The Pros and Cons of Film School // 5 Questions That May Save You From Unnecessary Debt

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I grew up with the belief that a university education was the key to making a good living and that if I wanted a good job with a good wage, going to university was essential. For most trade / specialized jobs, you are required to go to school in order to get the distinction / classification to work in that given field. However, a film degree is an arts degree and a piece of paper will generally not help you get a job. One recent study done by Georgetown University suggests that film is the second worst degree that one could attain.

First and foremost, before I offer any insight into whether or not you should go to film school, please understand that these are just my opinions and by no means are a recommendation for your given scenario. Like anything, take this info with a grain of salt and take from it what you like!

In this post, I want to break down the pros and cons of going to film school while offering some insight with actionable items that you will be able to take with you on your unique journey as a multi-media freelancer.

The 5 Questions

Before deciding whether you should go to film school, there are five questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. What is your ten year plan?
  2. How does film school fit into your ten year plan?
  3. What do you hope to gain from the experience?
  4. How are you going to get a job when you complete your degree?
  5. Can these desires be accomplished from not going to film school?

Feeble Beginnings.

Rewind to 2006. I started down the path to be an optometrist. After one year, I switched directions and decided to get a degree in Media Production & Studies. My experience at this school was mixed. To best understand my time, I have included a breakdown of the pros and cons of this experience.

Pros

  1. Peer criticism and learning. While in school, I had a huge desire to try one up other people’s projects. By no means was I able to achieve this but the desire was always in the back of my mind.
  2. Guidance and Mentorship. Profs generally come from a varied skill set and when at film school, you have access to their guidance and support. Another channel you have access to is the local industry. Many universities have relationships built up with the local industry.
  3. Structure. While in school, you were forced to push yourself and your comfort level. Working in a structured environment forces you to push yourself to achieve deadlines.
  4. Support Team: Another benefit is the ability to expand your network and develop relationships with potential collaborators. School is a great place to meet like-minded individuals.
  5. Experimentation: Taking risks and thinking outside the box is generally encouraged at film school. Although sometimes forced to work within the box, you are usually free to express yourself however you please. It is also a place which gives you the freedom to experiment with formats, cameras, lighting and storytelling techniques with teachers there to guide you and provide constructive criticism (or at least that’s what they are supposed to be doing).
  6. Access to Equipment: Most schools provide you with access to equipment you otherwise would not have easy access to. Most times these rental fees are built into your tuition so it is in your best interest to take advantage of this opportunity.
  7. Diversity of Skill Set: A degree makes you more well rounded and more interesting as a creative individual as you generally are forced to takes classes outside of your major. For me, I had a passion for both English and Asian History and as such, have the credits to receive minors in each.

Now the question is, is it possible to attain the above elements if you don’t go to film school? In order to fully understand the similarities and differences and help determine if you need to go to film school, I will address each of the elements above to see if they are possible to achieve if you were not to go to film school. First off, here are some of the CONS from going to film school.

 Cons:

  1. A film degree is expensive. Most individuals coming out of film school are left with huge debts to repay and many struggle to find a job in their given field because they are not left with the skills it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur.
  2. Most production companies don’t care about your degree, rather they care about your talent and personality. They care about your portfolio and if your skill set will solve the needs of the given position.
  3. Many people leave film school with a sense of entitlement and this hinders many from being able to actually get a job in the industry. Out of the 30 people I would have graduated with, only FOUR that I know of are actually trying to make a go of it.

Obviously everyone’s experiences will be different when it comes to film school and I would have more than likely had a better experience from the school if I really know the type of work I wanted to produce. However, most people going in have no idea of how to actually make money in the industry because they are rarely taught the necessary skills to be a successful freelancer / entrepreneur (at least it was this way with my experience).

