“Is Film School Worth It?” By A Current Film Student

Behind the scenes photo from the short film “THE VESSEL” Directed by J. S. Ali shot in April 2016.

In this article I want to dive deep into the question of “is film school worth it?” In full disclosure, you will not find the golden yes or no answer that you are hoping for. Nor will you find me giving you an answer in the middle. The purpose of this article is to propose the right questions to ask YOURSELF, and there lies the answer you are looking for. I just hope to give you a taste of my positive experience, so that you can make your own judgements.

Let’s get started with…

Can you afford it?

I attend a liberal arts state school in New Jersey to attain my Filmmaking BFAb degree. According to my university’s website, it estimates about $30,000 in cost to attend and live on campus for a year. Multiply that by four. $120,000 later you may find is comparitively cheap to private film schools like NYU, USC and Chapman University where tuition alone can be $70,000 a year.

If you are lucky enough to pay your way through, or have your parents help, this is an option.

But if you are in a situation where you won’t touch your payments until after graduation, then you may have to take the fiscally responsible bullet and dive right into the industry, or pick a more lucrative major so that you don’t suffer in life.

Think of how many short films you can make with a quarter of the $120,000 you’d save by not going to film school? Do a quick Google search and you will find the likes of Robert Rodriguez, John Cassavetes and Steven Spielberg were able to make their movies without a film degree.

So You’re The Top Dog At Your High School…

Weren’t we all? I did all that Film/TV stuff in my high school too. Three years after I’m out of high school, I hear about students from my very own town rigging with C-Stands and shooting scenes with fancy codec’s on 4k DSLRs. Somewhere out there some teen got his hands on an Arri Alexa.

Some bigger sets can be 20, 30, or 40 people. And if you are shooting in a 4 story mansion, walki-talkies are necessary

My point is, your first month of film school will hopefully be spent self evaluating and realizing that you know absolutely nothing.

From day one you are surrounded by students in your class who were the top dogs at their high schools. The first semester production class you have will be full of hot heads.

A sure way to pick the freshman hot heads out of the crowd is by looking for those that make films about teen murder, cancer, coming out of the closet or influenced by Terrence Malick.

3:00 am isn’t too uncommon to still be shooting. Here is a desk on a dolly, rigged to a fisher dolly.

The Types of People You Will Encounter…

You have the Tech-y students that hover over the camera, the writers that don’t want to touch the camera, editors, and lastly you have the movie buffs… They’re basically good for reading your script out loud in class when nobody else wants to. All of these stereotypes (don’t hate on me if I left a couple out) are doers. These students at the very least participate in classes and sets and apply what they learned to their films.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the students that disapear into the back of the classroom and never participate. It may be nerves, intimidation, personality traits or shyness. These people are the ones that don’t apply what they’ve learned in class or on sets to their own films.

It’s a harsh field, and from my limited experience interacting with industry professionals, it doesn’t sound like there is room for people to sneak their way through quietly. You have to assert yourself in order to succeed. Are you that person?

The first image is that of a student A.C. next to the director holding a wireless follow focus. The image below that is an HMI mounted to a fisher in order to do a special “crane” light move (don’t hate on the Kino rig). The image to the right is a blue screen rigged outside of a second story window.

You’ll Learn Through Your Peers

70% of your college education will come outside of the classroom. I would say that this is true for all majors, but especially true for filmmaking majors. The comradery you build with your classmates will be rewarding beyond the four years you spend your tuition dollars. You will hire each other for unpaid gigs that will later transform to your bread and butter.

You are taught how to use expensive equipment properly so that the can be used in an innovative way.

One of the bigger aspects is that of mentorship. While in film school, you will attach yourself to other students and teachers that will help you grow.

If you thrive in an environment with other people, film school might be your best bet. If you have a secret talent where you can network and delegate yourself through each situation you find yourself in, maybe you don’t need it and can hop right into the industry. Film school just give you an immediate boost in the right direction.

The Diploma Will Never Get You A Job…

If you listen to any filmmaking podcast, read any blog post or spend any time in industry news, you already know that nobody hires anybody because of their film degree. Although on the surface a film degree doesn’t mean much, underneath it shows a certain level of dedication over a long period of time. You’ve proven to anyone and more importantly yourself that you can stick to this long enough where you know this is the direction you want to head in life.

As the first when $50, $100, $150 PA gigs start rolling in, you will be able to bring your peers up with you. My first real PA gig paid $50 my freshman year. It wasn’t much money but it was so cool being in the presence of an Arri Alexa for the first time and one of the hottest up and coming DP’s in the NYC area. I connected with the producers, directors and more importantly to me, the DP and Gaffer. I have their contact information and have added them on social media.

I’m in the later years of films school where jobs are actually flowing to ambitious students. Everyone’s goal now is to help out their circle of friends, so in return their friends will help them. It’s an ecosystem of trust building, favors and ambition that I don’t think any other field can match. Work hard, establish yourself, and go through it with the mindset of “Today you, tomorrow me.”

If you found this article helpful, share this with someone that NEEDS to see it! For more production stills, follow me on Instagram @chrisgpresents