June 12, 2016

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.     

Your Comment

29 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 2:25PM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
637

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 3:53PM, Edited June 12, 3:55PM

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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 3:24PM, Edited June 12, 3:45PM

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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 7:14PM, Edited June 12, 7:15PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
924

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 13, 2016 at 1:10AM, Edited June 13, 1:14AM

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Minor Mogul
Dilettante
498

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

June 13, 2016 at 1:13AM, Edited June 13, 1:16AM

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Minor Mogul
Dilettante
498

Film school was the biggest waste of money and time I will ever spend in my life. I will be paying off the debts for those four years for the rest of my life, and what did it get me? Nothing whatsoever. Everything they taught was irelavent and outdated as they were saying it, the industry is moving so quickly film schools cannot keep up.

The teachers didn't really care and were just in it for the paycheck, many of them would constantly switch around or be fired. I had two years of my education with the same teacher, because they didn't have any other teachers that taught those classes...So I paid about $75K over those two years to learn from one guy, I am sure he would have given me private classes for less than half that.

The equipment is also outdated, film schools cannot keep up with digital technology it is way too expensive for them. In the film days they worked because film cameras never went obsolete, but in the digital work cameras go bad every 3 years.

The promise of film school is the connections and I worked on over 200 film sets during my time there in hope of securing these valuable connections. The truth it everyone is so focused on their own shit they don't give you anything and if they do it usually asking for free work. I have never had one well paying job off a connection from film school, usually it's free work or around $150 a day.

Film school in 2016 is a waste of time, no matter what school you go to. I have several friends at USC and AFI and they are in the same boat, the schools are all a front and nothing comes it but $300K loans you can never possibly pay.

The film industry is no longer a high paid industry unless you are the very top of the mountain, but that top is very small. Most people who work in this industry barely make anything, having us pay education costs as high as a doctor is ridiculous. You will be lucky to get consistent work, but getting paid as much as a doctor as a filmmaker is a pipe dream.

If I would go back I would skip film school, sign up for the hurlblog, and try to work on any set I can go on. After 3-4 years (same time as film school) you will be much better off and with zero debt.

I have never seen film school pay off for anyone, it always seems to end up in failure no matter how hard or smart you work it. That false promise of an awesome job at the end of your schooling doesn't happen anymore sadly.

June 13, 2016 at 10:19AM, Edited June 13, 10:19AM

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It can pay off for a lot of people. You worked on THAT many sets and made no connections? I think it helps if you're not a jerky creep.

June 13, 2016 at 11:39PM, Edited June 13, 11:39PM

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have you ever even worked on a video Joe? I love haters like you, love you.

June 14, 2016 at 1:19AM

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What happened to me has nothing to do with my personality, it is because of the Art Institute.

I worked extremely hard and was voted the top DP and director by my class for the thesis film class. The school wanted to have more films to advertise with, so they decided on 5 thesis films when the class could realistically only support 2. Mainly because there were only 2 students interested in producing.

Even though I was voted as the top DP, I was placed on the worst film in an attempt to bring up it's quality. The director was a spacey girl who didn't show up to auditions, making me do them for her. The writer didn't care either, and wouldn't put a penny for their script. Basically I was asked to pay $10K to fund the film but I did not have this money outside of the high tuition. (The school had cut the $8K budget for these films to $0 the previous quarter, while raising tuition.) I told them I couldn't and the administration told me they would give me an A in the class, but I wouldn't be able to make a thesis film because it was too late in the process.

After 4 years of busting my ass, I was left to dry because at the end of the day no school or corporation cares about you. I was a straight A student, but it didn't matter.

I would never recommend film school to my worst enemy, including Joe. It ruined my life, I have to pay over $1,000K a month that I do not have. This barely pays off the interest...After 30 years though I can have it forgiven, so I have that going for me.

Film is no longer a high paid or paid profession, I am lucky to make $150 a day and that is after doing this almost ten years. Good luck to everything, I wish you all the best in your journey.

June 14, 2016 at 1:58AM

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Art Institute was 10 years ago.
How do you market yourself and to whom?
There must be a way to not compete with lowest price only.

