December 11, 2016

Film School vs. The Internet: What Kind of Education Do Each of Them Offer?

Is it really worth it to go to film school or should you just stick to online tutorials?

Unlike doctors or lawyers, getting a college degree isn't required for us filmmakers to practice our craft, but thousands of students still enroll in film school every year. Why? Well, the answer really depends on who you ask. The Film Look's Richard William Scott & Robert Carr, both of who went to film school, offer their perspective on what a student can expect to gain both from getting a traditional film education and from getting on through free online resources.

Whether you're a staunch proponent or opponent of film school, you can't deny that 1.) it does have something unique to offer students, and 2.) it doesn't have everything a student needs to prepare them for a career in film. As a film school grad, I can say from personal experience that the experience you receive in and out of a college setting is very, very different with a lot of pros and cons for both, but they all have something to do with education, resources, networking, opportunities, and support, among other things.

Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again—I've learned more about the history and practice of filmmaking from writing for No Film School than I ever did studying at a university. I do not think anyone needs to go to film school in order to be a filmmaker. However, there are some things about going to college to study film that I think really help young filmmakers on their journey.

The way you receive information, a well as the information itself, is a little different in film school. The set curriculum that you must master in order to graduate can feel both constricting and freeing, because while you're learning about basic story structure, aesthetics, film history, and famous directors, you might find that certain courses introduce you to new concepts, techniques, and filmmakers that you might have never thought to study on your own on the internet.

For example, I focused primarily on cinematic history in college and though I studied a bit about early directors like D.W. Griffith and Orson Welles before I ever enrolled, I would've never thought to seek information about the film cultures of Scandinavian, European, and South American countries, as well as the film movements that occurred around the world at different times in history. College is where I fell in love with the French New Wave, German Expressionism, and Italian Neorealism.

But while film school can introduce you to a lot of information, that information is extremely limited when you compare it to the vast offerings of the virtually limitless internet. Nowadays, YouTube videos and tutorials you can teach you just about anything about filmmaking, from special effects makeup, editing, cinematography, screenwriting—I mean, video essays have really taken off in the last year and are almost single-handedly helping to teach the next generation of filmmakers about cinematic concepts that you'd really only learn in film school. 

Aside from the actual information you receive, film school offers structure, access to equipment, and networking opportunities. Some of you might need that face-to-face guidance that a professor provides (I certainly grew immensely from the advocacy and stewardship of my instructors), while some of you might do better by just grabbing a camera and shooting a bunch of short films. Some of you may not need to rely on the resources of a university now that quality camera equipment is so cheap, while some of you may benefit greatly from it. Some of you might appreciate how film school connects you to a lot of people who are passionate about film, while some of you already belong to a bunch of online film communities and groups (hopefully some real life ones, too).

In the end, no one can tell you whether or not film school is right for you; you have to figure that out for yourself. There are plenty of pros and cons to going and not going, so really it depends on how you want to receive your education.      

Your Comment


Listen, here's the cold hard truth. Most of you (including possibly myself) aren't going to make it in film/ video. Each year film schools produce more graduates than actual positions in the industry. Not everyone can be a director, or a cinematographer, or a producer. A degree from a school gives you a safety net. In the world where a Bachelor degree has the same weight as a High School Diploma did 20 years ago, it's wise to prepare for a life outside of film. Yes a lot of talented filmmakers never got a degree, but when did they start? And how many of their counterparts failed and aren't in the industry? Food for thought. Just always sick of this argument, with no one looking at it rationally.

December 11, 2016 at 11:08PM, Edited December 11, 11:08PM


Good job on encouraging young filmmakers...

If you work hard, make the most of your opportunities and keep dreaming then you will do well in this industry.

I started off as self-employed, making corporate videos, just over 2 years ago (straight from doing a Civil Engineering degree) with no qualifications and no real experience. I'm now working full time with a video production company, as well as working on my own corporate projects. Am I in my ideal job? No, but I'm only 25 and will continue to work towards it.

Not trying to be arrogant, just saying that it's possible to 'make it' (what ever that means) in this industry if you want to. Hopefully it will encourage others.

December 13, 2016 at 8:54AM


I totally agree with you. I'm still a student in film school. What I learn there is 5% of a subject I complete it by learning through the internet by 95%. So it's a lot easier to be a great filmmaker without attending film school. If someone has the passion and the ability to connect to people then it'll be a lot cheaper than wasting their time on a film school.

December 12, 2016 at 4:51PM

Nawras Ayad

I dropped out of film school, directed a tiny feature (while keeping the realities of the market in mind) and sold the thing. It's not an amazing movie. It's not an "artistic" movie, really (whatever that means). Some folks have labeled me a "sell out". But the way I see it, you want to make a LIVING making films. Which means you want money. If you want to make money, you have to make it in the movie BUSINESS.

Film school has nothing to do with any of this. It's an arts education, that won't take you too far in the BUSINESS. It's not worth anything anymore. Film school is a great way to find what you want to do or what you like doing in the film world. It's also a good way to build a reel and make connections. I firmly believe, though, that if you KNOW you want to do film and KNOW what position you want to do then skip film school. Make movies. Learn. It's socially acceptable for you to bum around for a few years after high school and make movies and try and get something made and sold. After college, there's much more pressure to have a steady income, and it becomes hard to get out there and get yourself noticed or to make your movie.

Skip film school. You can do it! You're smart enough! If Rob Zombie can direct a movie, SO CAN YOU! :)

Just remember. Look at what people want to PAY FOR and look at what you LOVE. What's the intersection of those things? That's a great place to start. Crappy no-budget b-movies, sci fi movies, horror movies, and fantasy movies all make their money back with no stars and no budget. Yet most beautiful films at the indie spirit awards lose money. You'll get there. You'll make those beautiful films. But first, you gotta prove to people you can stay afloat in the BUSINESS. Only experience will teach you this, and film school will try and sway you away from that. But look who's teaching you these things at film school... They're often failed filmmakers themselves.

December 13, 2016 at 9:13PM, Edited December 13, 9:17PM


Whatever you do:
bullshit in = bullshit out
no effort = no progress
Having said that: there are no gurantees for success, ever. You can only work hard on being ready to catch that opportunity when it comes along.
Some will point to succesfull directors who didn't go to filmschool, but forget 1) survival bias and 2) how hard they worked to work on their skills.

I think a big difference between self tought and filmschool is that filmschool also forces you to write analysing papers on styles/genres/directors/movies/series and that will help you to think about the language of film. And because it will be rated and discussed you get instant feedback.
Filmschool sets many deadlines, so you have no choice but to act or fail. Self education requires real self motivation.

December 14, 2016 at 5:44PM, Edited December 14, 6:28PM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer