Do I Need to Go to Film Directing School?


If you’re dreaming of becoming a famous film director someday, you might naturally assume that you need to go to film directing school. After all, conventional wisdom says that if you want to train for a profession, you should go to school for it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s just how our culture thinks. And of course, there are some professions for which schooling is an absolute necessity (medicine and law, for example).

But if you were to make a list of your favorite film directors and check each of their professional bios, you might be surprised to find out how many of them did not go to film school at all, or perhaps enrolled but did not finish. Check out this list of famous directors, none of whom attended film directing school:

Peter Jackson
Christopher Nolan
Paul Thomas Anderson
Quentin Tarantino
James Cameron
David Fincher
Robert Rodriguez

These are just a few of the film industry professionals who didn’t bother with film school. If you were to ask any of them why didn’t go, you’d likely get a variety of answers. Some might tell you it never occurred to them; others might tell you they felt it was a waste of time or money. (Paul Thomas Anderson actually enrolled in a film school, then withdrew two days later, took the refund and used it to make the short film that helped to launch his career.)

The reality of the film industry is that it is a very practical, hands-on kind of business, one that values experience and connections over formal education. You’re more apt to get a job in film if you’ve worked on film projects, or if you have inside connections, than by touting your film school degree. It’s just the reality of the business. The film directors named above didn’t have a formal education, but they had connections, and they found a way to demonstrate their abilities to people in the industry.

Now, this does not mean an education is not important; it simply means there are a number of ways you can get that education besides enrolling in an expensive film school. One alternative approach to film school called the mentor-extern approach actually operates on the assumption that on-the-job training is better for filmmakers than classroom instruction. A mentor-extern film school places its students in real film production companies, where they learn the ropes by working on real movie projects.

Thus, it is possible to become a film director without going to a formal film school. Film directing school can be helpful only insomuch as it can connect you to the industry and your future career.

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