Fast forward three years of debt and I was in somewhat of a panic over not being fulfilled with the workload. It was only when I took actions into my own hands where I was able to start developing the skills I needed to make a go of it as an entrepreneur. Believe me, almost all of work I was producing when I first started charging was complete rubbish! For me, this decision to go to film school ended up being a journey towards debt and a lack of desire to complete my final two classes. For me, I wish I would have went to business school instead of film school!

director

If you choose to not go to film school, here are a few steps I would take in order to achieve a similar experience to that of film school.

Actionable Items.

  1. Peer criticism and learning. The online educational resources are continually growing and it is most likely that the information you desire is available online for free or for a nominal fee. If you are looking for constructive criticism, there are many communities online that are willing to provide this criticism for you.
  2. Guidance and Mentorship. Finding a mentor is imperative. It is extremely important to find someone that can help guide you through your journey. You’ll be surprised how many people online are willing to help.
  3. Structure. Set deadlines for yourself and meet them. These deadlines will eventually be the backbone to the success of your business so developing these skills early is imperative.
  4. Support Team. Most city centres (even the smaller ones) have film communities willing to help each other out. Another channel to explore are the local production companies. Find local companies producing work similar to the work you want to produce and reach out.
  5. Experimentation. Take risks with your work and don’t be scared to share your work. It is important to get feedback on the work you are producing.
  6. Access to Equipment. By developing relationships with local companies and other filmmakers in your area, you will indirectly gain access to this equipment. Offer support to both of these channels and help them on their personal projects. Further to this, don’t be scared to rent equipment. If you were to go to film school, you would be spending money. Take the money you would have spent if you would have went to school and either buy equipment with this money or rent.
  7. Diversity of Skill Set. It is important that you continue to push yourself to learn – be it about filmmaking or life in general. Listen to podcasts and read books. Develop your own curricula for content you want to learn.

Take Responsibility for Your Career.

Now you may be asking, you make it sound so easy. Believe me, it’s not. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and if you are hoping to make a go of it on your own. By going to school, although it was not the best experience for me, you are able gain new perspectives and expand your horizons. If you decide to go to film school, make sure you break down your options and decide what you want to get from your experience in school before deciding to go. I did not do this and that may have been the reason in which my experience was not positive. For me, going to school left me in debt — with most of my opportunities arising from my attempts outside of school to make a go of it. If you decide not to go, you must understand that your success is based on your desire to learn and push yourself. You will need to establish and maintain six key items. These include:

  1. Planning: Build a Roadmap to Success. Your chance at success is in your hands. Determine what your ten year goals are and develop a plan of action to achieve these goals. Do one thing a day that will get you closer to your goals. The limit to your success is only limited by how much you want to achieve. At the end of each week, review what you did and determine if you are on target.
  2. Maintain Focus: Dedication. Don’t lose focus of your goals. Make yourself accountable for your actions.
  3. Take Responsibility: Putting in the Time. Success takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If you choose to create your own path, make sure you have a game plan and take responsibility for your actions.
  4. Do Your Homework. Push yourself to learn. It is key that you keep learning and that you do not become complacent. Expand your knowledge base at all times. One small step I have recently taken is listening to podcasts and audio books while driving verses music.
  5. Networking. Develop and online presence and attend networking events in your area. The key to success when freelancing is developing and maintaining relationships and it is key that you keep pushing to meet new people and establish new channels.
  6. Re-Focus. Life is short and it is key to re-focus on what is important to you. I am not talking about your goals with your career with this point as that was discussed in the second point. However, what I am talking about here are the fundamental elements that guide WHO you are. It is important to stay grounded and remain focused on how you want to live your life.

If you would like to read more about these actionable items, make sure to check out a previous post I did on relationship building and another on building your business and honing your niche.

In summary, it is obvious that the two directions have both pros and cons and these decisions are ultimately based on your specific needs and desires. Each and every persons path is unique and it is key to break down each direction based on these needs. With the openness of the internet and with the amount of quality information that exists online, these days it is possible for someone to get a well balanced education by simply having a game plan and sticking with it.

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