5 Things to Get out of Film School Other Than a Degree
Film school is expensive, stressful and lasts for years. Is it worth it? Yes. Here are five concrete reasons why:
The marketing, maybe even the promise surrounding film school goes something like this: you get in, you make a student film, you’re “discovered” and you make the next instalment in Marvel’s Avengers franchise. Sounds simple, right?
In reality, it looks more like this: you get in, you spend $100,000 on tuition, you get out and then, burdened with heavy loans, you work as a Production Assistant for three years before slowly moving up the ladder.
At that point you might ask yourself: “Why did I even go to film school?” After all, rarely in the entertainment industry does anyone care where you graduated from. I can’t remember the last time anyone asked me. For the most part, what really defines you is your credit list, attitude and reel.
So what is the purpose of going to all those classes? Fear not. If you are focused, there are many things you can gain from a film school education. Here are just a few of them:
- The Freedom to Fail. If you stop reading right here and only take one tip away from this article, this is the one to remember: film school gives you a safe environment in which to fall completely and totally flat on your face. Embrace it. Embrace the potential for failure that those production classes provide. Take risks, huge enormous risks, not only with your story, but also with your camera moves and your entire approach to production. If you are ever going to do it, film school’s the time. When you enter the professional work force where hundreds of thousands to millions are on the line, failure is not as easy a pill to swallow. Define your style in school if only because that’s where you are given the chance. Find out what kind of filmmaker you want to be, or more importantly, what kind you don’t want to be.
- Skills. Having a skill set when you come out of school is key. Producers and other hiring managers will look at your resume with an eye towards your knowledge of software and complicated camera systems. Gain that knowledge. Spend time with all the Avid, Adobe and Apple creative software you can get your hands on in school, and right out of the gate you’ll have something competitive to bring to the table. School is also the time to program yourself for the fast-paced deadline-driven environment of television and film because it sure doesn’t change when you leave. The stakes just get much higher.
- Time with Equipment. Gear is expensive and students usually can’t buy it or even rent it without help. All film-schools have access to equipment with varying degrees of quality and they all have rules about checking that gear out. Find out what those rules are and push them to the limit. Check out cameras, lenses, audio and grip equipment as often as you can and use them as much as possible in the field – not from your couch. When you graduate, your access to this gear goes away, so soaking up as much hands-on training as possible is pivotal.
- Networking. You’ve probably heard that this industry is all about who you know, but when you graduate, the only people you know are your classmates. My advice is to do everything you can to keep in touch and foster those relationships. In doing so, remember it’s important to be humble and generous. Did you just get a great gig right out of school? Fantastic. Don’t ignore your former classmates once you are in that new position. Talent is the only thing that matters, not ego. Bring the best people together for every job and everyone will benefit.
- Film Theory. Does watching and analyzing D.W. Griffith’s epic (though admittedly racist) historical film Birth of a Nation on a Friday afternoon sound like a dream come true to you? It should. School will probably be one of your last opportunities to watch the seminal films that have defined our craft and to participate in deep discussions regarding their influence. Sure, maybe you can find a film club when you are a professional, but life tends to get in the way. School is perhaps your last chance to dive into complicated German expressionist films and to really dissect the Italian master filmmakers in a structured environment. During those precious moments, make it your goal to absorb the pacing of each edit and then to understand how the choice of different shots contributed to the telling of the story. I often hear that theory is somehow a lesser pursuit than physical production. I couldn’t disagree more. Theory and the study of classic films give you a chance to watch other filmmakers succeed and fail on a large scale. Learn from that.
When you sit in class, keep in mind you are moving into a challenging field and many, perhaps most, of your classmates will not succeed in making it their career. It’s a bleak fact, but one that should challenge you to be the best you can be.
Fight every single day to find ways to improve yourself and your work. Film school can be a great start.
What did you take from film school? Comment below!