Film School or Not to Film School?

I run into people that say they would love to work in film.  Young people ask me advice about film school.  My first question for people that would like to work in film is “what would you like to do?”  Most of them respond with, “I don’t know.”  That’s OK in the beginning.  Most people are star struck and want to be involved in some way or another and the reason I ask is that the advice is very different from someone wanting to work in computer graphic special effects and someone that wants to be a director.  When I went to film school most of my cohorts wanted to be directors so we had a different path from those that wanted to be screen writers, cinematographers or producers.

I never met anyone in film school that wanted to be a caterer.  I never met anyone at film school that wanted to be a dolly grip, a gaffer or a set builder.  Those guys don’t really need what film school has to offer although you would get exposure doing those things working as crewmen on class mates projects.  So there are tons of jobs in the film industry that you wouldn’t need to go to film school for. 

That brings us to the question of film schools.  To film school or not to film school?  I’ve heard people on both sides of the fence debate this question but my answer is, “it depends.”  It’s hard for me to recommend to anyone to not get a university degree and if you know you want to work in film it only seems logical to get your degree in film.  But there are plenty of people that skip right to working in film so again, it depends on what you want. 

I’ve never seen want ads asking for inexperienced directors fresh out of film school, but I often see ads looking for a sound recorder with his own equipment.  If you want to be a director should you go to film school?  It depends on a lot of factors.  There are lots of directors that didn’t go to film school, they just learned it on their own.  I never really held my degree from film school in very high regard and would often joke about it… until I worked on a significant project with a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced people who had not gone to film school.  After that frustrating experience, I never minimized my film school education again. 

The biggest woe coming out of film schools today though, in my humble opinion is the lack of business savvy.  I always tell people going to film school that if someone graduates from art school, they can take $100 and buy a canvas and some paints and produce their art.  A musician can set up a nice digital home studio for $10,000 and make their music.  But a director coming out of film school needs $1,000,000 to produce a decent first feature film.  I think anyone can figure out how to get a $100 and most people could figure out how to get $10,000 but how many film school graduates can figure out how to raise a million bucks?  Who in their right mind would trust you with that much money?  Can you deliver?  Can you squeeze that paltry $1,000,000 and make your film look like it’s got a real budget? It’s a process that builds and builds over time.

We have to go back to what do you want to do and how hard are you willing to work to get it?  Most people see the glitz and glamour of the film industry but do not realize the passion and blood that go into most of these jobs.  Most actors starve, most film producers make fairly dismal wages and most film crews work their tails off and try to line up their next job before the current project ends so they can keep working through out the year.  If you like security and 9 to 5 work days – run the other direction.  

 

Written by Shane Kester

 

 

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25 Comments

  1. I love your site! Lots of eye catchers! My son wants to become famous like a Disney star hopefully I can learn a thing or too from you so I can help him in that. Stay in touch!

    Jandy

  2. G.E. Moon II says:

    Shane, I would respectfully agree to disagree…while this isn’t the norm…look at Kevin Smith who made Clerks for about $25k (almost all financed on credit cards) and the same with Robert Townsend and Hollywood Shuffle (again financed for about $25k on credit cards). It can be done. If I remember correctly Kevin Smith was a “drop-out” of Vancouver Film School.

    Yours In Health!

    G.E. Moon II
    http://www.AbundantHealthCenter.com

    • Shane Kester says:

      The question is how many of those 25K movies are made each and every year? And how much did it cost for you to hear about Clerks and Hollywood Shuffle? Ooops, that 25K film is back up in the six figures real quick. And those films got them their next real jobs, which is the whole point.

  3. School tends to give you the basics and it is what you learn after that makes you great. It is so true that people get star struck and just want to be in Hollywood. I would never want to live that life.
    Yours In Health!

    Dr. Wendy M. Schauer, D.C., R.K.C.
    Come Experience The Power of the Russian KettleBell Revolution at Kettlebell Olympia – Home of A Better Body With Bells!

  4. People always fixate on the “instant” celebrities or stories such as Speilberg’s, when he just showed up on set, hung around and eventually won directing jobs. Of course, there was more to his story than that, including the passion he had for the work. And most celebrities have worked their butts off before their careers take off. Thanks for another fascinating look inside this industry!

    Karen Van Ness
    http://www.BestBreathingExercises.com

  5. Ellen Egan says:

    Shane,
    It sounds like going to film school would give someone the exposure to the “business” in order to understand if it’s something that they should pursue.
    Sometimes “it depends” is the best answer as it makes the person look a bit deeper into what they are questioning.

    thanks
    Ellen
    Improve your public speaking skills

  6. Shane, great post!

    Think you hit the nail on the head in several areas:
    - need for a business education specifically related to film,
    - the need to work your butt off,
    - and… well, the passion – who would be in this “glamourous” profession with uncertain security – if they didn’t love it?

