Should I Go to Film School? Thoughts From A Film School Graduate

Should I Go to Film School

In this article I talk about my experience in film school and thoughts on who I think is a good fit for it.

I cover a range of topics in this article, so please feel free to jump around using the table of contents below.

Who Am I?

My name’s Daniel and I graduated from a 4-year Video Production program and also a Master’s degree program in Digital Storytelling. I have worked in an agency as a videographer, worked as a freelance videographer, and now work full time as a videographer doing mostly video work for small to medium-sized businesses. I’ve taken tons of online courses related to filmmaking and wanted to take my combined experience of attending a film school and also taking online courses to help those considering going to film school be better informed on their decision.

My Video Production Degree’s Name

Firstly, the official name of the program I attended was a 4-year Bachelor’s Program called Video Production with a minor in Audio Production. In my state, other similar programs also went by the name of Digital Film & Video Program, Film, Television, and Digital Production Program, Film and Video Production. An example summary of what these programs covered is “A concentration in digital video production will equip students for a fun, challenging career creating and distributing video content for mobile media, tablets, podcasts, websites, television, radio, film, and more.”

Film School Isn’t Worth it?

One of the main comments I see in forums, Reddit threads, and online communities is that you do not need to go to film school to become a filmmaker. As someone who actually went to a film school, I do agree to this point to an extent. There are many situations when I feel that film school is not a good fit and other situations when I feel like it is a great fit. In this article, I hope to help you navigate through some of the things to consider and put you on the best path possible to accomplish your individual filmmaking or videography goals.

Quick note: Every film or video program is inevitably going to be different and this article is going to be about my individual experience. If you have specific questions not addressed here and want to contact me about those, please do – I’m happy to help.

4-Year Bachelor’s Program in Video Production Summary

My 4-year Bachelor’s Program in Video Production provided me with the essential knowledge of videography, connected me with other like-minded filmmakers, provided me with numerous real-life opportunities to apply what I have learned, and gave me connections that I otherwise would not have had. They also gave me access to expensive, high-end gear that I was able to rent, try, and master so I didn’t have to buy them on my own.

Pros of Film School

Experienced instructors
Community of people wanting to make films
Real-life experience opportunities
Immersion opportunities
Clubs that focused on areas you care about
Instructors are very accessible to students
You get a degree
If you are skilled, you get more opportunities
Hands-on feedback and help
Access to the latest gear and equipment without having to purchase it yourself
Learn life skills outside of the curriculum

Cons of Film School

More costly than online counterparts
You’ll love some instructors and not be a huge fan of others
General classes during freshman year aren’t typically relevant
Typically takes 2-4 years to complete

Why Get a Degree in Video Production or Film, Anyway?

If you are looking to get your foot in the door at specific companies or organizations, many of them require that you have at least a 4-year bachelor’s degree. At minimum, when you attend college and get this degree, you will have that box checked.

Honestly though, for freelancers or filmmakers, getting the actual degree isn’t as important. I have never had a client once ask me if I had a degree in it. Truthfully, they just care about the end result and the quality of your product. If you are looking to be a freelance videographer, you really do not need the degree itself in order to land gigs – you just need the skillset.

What Will You Learn From a Film School’s Curriculum?

In my 4-year program, the first year was focused on the general education classes that are degree requirements. This means taking your history, music, math, wellness, and other “general” courses to satisfy your degree requirements.

After you get past that, you begin your production pathways. You will start in the basics of video and audio, learning from zero, the technical aspects and the creative aspects of filmmaking and videography. During this time, you will be creating lots of projects, usually with other students, to submit for grades with instructors giving you feedback and help along the way.

Once you have completed the basic video and audio production courses, you begin to unlock the freedom to specialize. For example, at my university, you were able to choose a pathway focused on short film making, documentary filmmaking, business filmmaking, commercial filmmaking, and even feature-length filmmaking. There were pathways for music studio engineers, on-set audio engineers, live audio engineers, and more. Many of these opportunities centered around a semester-long project that you would work with other students on. A few semester-long project examples include creating the actual commercials aired on TV for the college, making a feature-length film based on the script from the scriptwriting classes, filming a documentary on the history of the university, and more.

