frustrating. And you’ll have your share of pretentious and annoying students to deal with along with tons of terrible projects.. but you will find that at any art or film school. If you apply yourself and work hard, film school will definitely advance your craft and career. Obviously you don’t have to do it to be successful in the field, but film school does supply you with great tools, experience, and relationships that will last a lifetime. Also, college is a blast.

(Another note: We shouldn't fail to mention some of the great contemporaries who DID go to film school:
Jeff Nichols, David Robert Mitchell, Destin Daniel Cretton, Steve Annis, Rachel Morrison, Adam Stone, Chayse Irvin, to name a few. Not all of the great filmmakers who went the film school route went back in the 60's and 70's.)

August 6, 2015 at 2:46PM, Edited August 6, 3:29PM

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Ben Joyner
Director of Photography
147

I like your reflection, really nice.

Where did you study? Your school sounds great!

August 6, 2015 at 7:07PM

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thanks nicolás. I studied at SCAD in Savannah, GA. The program certainly had its flaws like most schools... but again, I'm really glad I went.

August 7, 2015 at 1:59AM

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Ben Joyner
Director of Photography
147

That's cool and everything, but I can give you 10 reasons to go to film school that are just as important.

It's almost like saying 10 reasons not to go to college in general...yea you don't have to go to college, but everybody and their mother has a B.A. nowadays.

Film School is more than knowledge it's about being able to show you are committed enough to stick with a school for 4 years.

August 6, 2015 at 4:12PM

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jack khorram
Cinematographer
88

I can't agree with that rationale.

You don't need 6 figures of debt to prove you are committed to filmmaking. And you certainly don't need four years to learn how to make a film.

Please elaborate on 10 reasons to go to film school that are 'just as important.'

P.S. I've been to film school, and though I don't regret whatsoever, I'm all the wiser for why 'YOU NEED TO GO TO FILM SCHOOL TO BE A FILMMAKER' is a bold-faced lie.

August 6, 2015 at 6:50PM

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Film school has never been required to make movies. Cassavetes and Nolan shot film features using community resources long before Kickstarter. And Blair Witch shows film quality images are not necessary for absorbing cinema.
Hard work, intelligence and most of all persistence will get (and keep) you an industry role as well as a year and many dollars at an academy.
There are generally two types of (entry level) film schools. The short course media schools (usually private) whom give you minimal crew skills gear and you make a graduation short and kick you out to flog that about. University associated media arts places where they aim to create visual or multimedia artists and teach professional film roles (because they have to 'sniff') . Like most academic job training it is heavy on theory and peripheral irrelevancies like courses on ethics, regulations, art history, critical theory to puff up the billing and teaches little more hands on than a short film course but on better gear.
Academy courses are focused on turning out more academics and media artists and only reluctantly train producers, editors, designers in skills that short course schools don't comprehensively.
A short course will give you basic equipment (prod and post) and crew skills, some set practice and a showreel doco or short. All of this as this article points out you can get together yourself from freely available resources and community channels like craigslist or starnow. Crew bring gear, writers make script, folks make bad movie, rinse and repeat until showable result.
Academic courses offer little more practical skills towards a microbudget short or DIY feature but can offer awesome internship opportunities or get you training in set design or music and editing to a much more advanced degree than a short course and are useful if you really want to be a film academic or get a sinecure as a media artist with a tutoring sideline.
The third type of film school is the state or national - NFTS, AFTRS - usually called Film and Television schools (sometimes Radio is included in the long acronym) - but you either have to be a brilliant 18 year old in visual arts at a rich private school or have completed an academic media course or short school with nice showreel to be a candidate. Such institutions have top gear - a third of their instructors are actually decent practitioners (the rest are alumni whom never fled the nest) and attract a lot of media and government attention. Media corporations look here first for new blood but graduates usually share the industry core value that filmmaking is an outreach activity of corporate financing. Useless without half a million - starters.
Question becomes then - what resources do you have (money, time and minimal academic or showreel prerequisites) and what do you want to do?.
If you dont have the requirements for an academic school or dollars for a short course school - find a buddy with a dslr and start shooting and a job and start saving. Anyway you cut it you need showreel and you need money - to buy your way in or to hire lights, lens and leading ladies.
All roads lead to shoot and save.
(If you were a rich kid you wouldn't be reading this anyway ..)

August 6, 2015 at 4:53PM

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All Liberal Arts degrees are practically interchangeable. Just go to college for something and enrich yourself and learn how to grow your brain. If it's not an Ivy League school, try to spend as little as possible because nobody cares if you went to Michigan or Michigan State unless you stay in Michigan (insert any state here). In LA and New York, if it aint USC, NYU or Ivy Leauge, they don't care, you just went to some crappy college that no one respects. Also, if you're not going to graduate school, don't even sweat your grades, no one cares. Major in Art history, theater or literature, get by with a C and spend your time making short films and brushing up on your film knowledge. Then move to LA or NY and get treated like shit for at least 3-infinity years, and if you are not an idiot, something will happen that lets you feed yourself at least.