June 16, 2016 at 10:10AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8999

I have found it incredibly difficult to obtain film jobs, because I do not have any connections. Everyone I went to school with is struggling with the same issues, no one is working on films. Some have low paying jobs doing corporate video, about $20K a year.

I market for weddings, because that has been the only profitable avenue I have found for video production. I apply on most of the popular film jobs posting sites, but have never had a response.

The art institute still advertising and traps young people with dreams of working on films. They get us to sign up for loans we will never pay back, because filmmakers are lucky to get $150 a day for hard work unless they have connections from outside school. Any work I do on films has been for free, I usually only am paid for wedding videos. I did 3 features last year for credit only, as well as several other projects.

I have never seen anyone gain anything from film school, it always comes from things done outside of school. If you need a degree that bad, go get a diploma that will be worth the paper it's printed on. If I could go back I would continue to pursue my passion as I have done all my life, but I would have gone to school for programming or data management. This is where you can make a living, in film I am lucky to eat everyday.

June 16, 2016 at 11:12AM, Edited June 16, 11:18AM

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Maybe it is an idea to network in more corporate circles. The are probably business clubs like BNI, Lions, Rotary, or even Open Coffee where you can network with other entrepeneurs instead of filmmakers*.
I can tell you that corporate gigs don't have to be low paid if you add real value to their business. Therefor it is clever to learn about marketing, because it will help you sell yourself and selling your clients to their audience.

And keep pushing the wedding angle. Become the one they come to for a beautiful video.

*) If all the filmmakers you know rely on each other for work, where does the work come from? It's better to be the one offering jobs to others than the other way around. :-)

June 16, 2016 at 11:20AM, Edited June 16, 11:24AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8999

Thanks for the advice, seems to make a lot of sense. I have been learning about marketing for the last few years, I find it so difficult to get traction.

I agree corporate jobs can be great pay if you get with the right client, this is the difficult part I have found. Most of the clients I have run into will pay around $350 for a half day of shooting (2 cameras, full audio) and editing of pieces up to five minutes. This is in Los Angeles and Miami, not sure how much better it is in other markets.

Back to the point of this post, I don't see how I will pay back my $150K in loans making so little. Especially since I have to pay for new gear every 3 years or I won't get hired. Film schools are a major problem for thousands of people, I hope it eventually stops before more lives are ruined.

June 16, 2016 at 11:38AM, Edited June 16, 11:38AM

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I understand your point. In that aspect education in Europe doesn't burden the students that much (although it is not totally free).

Remember: people like to do business with people they know. That is why real life networking is important to really get to know people who can give you referals when they know someone looking for a video producer. Just like the filmset networking thing, except that on a filmset you are working, while networking events or business clubs put 100% of the time into networking: meeting new people and staying in touch with the people they already know.

June 16, 2016 at 2:07PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8999

You are spot on Walter. This is also it's so hard so break into this industry, people only trust those they have worked with. I always keep it in my mind that it takes 20 years to really make a living in this industry. I've put 7 in, film school won't make any shortcuts only luck will.

June 16, 2016 at 5:17PM

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Lol I was actually taking this to heart because I've been trying to decide film school or not. Then I saw who wrote it... Can I see a diploma?

June 14, 2016 at 11:41AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1680

Sure, let me get it scanned and uploaded...I have a Bachelors of fine arts in film and digital production...It has never helped me one bit, film schools are a scam unless you go to AFI, USC, or NYU. Even then good luck paying $300K tuition for the rest of your life, while working low paying PA jobs like all my friends.

June 14, 2016 at 5:13PM

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So where's this diploma. Shouldn't take 7 days to upload...

June 21, 2016 at 5:35PM, Edited June 21, 5:35PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1680

I was being sarcastic Clark, I have nothing to prove to a petty and jealous amateur like you. Always attacking those more experienced than you while you sit at home doing nothing.

June 23, 2016 at 12:17PM

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

June 13, 2016 at 10:44AM

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Martin Flament
Director of Photography
170

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 11:57AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8999

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 1:14PM, Edited June 13, 1:25PM

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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 12:16PM

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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 4:09PM

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Caleb Price
Director
446

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 6:29PM

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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 7:50PM, Edited June 14, 7:51PM

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Nick Rowland
Street Bum
597

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 17, 2016 at 12:30AM

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chris larsen
1st AC
75

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 10:59AM

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