In short, you will be learning the basics and then enroll in courses that teach a certain skill around an immersive project, working with others students, experienced instructors, and guest-filmmakers.

What Else Will You Learn From Film School?

The film school curriculum teaches you the skills you need to work on the projects you are interested in. But, what else does a film school teach you? A lot. But here are three main takeaways.

  • Film school gives you the dedicated time and structure to let you learn and master your skills. This was one of the biggest positives for me. Instead of having to go to class for a different subject and then work on my passion afterwards, I was literally being assigned movies to watch and take notes on that I would have otherwise planned to do in my free time. What else is better than being able to work on the skills you are passionate about improving as your homework?
  • You will learn to take & give criticism and feedback well. A major component of nearly all the projects was group critique. Many days were dedicated to showing the work you and your team has worked on for weeks and having the other students provide feedback. This is scary, fun, enlightening, and nerve-wracking. But, most importantly, necessary. You will learn how to distinguish between good feedback and bad feedback and also learn how to properly give others feedback on their projects. You’ll build the needed thick-skin for the industry and become better as a result.
  • You will learn how to work with others. Filmmaking and videomaking is a collaborative art. Whether it’s between you and the subject or you and your team members, unless you plan on doing only solo video work, you will need to learn how to work with others and communicate in a professional way with the correct industry terms. For those that don’t enroll in a film school, it’s difficult to find others that are even interested. At film school, (almost) everyone in your class is interested and it’s easy to give yourself the opportunities to improve your collaborative skills.

Film School Provides You Opportunities and Connections

Although many on forums say that film school isn’t worth it, it’s almost universally accepted that the main reason to go to a film school is the opportunities provided and the connections. There are plenty of opportunities for you to take and connections to be made.

  • Aside from the opportunities to make films, documentaries, and other projects with students in the curriculum, you also have the chance to join clubs centered around specific interests, too. Whether you are interested in making funny skits, news reports, tech reviews, eSports reporting, sports filming, or anything in-between, chances are there is a club for it. These clubs are usually sponsored by a faculty member that has strong connections in the industry and can help bring fun and unique projects to you and in general are a lot of fun to be a part of. It’s a great way to make friends, too.

The best videographers are given big opportunities. If you are a talented videographer going into film school, you will be noticed and you will be recruited for the best projects. All of the faculty members that teach the courses are also responsible for a number of college-related projects that need student filmmakers. If you show your chops during the classes, you will be recruited for their teams. A friend of mine, who I actually taught video production to as a teaching assistant when I was in graduate school, is one of the strongest filmmakers for his age. We have stayed connected after I graduated and, no surprise to me, he’s on nearly all of the important projects for the school now as the main DP.

What Are the Cons of Going to Film School?

I have discussed much of the core curriculum, what you will learn, and other perks of going to a film school. From my writing, you can probably tell that I had a very positive experience at film school. But, that doesn’t mean it was all great. So what are the cons of going to film school?

  • The first year or two is focused on general education classes. Depending on if you have earned college credit during high school, you will be locked into taking general courses for the first couple of years. It’s not all bad, though, as you are still able to join clubs and it does give you some time to adjust to college life. But, I do know that many disliked the first couple of years for this reason.
  • College can be expensive. I think we all know that college can be expensive. Cost itself can be a barrier to many to earn a video production degree. To mitigate this, I definitely recommend applying for as many scholarships as possible and consider earning credits for your general education classes at a community college as it’s probably cheaper.
  • The degree’s usefulness depends entirely on your goals. As stated before, you do not need a degree to become a freelance videographer and get paid for it. But, if you want to join a company that requires a degree to even get a foot in the door, then it is very useful. This is a great question to ask yourself, goal-wise, when you are thinking about enrolling. What kind of job are you hoping to get after graduation?

Who Should Not Go to Film School?