August 6, 2015 at 5:15PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
552

I can concur with that. Unfortunately some film school graduates do believe they are the next Stephen Spielberg until all of a sudden reality sets in and no one watch their stuff. It is either you got it or you don't. That piece of paper you get on graduation day don't mean shit if you produce shit.
The past few years with the rise of dSLR videos gave rise to another group of filmmakers, and I use that term loosely, you know them "gear head bloggers". Geeks who blogs about cameras, they have their worth in finding information but these bloggers build up a personality cult companies uses them to advertise their gears and whenever they shoot any crappy samples they are hailed by the great unwashed as respectable filmmakers. Yet if you look at their portfolios it is either low budget shite that no one even heard of or limited to a few abysmal shorts that looks like a kickstarter disaster.

August 6, 2015 at 6:18PM, Edited August 6, 6:18PM

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Simon Chan
Director of Photography
183

Have you anything positive to say about anything?

August 7, 2015 at 3:24AM

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"Have you anything positive to say about anything?"

Anything? Maybe.
Filmschool? No.

August 7, 2015 at 10:41PM

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Simon Chan
Director of Photography
183

I think this is an excellent article. As an aspiring filmmaker, now in my early 40s, I put off going to film school for the last 20 years. Some of the reasons: expense, location, and the realization that many screenwriters and directors never went to film school.

If I were to give my most honest assessment of people it comes to this (and this will truly give you an idea if you should attend film school or any other educational endeavor which does not require higher education (law, medicine etc.):

1. Those who are so motivated to achieve their dreams they do not need outside motivation. Therefore, they can set their mind to something and do it - these people probably do not need film school in today's age, they will find a way to teach themselves and make films and work on getting better.
2. Those who are motivated to achieve their dreams but they need an outside influence, such as a deadline set by an instructor - these are the people who probably will benefit from film school because it will be the only way they do not procrastinate with getting something done. They need structure provided for them.
3. Those who say they want to make films but will find a reason why they cannot. Equipment too expensive. Don't know where to start, may look up info but not follow through. Need the perfect story and script. Need perfect lighting, audio, actors etc. There are a myriad of excuses as to why they cannot make their Oscar Winning film. These are the people who will not benefit from school because they really are not motivated. They just think it would be "fun" and film making is a lot of work! These people should avoid film school because they (the majority) will not do anything after.

An honest assessment of myself. I am #2 (I should have rearranged those numbers so I wouldn't be calling myself a piece of crap!). However, over the years I have realized that the only way I will make films is to be a #1. I have since worked on 1 short film with a friend (reworked the script and held the microphone). I have also written 3 short films in the last 6 months and I am set to shoot one of them this week. Guess what. I am using my Galaxy phone. I realize it does not matter what I use right now (it was just an excuse) - I just have to film it and go from there.

I've rambled, but just wanted to thank Mr. Koo for creating such a wonderful and informative site.

August 9, 2015 at 1:29PM, Edited August 9, 1:29PM

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August 19, 2015 at 3:29AM, Edited August 19, 3:29AM

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Should we also avoid NOFILMSCHOOL or just FILM SCHOOL ?

August 19, 2015 at 8:47AM, Edited August 19, 8:47AM

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Roberto Mettifogo
Director.Dop.Colorist.
307

If being able to afford a formal education in film making werent a issue would I even bother doing it in this day and age?
F*^#@ yes I would!
I for one wouldnt turn down a well paved carrier path just because we now have internet access and workable cameras.

August 24, 2015 at 11:50AM

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Steven Arredondo
Photographer/Student/Musician
177

I think most people miss the whole point of film schools. I got my MFA from a top ranked film school, yes it costed me a bomb but the returns were worth it. Its true that you can learn everything there is to learn ( maybe) from books/websites/essays etc. You have tools which are cheap now and can shoot your own stuff without the need of traditional 35mm and all the expenses that came with it ( like in my time). What i got from film school is this

1) Film school not only teaches you the techniques but also WHATS IMPORTANT. You can learn all the smoothest camera moves and VFX tricks online, but if you're lucky a good flim teacher will tell you whats at the heart of story telling and how and why thats the most important thing. Basically film school consolidates all film information into levels of importance, that i think is gold.

2) The three years i spent i film school, all i did was eat, talk and watch films and filmmaking, no other distraction, i really understood what worked for me and what didn't, without the costly mistakes that one could make in real life leading to career ending sordid tales.

3) Classmates, they live with you your whole lifetime, Zack Snyder, Michael Bay, Tarsem would gaff/AC/Shoot each others projects in school while being classmates, Tarsem and Snyder still collaborate together and use a bunch of their classmates for shoots even now.

4) Amazing contacts: Yes, you get to meet some cool producers/directors etc some you get to keep in touch with

5) People take you a little more seriously when you tell them you got a degree from a A List film school, its true, ive seen people change their tone with me when i mentioned the school i went to.

I think of all the things listed, the most important thing i got was the essence of storytelling. I mean i could have read a hundred books, watched all the amazing video essays on this site, watched commentaries etc, but being taught academically the importance of storytelling and what's really at the heart of it and how everything ties upto that, could have only been taught in a classroom.

Interestingly 7 out of 10 Nicholl fellowship winners last year were film school graduates.

September 4, 2015 at 3:33AM

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knight
74