    My Dad, an actor, worked a 9-5 to support his 6 kids and then in his “spare” time devoted himself to any acting job he could get: theatre, modeling, commercials, dubbing, voice acting, script-writing, speaking and non-speaking bits in big and little films. And when he wasn’t “working”, he was always fine-tuning his technique, knowledge, abilities…. This overflowed into his view of his 9-5 job as a technical writer: “At least,” he quipped, “I have a captive audience!” He was absolutely proud of being an actor and felt that was his legacy!

    Love for the “craft” drives so many in the “biz”! And isn’t film school like a short-cut into a better knowledge of one’s Craft?

    Eileen
    Social Media: 7 Reasons People Go Online. And You?

  7. Eva Palmer says:

    Fortunatly in the film industry the most important is to make goos movies. There are some other areas where it would be imposible to think to work without a degree. That’s also very good because imagine somebody wanting to work in a profession with a risk and not having a degree…The risk in film industry would be loosing the 1.000.000, isn’t it?

  8. Hi Shane,

    what a wonderful article from an insider’s view of the Film Industry! You expert perspective and guidance for those who want to get into the film industry in a variety of ways and positions is invaluable. And I’m glad to hear you say “it depends” rather than offer up advice which might not be truly useful for your mentees.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell
    Dating After 40 Expert

  9. This information is exactly why I’ve never been tempted to go into show business.

    Sabrina Peterson, NASM CPT, CES
    Corrective Exercise for Every Body

  10. Alec Grebis says:

    The draw of the bright lights grows dimmer with each step further you need to take along the path when it comes to fields like film. I do some work in radio and see the same thing.

  11. Don Hill says:

    My grandma used to say “No one can ever take away your education”. In a very competitive industry such as film it certainly couldn’t hurt.

    Don
    http://donhillonline.com

  12. Dennis Perry says:

    Shane,
    What a great description of the trials and tribulations of the film industry. Those of us on the outside only see the glitz and glamor and the big stars with the big paychecks.

    For everyone of those, I am guessing there are hundreds of starving artists.

    There is great information in this article.
    Dennis
    Create The Life of Your Dreams

  13. Shane,

    I would think the true value of film school, like all schools, would be the connections you would acquire. As I understand it a large part of your success in the film business is dependent on networking.

    Steve

  14. bryan says:

    I have had a few friends that were interested in film..after a few years of film school though they ran. I think I would do it like speileberg did.

    Sales Success Expert

  15. kevin hogan says:

    Always comes down to how much work and effort you are going to put into your craft.

    kevin hogan
    Effective Tinnitus Treatment

  16. There is so much that goes on so the few main actors can “sell” the film. I can only imagine that you should know what every single component of the job is from the caterer to the director so you have the best basis for success.

  17. It does depend but the shift is coming and getting a college degree is falling to the way side. It;s all about the business side. If you don’t have a proper foundation in business I don’t care how many degrees you have it won’t work. That’s what we teach. Good post!

  18. Shane, it doesnt matter what you do for some reason people think th they can do it faster, cheaper or even better. I am sure that is true even in making movies. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    http://www.crackedheatexchanger.com
    Now go implement!

  19. Hi Shane,
    Great article! People really don’t know what is involved in making a film or a TV show nor the long boring hours that are involved.

    The TV spot that I worked on for Zumanity (shot by a top film company out of Hollywood) that just came out a month ago took two 16 hour days of filming to produce the 60 seconds of film seen on TV. Non-film people are shocked by the numbers when you tell them that but I’m glad you’re teaching this stuff via your blog.

    Michael
    The Success Secrets

  20. Alam Ghafoor says:

    I know a lot of famous directors went to film school,and a lot of famous directors who didn’t.Would it help the ones who did go to film school if they had been taught something about the business aspect of film making?

    http://alamghafoor.com

  21. Film schoolfor technical aspects seems like a good idea. For creativity, probably not such a big deal.
    Christian
    Leadership is a Choice

  22. Rob Northrup says:

    I am sure that film school can teach many valuable things if the student takes it seriously, and not as an excuse to extend high school another 4-7 years :-)

    Trying to get a first job as a director has to be like trying to get your first job as the CEO or President of a company…

    Or wanting to start out as head coach of the soccer or football team.

    Surely there are positions that assist the director and take some of the burden off of him or her, that can get you experience and exposure so that you can move up to Director?

    Seize the Day,
    Survival Rob

    Is Your Family Prepared For A Financial Crisis or Natural Disaster?

  23. Rae & Mark says:

    Shane,

    This is a really interesting article.

    I always get my leg pulled when I answer a question with “it depends”, but if you’re the sort of person that sees the world in technicolour as opposed to black and white, then it’s often the best answer, as you say.

    Even when you see the long, long list of a film crew scroll by at the end, I don’t think it really clicks just how much effort goes into producing any movie, never mind the big blockbusters, and I suppose it stands to reason that some of those crew members probably aren’t making a lot of money for the time and energy they put in.

    Rae & Mark
    Gazebo Plans