Watch: Is Film School Necessary?

The answer is pretty clear—no. But if you're not going to learn filmmaking within the hallowed halls of a distinguished university, where are you going to do it?

The debate over whether or not one should go to film school to become a filmmaker has become less fiery over the last several years. The internet and an active creative community ensures that most of the important information you'll need in order to learn at least the basics of the craft is readily available to almost anyone who wants it. However, for those who have decided to forgo the four-year film degree in favor of semi-autodidacticism, you'll want to know about some resources for getting your learn on. Ryan Connolly provides some excellent ideas in this video from Film Riot.

I'm a film school graduate and my bank account and I can definitely attest to the fact that film school is not necessary. The huge student loan debt, the holes in education, and the insane time commitment are big reasons why any filmmaker would want to think long and hard before they turn in any college applications. But perhaps an even bigger reason than those is the wide availability of free and low-cost online resources.

Part of the challenge of teaching yourself everything you need to know about filmmaking is 1.) knowing what to learn and 2.) knowing where to find the information.

Read screenplays

My screenwriting courses in college were so incredibly helpful for me as a writer, but there is more than one way to learn how to do it. You can read screenplays to learn about structure, pacing, dialogue, and character development. Doing this will also teach you about genre, tropes, style, and tone. However, which screenplays should you read? There are lists upon lists of "best screenplays ever" out there, which always seem to include Chinatown, The Godfather, and Casablanca (I personally love reading scripts by Charlie Kaufman, Woody Allen, and Quentin Tarantino), but you can also benefit from reading some not-so-good scripts to learn perhaps what not to do.

Take an online cinematography course

There are so many great resources out there for those who want to learn how to compose and light a shot. Connolly recommends Shane Hurlbut's Inner Circle, an online course that is pretty reasonably priced. There is also Aviv Vana's CineSummit, a yearly cinematography event that is 100% online and 100% free. There are also MasterClass, which has courses from screenwriters Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, and David Mamet, film composer Hans Zimmer, actors Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, and even director Werner Herzog.

Check out YouTube channels

If you don't have the time or money to take a full online course, YouTube hosts a ton of great channels that provide loads of great information on cinematography, directing, film theory, film history, and more. It's seriously one of the most helpful and influential resources for filmmakers today. There's not enough time in a day to list all of the great channels out there, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Cinematography: Cinematography Database, wolfcrow, DSLR Video Shooter, Aputure, and Peter McKinnon
  • Editing: Video Copilot, This Guy Edits, Justin Odisho, and Casey Faris
  • Video Essays: Fandor, The Royal Ocean Film Society, Nerdwriter, Now You See It, Channel Criswell, and Every Frame a Painting

Also, my all time favorite YouTube channel for learning filmmaking is Darious Britt's D4Darious. Hands down the most straightforward, meaty, and entertaining film education you'll get on just about every topic in cinema. Subscribe to his channel NOW.

Darious Britt

No, you don't have to go to film school to be a filmmaker, but you do need to get educated. And don't just learn how to make a film, learn the history of cinema, about film movements around the world, about the Hays Code, about the Star System, about how global politics have affected filmmaking throughout the years, about lost films, about bad films, about how to protect and care for celluloid, about which cameras are popular right now and why, about smartphone filmmaking, about the kinetoscope, about ILM and George Méliès, because filmmaking isn't just about why you want to take it, it's also about where it has been.     

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Ah, here we go again... This question or a version of it, it turning into a monthly feature. Still, ever since my days of working on rap videos in the early 90's in NYC when I was a Grad Film student at NYU, this has been the question. The true answer is: it depends. IF you can get in- and let's be honest, most folks WILL NOT get into a film school worth going- going helps you find a community of like-minded artists. However, IF you already had that community, AND you have the self-discipline to learn, then no, you don't "need" to go to film school. All of it can be learned online. But so can coding and computer stuff, but yet you still might want to a name college/university to learn it. The point being that while you can do it yourself, the benefit of being a part of a larger organization- in this case a college/university- can be use of equipment, criticism (having someone other than friends and family evaluate you and your work is invaluable), encouragement from faculty, alumni, and if you want to teach- a degree.

IF you can get this elsewhere than, no, you don’t have to go to film school. But if you are alone, with hardly anyone who “gets” your obsession with film, have family and friends who think you need to find a “real job,” or without any deadlines or encouragement from others, will just find yourself STILL working at your crappy job- dreaming and telling folks how “awesome” your film ideas are (read: a poser)- then perhaps film school IS the right place to help you realize your vision.

From there the question is WHICH film school do I apply. And that, is another complicated question that can’t be easily answered with a snappy youtube video.

(Oh, and it is not lost on me that Ryan and the Film Riot folks- who do some EXCEPTIONAL VIDEOS- are of course, beneficiaries of the DIY film school mindset. Like anything, always ask: does this person personally benefit from this opinion? And while I am a film Professor, I get nothing from anyone’s decision, and only want to help any young filmmaker make the best choice for them.)

June 4, 2017 at 12:32PM

Chriss Williams
Film Professor

Nothing is necessary, everything is optional and anything is possible. Some people who received no training have gotten acting careers just because they "have a look". Other people have sucked at their craft but made great relationships in film school that led to success. It's really unpredictable so do what makes you happy.

June 4, 2017 at 1:08PM

Dantly Wyatt
Writer, Director, Content Creator.

If you don't have the time or money to take a full online course, YouTube hosts a ton of great channels that provide loads of great information on cinematography, directing, film theory, film history, and more.

July 7, 2017 at 11:48PM


Nice, ty for your work)

August 25, 2017 at 3:19PM, Edited August 25, 3:23PM


I was keeping a dream to be a good filmmaker. It's pity that there are no subjects at school which concerns to this industry. I get my first experience in film school. Absolutely agree with the author, that you don't have to go to film school to be a filmmaker, but you do need to get educated. Also, here is one service which has helped me in making good video essays.

September 11, 2017 at 4:23AM


Thank you for YouTube channels, I also have created my new channel about Gun Safes for my new project - check and review, please!

December 22, 2017 at 8:11AM