Arts & Culture / Mosaic / May 30, 2013

The film school debate

FilmMany aspiring filmmakers have heard about the debate surrounding a college education: basically, is it worth your time and money to go to film school? Only fairly recently an option in the U.S., film school can either be well worth the money or waste your time and put you into debt. However, the question can only be answered for each individual person and their needs.

The biggest con of film school is definitely the cost. Most film production programs require extra fees along with your tuition for requirement, processing, and lab use. There can be about $200 worth of extra class fees outside of equipment rentals, depending on the program, and this can make paying for an education even more difficult, especially when the industry you are hoping to enter is historically fickle. Having lots of loan debt when you don’t know that you are going to have a job is not a good way to start any career.

The biggest pro to film school, however, are the connections you may gain. Depending on where you go to school, you are likely to meet fellow crew members in your classmates and hopefully find industry professionals through your professors. You will also get hands on training with technique and equipment before entering the workforce, which can give you a small edge when looking for internships and projects that will give you notable experience.

Another good reason to go, for anyone passionate about making film, is that you get to make your art for four years under the guidance of mentors and colleagues–sometimes with chances of funding and screenings. If getting a degree is important to you and you want to enjoy what you are doing and learning about, then making films for four years is not something to take lightly. The passion might outweigh the expense.

To complicate matters, there are successful examples from both sides. Many directors  and filmmakers never went to film school  or even aspired to be filmmakers before finding the right people and being in the right place in the right time. The common filmmaking narrative is that you learn everything you need to know on the job from the professionals and that internships and apprenticing is the most direct way to start making high-grossing films.

However, this narrative is starting to change with the current surge of independent studios and films and film school students themselves. Film school can give you more confidence with equipment so that you don’t need to learn it on the job, but it also gives you a good sense of history. Most film production programs require that you study film history and film theory, which can help inform creative decisions. Directors from film school, like Martin Scorsese, can draw on this history to make movies that are continuing to grow the tradition of cinema by building on what already exists instead of making carbon copies of what could be.

The resolution, then, is to look more at what you want in the present and not what you want in the future. If you want to be a filmmaker  in your life, you can make that happen with or without school. If a degree is important to you and you want to continue to make films when in school, then film school might be the right choice, although there are other great college filmmaking outlets as well, like clubs and film studies classes. If you want to start right out in the industry, start looking for jobs and internships relating to film production and try to make as many contacts as you can. There really is no right or wrong answer to what sort of college education you need to be filmmaker. We all have to remember that it is a personal choice based on individual circumstance. But whatever you decide, keep making films and using motion to tell your stories.

Claire Garand
Claire Garand is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student.

Tags:  claire garand directors film film makers film school industry school

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1 Comment

May 30, 2013

What’s vitally important for any person aspiring to work within the professional film industry is to figure out what SPECIFIC job he/she desires BEFORE any decisions are made regarding advanced education.

The Film Industry is very specialized, meaning, it isn’t good enough to just say that you want to be a “filmmaker.” That is a meaningless term. EVERYONE on a film set and in pre and post production are all part of the filmmaking process.

With that in mind, making that decision (or at least honing down the possibilities) is a vital step to take before committing to the time and expense that any school would require.

Why? Because nearly all below-the-line positions require zero “film school” specific education. Sure, you could learn how to do some Grip or Electric functions at film school, but you’re just as well off volunteering to work on low-budget productions where they cherish volunteers. You’ll learn as you go and more importantly, be meeting people along the way which is the key to building a career. As they rise in the industry, if they like you, they’ll bring you along. And you’ll bring others along your path. That’s how it works.

If you wish to be a Director, then maybe a structured film school could help teach you a few things, but for most aspiring Directors, writing is more of a key than learning the filmmaking process. To that end, studying other movies is a good idea as a minor, but more importantly a Writer should be studying Literature, History, Sociology, Interpersonal Relations, Political Science… in short, EVERYTHING you need in order to have something to write ABOUT. Merely studying other movies and the filmmaking process is no way to hone your skills and become a successful STORYTELLER who uses “film” as the medium.

There are a lot of resources available which can help any aspiring film professional learn about the jobs before any time or money is spent pursuing, what could easily turn out to be, the wrong path.

Brian Dzyak
Cameraman – IATSE Local 600, Society of Operating Cameramen (SOC)
Author of the book, “What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood” and administrator of

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