Is Film School Good for Career Training in Film?



02/13/2012

“Is film school good for career training in film?” This is a question often asked by aspiring filmmakers, film producers and film directors. While in many other professions it is absolutely necessary to have a formal education, with the film industry it is not as cut-and-dried as all that. Quite a few successful filmmakers have never attended film school—James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino, just to name a few. Is film school really necessary, and does it increase your chances for success?


The answer might surprise you.


While many film schools do a satisfactory job in teaching the technical aspects of filmmaking, there are several ways in which they fall short:

 

  1. Most film schools can’t help their students make connections to the film industry itself, because all training occurs in isolated environments away from the “real world.” As a result, many film school graduates still struggle to find work in the industry.
  2. Most film schools do not give students a chance to build their “reel,” a log of their actual credited projects that help them get jobs. (Most student film projects are either group projects, or are not really counted by the industry as actual work experience.)
  3. Most film schools are quite expensive, burdening students with huge amounts of debt.

 

The upshot of these disadvantages is that many film school students graduate with a huge pile of debt, no connections and no job prospects. Many of them resort to paying off their debts by taking jobs in fields other than the film industry, and many never get their break in film.


So is film school good for career training? Many industry professionals do not believe so. If you ask them, they’re likely to tell you it’s far better to be trained in actual film production companies while working on real film projects. In their eyes, there’s nothing you could learn in film school that you couldn’t learn more effectively on real movie sets and in production houses.


One type of film school might prove to be an exception to the rule. The mentor-apprentice (extern) approach is gaining in popularity among industry professionals, because it bypasses the classroom environment completely. A mentor-apprentice (extern) education program will place you as an apprentice (extern) in a real film production company, where you will learn the ropes of filmmaking one-on-one from a working professional. This method puts students at a great advantage because they are gaining real experience and making vital industry connections while they learn. Additionally, the costs of this type of education are far less than what you pay at most film schools.


If you want to be a filmmaker, make no mistake: you need an education. But is film school good for receiving that training? Only if the school can truly connect you to the industry and help you launch your film career.