Keeping Film School Debt at a Minimum



05/20/2012

It’s a common dilemma among aspiring filmmakers: how do you get a good film school education while keeping film school debt at a minimum? It’s not an easy task; many film schools are very expensive to attend, and there simply is no way to attend them without accruing huge amounts of student debt.
 

Why is this such a critical issue? It’s always a good idea to avoid student debt whenever possible, but in the film business, it’s especially important. In certain other professions (law, or medicine, for example), a certain amount of student debt is expected—but it is also assumed that landing a lucrative job will be relatively easy based on that college degree, and the debt can usually be paid without too much concern because the graduate has a reliable, steady source of income.
 

With the film industry, one simply can’t make those assumptions. Being a filmmaker can be very lucrative, but the job market is more competitive and unpredictable than in other professions, and there are no guarantees of large income streams when you’re just getting started.
 

Thus, many film school students find themselves in a major dilemma. They accumulate debt in the tens of thousands of dollars, then graduate only to find themselves with no job prospects. Many of these graduates end up taking dead-end, non-industry jobs just to pay off their debts. This is why it is so important to keep film school debt at a minimum. Having too much debt can literally force you in a direction contrary to your dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
 

So how do you minimize your debt? There are two basic ways to do it:

  1. Fund most of your education yourself, or through grants and scholarships (most film students aren’t able to do this); or
  2. Lower the costs of education.


It’s a case of simple math: the less you have to pay for film school, the less debt you will have to assume.


Here’s the good news: despite what you might have been told, you don’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars on an expensive film school to get a good education. In fact, many famous directors never even went to film school! Many aspiring filmmakers are now seeking out more affordable, alternative learning methods, and one that is gaining popularity is on-the-job apprenticeship (externship)—in other words, learning the ropes of filmmaking as an apprentice (extern) in a real film production company. This is a very cost-effective way to learn, and it even increases your chances for employment because you’re able to make direct contact with people in the film industry. If you don’t have the connections to arrange for your own apprenticeship (externship), try enrolling in a film school that uses the mentor-apprentice (extern) approach.


You need a good education in film, but you shouldn’t have to take on huge debts to do so. Keep your film school debt at a minimum by seeking alternative ways to get educated.