To Go or Not to Go: The Pros & Cons of Going to Film School

There are pros and cons for everything: buying a house, changing careers, rocking a mullet ironically (because eventually you're gonna kinda like it). This also applies to going to film school.

So what are they? What should you know about film school before deciding on whether to take the plunge or not? To demystify things a little bit, check out these two videos by Ted and Stephen of Aputure, in which they discuss the pros and cons of film school, including high tuition costs, the availability of information online, and the benefits of having to sit in a lecture hall.

Pretty much anyone who has gone to film school will tell you that they learned a lot and met a bunch of wonderfully creative individuals. However, there are just as many who haven't gone who will tell you that they also learned a lot and met a bunch of wonderfully creative individuals—and did it without piling up $40K of student loan debt.

Full disclosure: I got my B.A. in Cinema, so I'm kind of a film school grad. I certainly have a pros/cons list of my own, but suffice it to say that I think I paid, pay, and will continue to pay until I'm well over 50, way too much for the information I had to prove I knew in order to get my diploma. I've said it time and time again: I've learned more about film from writing articles for you guys than I ever did going to college.

The pros and cons of going to film school

However, there are certain things that going to film school taught me that I probably wouldn't have even thought to learn had I not enrolled (like Nordic cinema). As you might assume, you meet a lot of people and make a bunch of connections, yes, but I found that, for me personally, the structure of college—having to go to classes at a specific time, having my knowledge tested and my work criticized, having to fulfill requirements in order to graduate—these things made me the student of film I am today...which is a much more disciplined one who understands the importance of obtaining knowledge.

And that's the key: obtaining knowledge. You may decide to obtain it by going to college, or researching online, or by just going out and shooting a movie. Whichever way you decide to do that is fine. Just don't make the mistake of complacent; the greatest artists are self-motivated, passionate, lifelong learners.     

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15 Comments

I prefer not to. I don't want to be taught how to make a film or else my work will end up being conventional. My film school is browsing through Criterion's immense catalog and studying them, by watching them multiple times, listening to the commentaries and watching the extras, etc.

June 12, 2016 at 11:25AM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
712

Well here is the thing, those guys give the basis on how to make a film. It is like in art school there is the kid that is going there for anime drawing and gets told constantly for fine art. After leaving you take those structured principles and play with them in anime and break them properly you get better looking anime. Not saying one is better than the other, but this idea that professors damage the intelligent sounds like it comes from those misinformed on what smart is instead of smart looking. I can judge by statistics that the possible energy drinks you drink before going to work may kill you one day, but does it honestly do it in a heartbeat or flash? No. Film school or not you still need good structure or else you come off as Andy Warhol who made Sleep. Filmmaking is like the English grammar, visual communication by 24 pictures a second.

June 12, 2016 at 12:53PM, Edited June 12, 12:55PM

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The cost problem that is constantly talked about, without suffice to the greats, I suggest just going to a local university and going to the film school it has. Before applying, have a scholarship that pays everything. Tutions are cheaper and you learn how to handle people like medical students do.

June 12, 2016 at 12:24PM, Edited June 12, 12:45PM

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For people who don't like a structured environment to learn in, it probably won't help them. They can slog through it on local projects, watch every YouTube video that explains the basics and network with whoever you can until you get paying gigs.

The main reason film school can be skipped now is due to the cheap cost of gear. You can make a demo real that looks great without anyone paying you. Its the major X factor. For every Rodriguez who did it by himself, there were 1000s that failed. Put your films out there on YouTube, enter contests. The wall used to be much harder to climb.

And you learn a lot more in film school than JUST film.

June 12, 2016 at 4:14PM, Edited June 12, 4:15PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
1082

One thing I have noticed is that screenplays by film-school students are generally much, much worse than screenplays by non-film-school students. Film school teaches you how to make a movie, but it doesn't give you anything to make a movie about.

If you're taking out student loans, don't go to film school or university. Go to trade school, and learn a skill that will support you and let you fund your projects.

Also, I didn't know that "V. Renee" wrote articles here. I thought she just linked to other people's videos.

June 12, 2016 at 10:10PM, Edited June 12, 10:14PM

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Minor Mogul
Dilettante
993

[Sorry, double post -- and, while I can edit, I can't delete.]

June 12, 2016 at 10:13PM, Edited June 12, 10:16PM

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Minor Mogul
Dilettante
993

Pro : meet some great DoP, miceal chapman, jose-luis alcaine, ricardo aronovich.......

June 13, 2016 at 7:44AM

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Martin Flament
Director of Photography
156

I have no regrets.
When I went to filmschool (actually the filmdepartment of an artschool) in 2001 technology wasn't as good and 'cheap' as it is now, nor where there many tutorials to watch online. I did learn a lot, I made a lot of videos, wrote analysis and had many in depth discussions with teachers and peers. And I made some great friends.
Now I make a living producing corporate videos and I hire people I met in school and they hire me as well.

I notice people saying that schools can't keep up with technology: there is truth in that. It moves faster and faster. But can you keep up with that on your own?
Besides that: after graduation technology won't slow down either. You will have to keep learning.

