Why Do I Need to Go to Film School?


If you’re thinking of filmmaking as a career, you might be wondering about film school. If you’ve done any studying on your own, it’s possible that you’ve noticed that there are a lot of successful filmmakers who didn’t actually attend film school—directors like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan and others. As expensive as film programs can get, you might be wondering why you even need to go to film school.

The short answer is, you don’t—IF you can get your education by alternative means.  (That’s a big “IF” for some.)

Here are some interesting facts about the film industry in general. First of all, it is one of the few professions where a degree is not a requirement. As long as you can do your job well, no one really cares where (or if) you went to film school. Secondly, the film industry is one of those fields where anything you could learn in a classroom can be learned just as effectively (and even more effectively) by learning on the job. In other words, there’s nothing an expensive film school can teach you that you couldn’t learn by working on real film productions. Thirdly, there are many film professionals who think film schools in general are highly overrated, because while they can teach you the technical skills, they don’t necessarily have connections to the industry itself—and without industry connections, getting a job is nearly impossible.

That being said, there are three basic things you need in order to launch a career in film, and if you can cover these three bases on your own, there is basically no need for you to go to film school. Here they are:

  1. You need some sort of education in film, whether or not you get it in a classroom.
  2. You need some real-life experience, because there are some things about filmmaking you can’t learn in class or in books.
  3. You need industry connections, because the film industry operates from connections and relationships.

Interestingly, even if you go to film school, you’ll probably only get the first part covered—education. You’ll still need to figure out experience and connections on your own.

In recent years, though, an alternative learning method has been gaining popularity in the film community: the mentor-extern approach. This type of film school (Film Connection, for example) effectively covers all three bases by placing students as apprentices inside real film production houses, where they learn the skills by participating in real projects. Industry pros like this method because most of them believe it’s best to learn film on the set, anyhow—plus, it costs considerably less money than most film schools.

The bottom line is if you can get an education, experience and connections on your own, you’ll be on your way to a film career without film school. If you can’t cover these bases, the mentor-extern approach might be an excellent alternative.

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