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Should I go to film school? That’s a difficult question all aspiring filmmakers come up against. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all answer. You may dream of attending a prestigious film school and joining the ranks of fellow graduates like George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. However, the reality is film school isn’t for everyone — your decision really depends on what you hope to gain from attending.
The good news is that a degree isn’t required to be successful in the industry. Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Quentin Tarantino have wildly prolific careers without a specialized educational background.
So, before making a final decision, weigh the benefits of film school vs. being self-taught. You’ll need to decide which factors are important to you and which situation would help you learn the best.
Reasons to Go to Film School
Attending a film school comes with many perks and can help start your career off on the right foot.
Without connections, getting a foothold in this industry can be extremely difficult. Film school exposes you to people and resources you wouldn’t have access to on your own. Your professors have experience in the field and can share their connections and knowledge with you.
You’ll also be spending a lot of time with other hopeful filmmakers. As you progress in your career, these people will be valuable resources for you. Seek them out for inspiration or help with any future projects, and they’ll probably do the same for you.
2. Access to Equipment
Film equipment isn’t cheap, and this is an industry where more expensive usually equals better quality. While you’re at film school, you’ll learn to use the latest technology and get time to work with it on your own.
When you’re self-taught, it may be years before you’re able to get your hands on the same equipment, either by paying to rent it yourself or using it on set for someone else’s film.
3. Build a Portfolio
Producers and directors will need to have a showreel of their past work to demonstrate their filmmaking knowledge, passion, and experience. It may be challenging to create enough original work to fill out a portfolio when you’re on your own.
At film school, each of your major assignments will help you add to your showreel. By the time you graduate, you’ll have worked on plenty of projects you can showcase. Odds are studios and producers will be more interested in a comprehensive portfolio than the specific film school you attended.
4. Have Someone to Hold Your Hand
Some people learn best in a structured environment with lectures, hands-on tutorials, assignments, and deadlines. If that sounds like you, the film school model might be a good fit.
You’ll take classes pertaining to producing and directing films and work on projects that’ll showcase your skills and knowledge. Professors will be there every step of the way to guide you and enhance your learning experience.
Reasons Not to Go to Film School
Despite the benefits of film school, deciding to teach yourself and learn on the job certainly has its merits.
One of the most significant drawbacks to film school is the cost. A prestigious school like the American Film Institute or the California Institute of the Arts will set you back about $35,000 a year, with degrees taking between one and three years total.
If you’re willing to teach yourself or know a lot about film already, you could use your money to rent equipment and a crew to begin making your own films right away. Also, you could avoid the substantial amount of debt students coming out of school have. Instead, spend your money on living expenses and furthering your craft.
2. Time Commitment
Experience is one of the most essential qualifications for careers in the film industry. While you’re in film school, you’ll learn a lot, but your actual on-the-job experience will likely be lacking.
If you head directly into the workforce, you probably won’t get your dream job right away, but your work experience could be what gives you the edge over other applicants. What you lack in connections can be made up with some old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears.
3. Vast Library of Knowledge on the Internet
Nowadays, you don’t need a formal education to teach you everything. The internet is a wealth of knowledge with self-paced courses and free videos teaching any skills you could possibly want to learn.
If you’re self-motivated and would prefer to learn by doing, staying out of traditional film school may be a better choice. Seek out entry-level jobs or internships where you can practice your skills and gain experience. You should also find a mentor who can pass on their knowledge and help you network.
4. Skills Aren’t Transferable
Another issue with film school is that the skills you learn are very industry-specific. If you decide to pursue a career in a different field, you may need to go back to school or start at the bottom. It’s an expensive choice if you aren’t absolutely certain of your path.
Teaching yourself costs much less and won’t set you back if you decide down the road filmmaking isn’t for you. The skills you learn from the school of life are far more transferable and valuable to employers than a niche school degree.
Should I Go to Film School?
That’s a question only you can answer. If you’re someone who benefits from direct instruction and assistance, formal film school might be your best option. However, if you learn best from the school of hard knocks and think well on your feet, there’s a lot to be gained from teaching yourself and learning on the job.
Also, remember nothing is permanent. No matter which decision you make, you can always change your mind if it isn’t working out for you. If you decide to start film school, but you find yourself bored of the mandatory assignments and structure, take a semester off and see if you can break out on your own. On the other hand, trying out film school might be beneficial if you tried to teach yourself the necessary skills but can’t land your first job with your limited connections.