My film school experience was great and I’m very happy and glad that I went. But, I do think that there are certain people that would be better suited with other options than going to film school.

  • If your main goal is to become a freelance videographer or even an owner of a video production company, you probably don’t need to go to film school. Landing jobs as a freelance videographer is almost entirely reliant on your skill level as a videographer and has almost nothing to do with your degree. Yes, the process of getting the degree will help give you the skills you need, but learning on your own or using online alternatives can give you the knowledge you need without having to attend or pay for a film school.
  • If you are interested in videography but not very passionate about it or don’t want to make a living with it, you probably don’t need to go to film school. Everyone’s goals are different but one of the main reasons to go to college for an area is to find a job in that major. If you aren’t aiming to get a job related to video, you can probably learn what you need to learn online. Also, on that same note, if you aren’t convinced that you like filmmaking enough to major in it, you probably should not enroll in film school. Instead, try signing up for an online film school first and see if it gives you the information you want or satisfies your needs first before making the big time and money investment in an in-person film school.
  • If you learn better on your own than learning from others, you probably don’t need to go to film school. There are many people I know that thrive in a classroom atmosphere and others that would rather learn on their own. If you are a self-motivated learner and thrive in that kind of environment (and you don’t need a degree for the job you want), then you probably don’t need to enroll in a film school.

Who SHOULD Go to Film School?

  • If you are interested in a particular niche, like making feature-length films, film school is probably a good fit. Although possible, it can be very difficult to put together the necessary gear, students, script, and other elements to make a films on your own without connections. Film school provides you with all of these things so you can actually get involved in the particular type of work that you are interested in. Even online courses that teach filmmaking are currently unable to provide such opportunities for those in specific niches.
  • If you learn better in a classroom or structured setting, film school is probably a good fit. Learning from an instructor and from other students in-person is irreplaceable for some people. They get to ask questions in real-time, hear what other questions students are asking, and have specific deadlines they need to meet in order to pass. If you struggle motivating yourself to practice, film school forces you to do this because you’ll fail if you don’t.
  • If you have the money and need time to think and nurture your skills, film school is probably a good fit. In the grand scheme of things, taking 4 years to earn a degree in a field you are passionate about has very little downsides, especially if you have the money to do it. After these 4 years, you’ll learn the skills you need, make connections and friends, create tons of projects relevant to your interests, and also provide you with the time you need to grow as a filmmaker but also as an adult. I know for me personally I feel like I grew up a lot as a person during my college years, learning lots about filmmaking but also about myself. The college experience gives you many opportunities to learn more about you as a person and I truly believe it helps shape you for your future.

What to Do Next?

I hope this guide has been helpful to you in deciding whether or not you should go to film school. As you can see, there are pros and cons to going to film school and situations in which I feel that it is a better fit than others. But, overall, it comes down to your goals, your budget, and where you want to be.

I do have one very strong recommendation and something (that I wish I did before I started film school): become a better filmmaker now. As mentioned, if you do decide to attend film school, the best filmmakers will be chosen for the projects. I was fortunate to be involved in my fair share of cool opportunities, but I know I would have been better positioned for the best ones if I had learned and even had a reel completed before film school.

My #1 recommendation to do next is to consider enrolling in an online course like Full Time Filmmaker. Why specifically Full Time Filmmaker? Full Time Filmmaker is the one course that I felt provided me tremendous value even though I did go to film school. It shows you the exact steps you need to take to actual make money as a videographer while also teaching you the technical, creative, and business sides, too. If I had taken Full Time Filmmaker before film school, I truly believe I would have been able to truly excel and make the most of my experience.

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  • If you enroll in Full Time Filmmaker and feel like your skillset is where you want it to be and realize you don’t need film school, then great! Your problem is solved and you can focus on improving your craft.
  • If you enroll in Full Time Filmmaker and want to further your skills at a film school, because of the above reasons, then you will be miles above the competition and be able to best take advantage of all the opportunities of film school.

I truly hope my experience in film school helps you on your journey. I want to be available if you have questions so please feel free to contact me here if you have a specific question not answered here.

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