What’s Better to Get a Job in Film: A Degree or Experience?
This is a question that is being asked more and more by aspiring filmmakers. While it is frequently assumed that with filmmaking (like with other professions), getting a degree is important to launching a career in film, and perhaps even mandatory. However, when you look at the body of evidence surrounding the film industry and film schools in general, there are a number of things that fly in the face of that belief. In particular, two disturbing trends stand out:
TREND #1: Many successful filmmakers never went to film school, and do not have a degree. Here are just a few examples. See if you recognize any of their names:
Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight, Memento)
Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong)
Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2, Inglourious Basterds)
David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love)
James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar)
TREND #2: A vast number of film school graduates never get their break, and have trouble getting hired. They frequently wind up working in dead-end jobs to pay off their student debts.
Taken together, these two trends point to a disturbing conclusion: earning a film degree is no guarantee of success. There are too many graduates who can’t find work, and too many success stories outside of film school, to suggest otherwise.
So, what’s better to get a job in film: a degree or experience?
It begs the question: what caused the directors on the list above, along with many others, to find their success? Obviously, it wasn’t their film degree. Answer: they gained experience. They had connections to learn their way around the art of filmmaking, and eventually their work got the attention of the industry.
The startling truth about the film industry (a truth which film schools don’t want you to know) is that real-life experience ALWAYS trumps a college education when it comes to getting a job in film. Unlike other professions, the film industry simply places no value on degrees or diplomas, because the industry professionals know that going to film school doesn’t really teach you about the ins and outs of the film industry. This is why more and more film professionals are endorsing the mentor-extern approach to film education. With this method, the education actually takes place inside real film production companies, so film students get the real-world experience they need as they learn.
Bottom line: what’s better to get a job in film: a degree or experience? Between the two, experience wins out every time.