Proper education goes beyond reading books and doing tutorials. It's about trying to apply what your heard/read/saw, pushing the limits and getting feedback to open your eyes to your own shortcomings.
So whether or not you go to filmschool, make sure to do, to fail, to learn and to have a mentor to discuss this beautiful field of moving images + sound.

BTW, I'm no US citizen. In The Netherlands education is far more accessible (cheaper), so I didn't have to spend $100K on education.

June 13, 2016 at 8:57AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9669

Ah, the eternal question of whether or not to go to film school. A better question is: to be working filmmaker, does one have to go to film school? The answer is a resounding: NO. You never have to set foot in a classroom to be a filmmaker but you MUST make films (shorts, commercials, corporate, features, etc) to be a filmmaker.

I'll try and be brief in explaining my rationale. **Note: Yes, I have gone to film school. VFS. A one year intensive program. I'll get into that later.**

Pro's To Film School (with a little bit of honesty in parenthesis):
- Like-minded peers. (A fraction of which will stick to film and a majority that will move onto other pursuits. Few, if any, will assist in making YOUR project before THERE project.)
- More direct education and tutelage from teachers. (Some teachers will have a wealth of knowledge. Some teachers will have been graduates a year prior to you. Find out which is which.)
- You'll produce work. (But you can also produce work by your own means without a school to tell you what to do.)
- You'll have access to filmmaking tools. (With a bit of saving and networking, cheap tools are all around you... unless you live in a town with 54 people.)

Conclusion: You will pay premiums to have an institution streamline, organize, educate and monitor your development. In other words, you're paying for someone to tell you what you need to know and hold your hand as it puts you through the paces.

Cons:
- Expensive. (I paid 29K for 1 year of intensive training. This is an insane expense but a drop in the bucket for many 4 year film schools that will leave you in debt to your eyes.)
- False expectations. (So what if Scorsese, Coppola, Lucas, etc went to film school in the 60's. Back then there wasn't readily available equipment, nor sky high tuition. It was a closed system with very few outlets to self-educate. Ironically enough, all of these individuals hold one vital thing in common ---- they're all self-driven and took the initiative to create their projects despite lack of funding or support.)

Conclusion: If your parents will bankroll your journey to film school I say take it. If you're not the type to teach yourself, seek answers, make mistakes, gamble on your own project or otherwise 'feel in the dark' for the answers then consider film school. I recommend an intensive, technically focused education. Who gives a sh*t about what your professor thinks about the peacocks on the wallpaper of Charles Foster Kane's bedroom. Learn how to use editing software, what an F-stop is, how to white balance a camera and what phantom power means.

I could get more into it but for those considering film school without the financial means (rich parents), go to Amazon, take the 50K+ you would have spent on schooling and spend $1000 on books. If you stick to it and shoot with whatever means you can afford, you WILL NOT need film school. I promise. Here's a few books to start you off:

BEST OVERALL BOOK:
- From Reel To Deal. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0446674621/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s...
This book alone will do more for you than you can ever imagine. I f**king kid you not. I've done the filmmaking thing, made a self-financed film that sold/got large festival exposure,etc. If My word is worth anything it's that this book is worth your time.

SCREENWRITING:
- Writing for Emotional Impact. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1595940286/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s...
The cover is God awful, but the content is unreal.
- Story.
https://www.amazon.com/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwritin...
Your new bible. Warning: a dense read and will derail you if you try to abide by every principal therein. I recommend reading this first, then, as Yoda says, unlearn what you have learned.

- Save The Cat.
https://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009/...
Formulaic? Sure. Cliche? Sure. Over-simplistic? Sure. But it works. Wrap your head around the skeletal structure of screenplays (at least the traditional 3 act structure) and you're miles ahead.

- The Coffee Break Screenwriter.
https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/1932907807/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s0...
My personal favorite. This will literally, step-by-step, guide you through the screenwriting process. WAY more valuable than any screenwriting class I attended.

BUSINESS:
- The Reel Truth.
https://www.amazon.com/Reel-Truth-Everything-Making-Independent/dp/05712...
The side of filmmaking I enjoy the least. Nevertheless this is an important book on the non-creative side of filmmaking. Avoid the pitfalls and read it.

DIRECTING:
- Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics
https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0240818458/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o08_s0...
The most comprehensive book on directing I've ever read. Fantastic stuff.

- Directing Actors
https://www.amazon.com/Directing-Actors-Memorable-Performances-Televisio...
Read it. Just do it.

- Rebel Without a Crew
https://www.amazon.com/Rebel-without-Crew-23-Year-Old-Filmmaker/dp/04522...
Non-technical but a necessary read for the indie filmmakers in all of us.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

- Cinematography
The exact book provided by my filmschool.
https://www.amazon.com/Cinematography-Third-Kris-Malkiewicz/dp/074326438...
Of all things, cinematography is best learnt by doing. The internet has a ton of filmmaking blogs that specialize in cinematography.

MISC:
- The DV Rebel's Guide.
https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0321413644/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s0...
I ran into this as I was making my first film. TONS of little nuggets of gold. It may be a tad outdated but immensely helpful.

