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Erin Pearson
Erin Pearson
October 4, 2019

Should You Go to Film School?

Topsheet Film School Photo

Let’s set the scene. You have labored over your career choices. You have been pestered by nearly every adult you have come into contact with over the last 2 years: “What are you doing after high school?”, “What are you going to study in college?” At long last, you have decided… “Film. I want to go into film.” And now you set out to find the best film school you can get yourself into… but wait. Don’t be too hasty, is film school even a good idea? In the article that follows, we will share the pros and cons of film school and alternative ideas that might be a better option for you.

What is your goal?

Before you make any decision (especially one involving 4 years of your time and tens of thousands of dollars), you should ask yourself, “why”. Why do you want to go to film school? What will you gain? What specific areas do you want to study? Could you learn all that you want to learn about film on set from professionals in the industry, and not take on student debt?

Let’s say you want to become a line producer. That’s a great job, it pays well, and requires experience working on film sets. Can you learn how to do this well in film school? Yes. And you’ll probably be “ahead of the curve” when it comes to getting your first line producing gig because you will understand the software and you’ll have the knowledge of exactly what that position requires, but it will probably take a while to get hired in that position. When dealing with budgeting large sums of money, your employer wants to know that you are capable of doing good work. They need you to have experience and references. There is a lot riding on that job being done well. You might be better off working as an assistant to a line producer, building a relationship and becoming an apprentice.

Who is paying for your school?

Are you paying for your schooling? Then don’t. Just work. But if your parents are paying and they require a college education, here are a few options to consider:

  • Look into part time online or community college for a related topic; business, marketing, accounting, writing, etc
  • Work on sets while you are in school.
  • Take advantage of student discounts on all kinds of film software (movie magic, etc)
  • Make as many short films, features, etc as possible using the gear your film school provides. You should be making something weekly or monthly.
  • Go to school for something else and minor in film to gain use of the Production Center.

If you do go to film school, you need to be very proactive in your education. School is outdated by 5-20 years, depending on the topic. Film is very tech based. Things are always changing and improving. No film school can keep up. By a film school professor’s own admission, they have “no idea what is happening in the film industry because (they) haven’t worked in it for 20 years.” (Anonymous because they could lose their job over this).

What about valuable networking?

One reason why you might consider going to film school is the networking opportunity. A majority of the film jobs you get will be because of the people you know. The more people in film you know, the better your chances and film school is full of them, but they’re your peers, not your employers. Maybe in the future your contacts from film school will be successful in their fields and that could work to your advantage, but that’s years down the road. Consider seeking out other opportunities to network:

Film festivals are a great place to meet fellow film enthusiasts who have already started working in their desired fields. Some people are just starting out and others are seasoned and well established. You can either attend these festivals or you can create your own low budget short and try to enter your film. Either way, you’ll have the opportunity to get new contacts and one of those might turn into a job opportunity. But be willing to start at the bottom of the totem pole, take whatever job they are willing to give you and prove yourself valuable to them.

Work on set in whatever capacity you can. If that means you are a personal assistant, do it. If that means you head over to Central Casting and background act your way into better position after better position so you can meet the right people, call and make an appointment today.

Work for a producer as a personal assistant, administrative assistant, social media marketer, janitor, whatever position they are hiring. Networking is all about getting to know the right people and building a relationship with them. Plus, you get to be close to them while they are working so you can gain valuable insight into the industry.

Empty Classroom

How can I learn for free?

There are any number of ways to learn about film for free (or nearly free). Watch interviews of your favorite directors, producers, actors, DPs, editors, writers, etc. YouTube is full of them. But there are also groups like, “No Film School” that are highly informative as well. There are millions of things that you can learn from the interviews of people in your desired field. For me, my aim is script writing. Part of script writing is learning how to pitch the script, so I sought out answers from the most successful writers I could find interviews for. Part of learning is understanding that you don’t know everything and having the humility and resourcefulness to find the answer you need. Are you interested in building miniatures for films like Star Wars? Watch interviews of Fon Davis on YouTube. You will be inspired and well informed. I, for one, didn’t realize that in order to be cost-efficient, the goal of creating miniatures for a film is to get it done as quickly and as cheaply as possible which means the items will fall apart on their own and won’t be as intricate as they appear on screen. He said (and I’m paraphrasing),“If things start to fall apart on their own right after filming the scene, they did their job well.” Mind = Blown! I always thought it was the opposite. Who knew? Research people. It’s amazing what you can learn.

No Film Schoolis a phenomenal resource as well. You’ll learn everything from lighting to camera angles to the best equipment for your budget to funding your film to screenwriting and directing. Their information is, seemingly, endless and you can bunny trail your way (watching videos, listening to podcasts, reading their blogs) to a well-rounded, successful career. It is beneficial to be well versed in several areas of film, even if you are only interested in doing one. The more areas you comprehend the better asset you will be and the more overall success you will have. Even if you do choose to go to film school, make sure you continue your education by using such resources.

Get Paid to Learn!

I mentioned a few times over the course of this article that a good option is to work in the film industry, in some capacity, and work your way into the position you want. This can be achieved a few ways: personal assistant, internship, background acting (find out how to get into background acting here). But how do you get these jobs? There are a few ways:

First, look into Facebook Film Groups. Not only do they post job opportunities, but they frequently post helpful links to learn about the industry and it’s a great place to do some networking. Three birds, one stone… not too shabby.

Second, LinkedIn film boards. And, just like facebook film groups, this is a great place to network, learn more about the industry and find jobs. While you’re at it, add people who work in your desired field and other areas of film. They might post job opportunities on their own personal pages, rather than a film board.

Third, do you have friends that work in the film industry? Pick their brains. Gain knowledge from their experience and ask if they know of anyone who might be hiring or even if they’d want to team up with you to make a short film to enter into a festival.

Fourth, email production companies. You don’t know if you don’t ask. If you choose this route, remember to: be kind, humble and brief. They’re not going to read a ten page email, but they might read a well-written, polite, short paragraph about who you are, why you appreciate them and how honored you’d be if you could work for them somehow.

Final thoughts and encouragement

All in all, is film school bad? No. There are things you can learn and resources you can gain. But is film school the best option? That’s really for you to decide. My vote is to work and learn on the job, get paid instead of going into debt.

Working in the film industry is great. It’s a lot of fun. You get to be really creative and work with awesome people. I recommend it. But in all of your excitement, don’t forget that it’s fickle too. It requires hard work, determination, occasionally sleeping on a friend's couch, never losing sight of your goals and holding onto the passion that inspired your crazy journey in the first place.

Resources

Topsheet - Entertainment Payroll and Production Administration https://topsheet.io

Indie Film Hustle - Fantastic podcast for filmmaker education

Central Casting - Casting Agency

No Film School - Videos, Podcasts and Blogs about filmmaking

Amy Clarke - List of Facebook Film Groups**

Linkedin - LinkedIn Film Industry Network

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