Is Film School a Waste?



02/16/2012

“Is film school a waste?” This is a question being asked by a growing number of aspiring filmmakers these days. Film schools are usually quite expensive, and their programs can take years to complete; yet there are a disturbing number of graduates from these schools that are still struggling to find work even after going to school. At the same time, there are success stories like Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, James Cameron, David Fincher, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino—all famous directors who found success without the help of film school. It begs the question: why spend all that time and money on a film education that will obviously not improve your chances for success, especially when so many people have become successful without it?


Is film school a waste? There are many industry professionals who apparently think so. There are many people in the film industry today who didn’t go to school—and the ones who did will usually tell you their REAL education started once they started working on real film sets. These professionals believe that you’ll have a better chance of success by simply apprenticing in a film production company, rather than wasting tens of thousands of dollars on film school.


Now, in defense of film school education, it isn’t that you won’t learn anything there, because you will. Many film schools do a fine job of teaching you the filmmaking arts. The disconnect is that the film industry itself lives and breathes by connections; you have to have connections in order to get a job. This is where most film programs are falling short: they don’t provide students with a way to get connected to the industry for which they are training. This is why so many graduate from these schools with a ton of debt and no job prospects—and why industry professionals recommend in-studio training as a better way to learn.


The dilemma, of course, is there are many talented young filmmakers who don’t have the connections to get an apprenticeship (externship) in one of these production companies, let alone land a job there. If you had those connections, you probably wouldn’t need film school at all! There has to be some way to bridge the gap—to make those connections while getting educated. And this is where the mentor-apprentice (extern) approach is breaking ground.


The mentor-apprentice (extern) approach is an innovative method now in use by certain film schools, in which the student goes through the curriculum as an actual apprentice (extern) inside a real production company, being trained one-on-one by a working film professional. The school makes the connections and provides the curriculum, but all teaching and training is done on-site. It’s a very effective and affordable alternative that helps students make connections as they learn.


Is film school a waste? Only if you can’t make connections to the industry. This is why the mentor-apprentice (extern) approach is worth considering.