There you go. Read those and you're all the wise (and richer) for it.

Next step is: Get your gear.

Rent it. Buy it. Do whatever is economically feasible for you. Hint** You DO NOT need the best camera on the market. No, you don't NEED 4K. Be smart and spend 1000 bucks or less on a DSLR (or capable camera) that won't leave you buying a thousand accessories. If you need only one piece of gear, buy a cost efficient camera and shoot, shoot, shoot. Next find a editing software (Avid, Final Cut, Sony Vegas, Davinci Resolve) and learn it. Once you've gotten a handle on that research sound (I'd suggest renting first) and practice making projects with sound. Once you've done that educate yourself on lighting. So on and so forth. Bonus points if you have acting friends.

Expenditures so far:

Books = $500 or less.
Equipment = $5000 or less.
Rentals = $2000 or less.

Now that you've only spent less than 10K to learn and practice your craft, get a job that will afford you to live. NO not a PA on a movie set! I mean a real job. An average Joe job. Something that pays $20 bucks or more and requires you to show up 40 hours a week and bust your ass. Within the 4 years you would have been in school you're now working full-time and have built up equity and savings. Cool! Now you can take a couple weeks off (holiday pay!) from your job and shoot that project you had in mind! And the best part is you've spent less than 10K, have worked full-time for 4 years (with savings) and saved yourself 100K+ in debt!!!

That's it that's all. Now go make projects until you're filmmaking full-time!

June 13, 2016 at 10:14AM, Edited June 13, 10:25AM

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Braden
653

This is an economic question every potential high school kid should ask. In a freelance industry, does it make sense to spend 30k, 50k, 100k for film school?
In my opinion, the answer is no. There are cheaper alternatives, such as the Maine Workshops or Community College. Also, with site like NoFilmSchool and cheap gear, one can learn on their own.

I did go to film school and had a blast but I'm still paying back student loans, the bane of my life. I'm fortunate to be working in my field as a DP, but if I had to do it over again, I would have done a cheaper option and work a regular job to pay for it.

June 14, 2016 at 9:16AM

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Patrick Charles
Director of Photography
81

Having paid close to $100k for film school, I can also say it's not worth it. I did get a job paying very well and they only hired people with a Bachelors, but my circumstance was very rare. Technology has caught up. Basically, don't be a dick to people, and be humble while you learn from others. What's so great about this industry is the proof is in your work. You don't have to defend anything. Either people will like what you produce, or they won't.

June 14, 2016 at 1:09PM

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Caleb Price
Director
422

I went under the impression that it would make me substantially better at filmmaking. Granted I did learn quite a bit about story and make some connections - but in no way was the $30,000 debt worth it. I don't regret going at all. But if I were to get another chance I probably wouldn't choose the same path.

Find an internship with a good filmmaker. You'll learn way more and won't be in crazy debt.

My two cents.

June 14, 2016 at 3:29PM

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Alex Bolen
Cinematographer
158

I posted this in one of the boards but...

I think what needs to be really understood is why someone might go to school in the first place. Most of the time, for any industry, you go to school to become a professional in that industry.

Now if you just like playing with gear, then sure, school is completely unnecessary.

If you want to be a working professional, as in the ACTUAL BUSINESS (Industry) of filmmaking, and not shooting lame YouTube videos or trying to half-ass market some awful "Award Winning" project, then film school should at least be considered.

But Robert Rodriguez didn't go to film school! True - but you're not Robert Rodriguez. That guy HUSTLED his way in. He sold his soul and lived for El Mariachi. He was/is a student of film - not a fanboy.

99.9% of people aren't going to pull off what he and the very few like him have done. And there's nothing wrong with that. School offers structure and a network. It's not for everyone but neither is trying to do things on your own.

June 14, 2016 at 4:50PM, Edited June 14, 4:51PM

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Nick Rowland
Street Bum
657

If you are going to go to college, don't study film. Study marketing and accounting. As a freelancer these are much more valuable resources. You will learn more on your 1st big set than you will in 2 years of student film production (2 years of college is taken up by general studies). If there is an equipment house in your area, make some calls, see if you can hang out there, see if you can intern there. Meet people that work on large sets willing to take on a trainee.

June 16, 2016 at 9:30PM

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chris larsen
1st AC
82

In my experience, film school was just shy of being a complete joke. Besides having failed artists sitting down and telling you your camera shot doesn't work (not because it's bad, but because it's not their style). I dropped out after a year, and I can honestly say it was the best decision of my life. Working on sets in LA, and making my own budgeted projects taught me more about directing, cinematography, set design, and sound more than any school could. On top of that, the "rules" film school enstills in young artists is less than agreeable. Cinema is about expression. If you want a crazy 360 shot, DO IT. You want a nutsy jump cut? DO IT. I appologize if this wasn't eloquently written, but overall, I believe it depends on the person.

Example: if you've never touched a camerq, go to film school. If you're already making good movies in Highschool past the 25 minute mark---don't go to film school.

June 19, 2016 at 7:59AM

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