9) What should I get from film school?

Besides of the obvious of a film degree or certificate, the real value of film school goes far beyond the piece of paper for “successfully” completing the program. If you really want to get the most out of film school, you need to focus on the following.

1. Peer connections.

Your film school classmates may be the most valuable resource you’ll ever have in the filmmaking industry. Wherever you decide to learn filmmaking, be sure to go through the program, make friends and find alliances. When you finish film school, stay in touch with everyone you meet.

If you are looking to make a career in filmmaking the connections you make during film school will be invaluable after you finish. As long as you realize there’s life after film school and don’t burn your bridges while you’re there, you’ll be able to find collaborators for your own projects, or possibly get a job on another classmate’s project. Everyone you need to make a film can be found at most major film schools - actors, grippers, screenwriters, editors, producers and directors. This is your best chance to befriend talent, and even meet a writing or producing partner that can help launch your career.

In this business it is who you know, not what you know. Your classmates may be the most valuable resource you'll ever have. Go through the program, make friends, find alliances, and when you get out, stay in touch with everyone. As long as you realize there's life after film school and don't burn your bridges while you're there, you'll be able to find collaborators for your own projects, or possibly get a job on another classmate's project. While you're there you may even meet a writing or producing partner--the Joel to your Ethan Coen. That's not a good comparison, since they're brothers, not classmates, but... you get the point. Also, peer connections aren't the only advantages that come with a film school degree; you'll also get...

2. Industry connections.
Because film is a so-called "glamour" industry, everyone and their mother wants to work in it; this means the barriers to entry are more prohibitive than they are in, say, the hospitality industry. Breaking in is hard. But going to a program like USC or NYU gains you instant connections to an alumni network. This can be in the form of your professors keeping in touch with previous students who now work in the industry, it can be through your school's career services, or it can even be in the form of finding out at a job interview that your would-be boss also went to your alma mater (suddenly your job prospects are looking up). But for many of these interviews, to even get your foot in the door you need...

3. Technical know-how.
While attending art school to “learn art” is debateable, there is no doubt that learning the technical instruction of framing, editing, lighting and working a camera can certainly be taught. Film school can certainly give you the technical knowledge to be proficient in areas like editing, cinematography and lighting. So while no one can teach you how to be the next George Lucas, they can teach you the technical aspects of making a great film.

And while you're learning the technical aspects of film, you're also getting....

4. Intelligent feedback.
Your professors and peers, being educated and theoretically intelligent when it comes to film, can give you sophisticated feedback on your own projects and ideas, and help mold you into a better filmmaker. Outside the haven of film school, it's not easy to get together a group of film-aware individuals, and have them critique your project. Considering that film school typically takes place during your formative years, the collective wisdom and advice you receive during your attendance could help inform your whole career. And much of this advice comes from...

5. Mentors to push you.
Shooting a no-budget DV flick with all your friends in it, and then showing it to that same group of friends and getting their "that's me on screen, this is awesome!" feedback, may not be the best way to develop your inner auteur. If you go to film school, you may or may not meet a great professor that inspires you in your studies, but if you do, that experience alone can be worth the price of admission. A good professor can push you to work harder and be more daring than you would be on your own; even if you don't find any particularly great teachers, however, the professors can collectively teach you...

6. History and theory.
Even if you want to make experimental, avant-garde films, you're still standing on the shoulders of giants. Not knowing theory and history is the equivalent of saying ignorance is bliss. Many young aspiring filmmakers cultivate a belief that "truly" creative films are created in a vacuum--and it's easy to buy into this, given Hollywood's current penchant for remakes, adaptations, and other "homages"--but skipping an immersion in history and theory is one sure way of shooting yourself in the foot, not only in terms of your own knowledge of what's been done before, but in terms of...

7. Credibility.
Diplomas are a necessity in many professions; film is not one of them (I'm still waiting for someone's "directed by" credit to be capped off with a "Ph.D"). Nevertheless, industry vets looking to separate the wheat from the chaff will often take you more seriously if you graduated from film school; at the very minimum, it shows you're serious about it (because, as already stated, everyone and their mother wants to be in movies). Of course, what truly matters in film is not where you went to school, but what's on your reel and what credits you have to your name; that is, what you've actually done. And in order to accomplish things, you need...

8. Time for your projects.
If you opt out of film school and do the 9-5 thing, pursuing your own projects on the side can be prohibitively difficult (to a certain extent, this depends on what your day job arrangements are). Working a day job and saving up your money to work on your own blood-sweat-and-tears project has a certain romantic appeal to it, but you'll need funds, equipment, free time, and last but not least, collaborators. Film isn't like writing, where you can sit down and do it yourself; for the most part, you need someone in front of the camera, too. And even if you're shooting a documentary all by yourself, you're most likely going to need large chunks of time set aside to shoot, which you might not be able to swing with an employer who expects you to show up to work every day. Film school gives you the collaborators, framework, and the time and space to work on your film pursuits (unless, of course, you go to a film program where only one in ten gets to actually produce his or her project, and everyone else becomes crew...). Also, if you stay in film school, you're more likely to...

9. Stay the course.
If you throw yourself into the working world, you'll tend to go where the opportunities are, and often times they aren't always film-related. I'm not saying that you'll come out of school with your sights set on being a writer/director and somehow end up becoming an air traffic controller, but I am saying that it's likely you'll take some detours along the way. Having elected not to go to film school (at the graduate level) myself, I'm speaking from experience--while I'm currently doing graphic design at MTV, I'm not doing film or video per se on a daily basis. If you go to film school, by contrast, you're setting aside three years to focus on film alone, and it's one way of ensuring that you won't get sidetracked. No matter how focused you are.

Search over 900 Film Schools in our Film School Database     Search by location or features.

(c) 2009