Is Film School Necessary to Your Career?



02/07/2012

When you look at the cost of film school and the numbers of successful filmmakers who never had formal training, it begs the question: is film school necessary to your career? If people like Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron and David Fincher found success without going to film school, couldn’t you do the same? And when you consider the fact that many film school graduates never get their break at all—is film school even an investment worth making if it doesn’t really help you launch your career?


There is even more evidence to suggest that film school might not be that necessary. Consider the following:

  1. Degrees and diplomas are virtually irrelevant to the film industry. Someone trying to hire you is more likely to ask you what you’ve worked on and who recommends you than where you went to school.
  2. Experience and connections carry more weight in the film industry than a degree. Most film schools can offer neither of these.
  3. Many industry professionals think film school is a waste of your time and money. They have seen firsthand that formal education does not adequately prepare students for the ins and outs of the actual film industry.
  4. Most industry pros believe on-the-job training is better than classroom education when it comes to film. Many people in the film industry actually learned by getting on the set and learning the ropes.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that anyone can become a famous director/producer just by going on the set of a film production. Is film school necessary? Perhaps not—but a good education IS necessary. Even the directors named above found some way to get educated, even if it wasn’t in film school. If you can land an apprenticeship (externship) in a real film production company, that might be all the education you need. If you don’t have those kinds of connections, though, there is another alternative to consider.


As mentioned earlier, there is a consensus among many industry professionals that on-the-job training is better for filmmakers than classroom education. An innovative learning method called the mentor-apprentice (extern) approach bases its whole format on this idea. Instead of training students in classrooms and simulated studios, the mentor-apprentice (extern) school places film students into real production companies as apprentices, where seasoned professionals guide them one-on-one through a curriculum on real film shoots. This not only provides the necessary education, but it also provides the opportunities to gain real-life experience and make inside connections, both of which are vital to success in this field.


Becoming a successful filmmaker doesn’t happen magically or by chance; it requires commitment and hard work, whether or not you receive a formal education. Is film school necessary to your career? Not if you can get the needed education, experience and connections by some other way.