3) Where should I go to film school

Well, that depends. What kinds of films do you want to make? Do you ultimately hope to work in or outside the industry? Where would you enjoy living? Until you can answer some basic questions about your personal goals, deciding on a film school is next to impossible.

Needless to say, it helps to have some idea about your goals before you apply. After that, begin researching the different programs that exist. I think it’s smart to make your first initial research into film programs no less than six months in advance of applying.

Here are things to consider as you look at programs:

Reputation of the program.
No one is going to finance your next movie simply because you attended some elite film school. There is something to be said for the networking with alumni.

Faculty and students.
A lot of prospective applicants put an emphasis on who will be teaching them. Faculty, no doubt, are important: Perhaps less important than their individual accomplishments is their ability and willingness to take the time to mentor their students. Having said this, your fellow students matter even more than faculty. You’ll spend far more time with your fellow students, you’ll collaborate together, and you’ll critique each other’s work. If you don’t respect them and the work they’re trying to do, I expect you will be very, very unhappy.

Course Offerings and Curricula.
As you look at the required courses for each program, ask yourself: Do these look like interesting courses? Are these the subjects that I want to learn about? I’ve known students to transfer or drop out of film programs because they were dissatisfied with having to learn about experimental film, or (at another school) because they weren’t learning enough about experimental film. What’s mind boggling to me is that this is pretty straightforward stuff. You look at the required classes, and you look at the other courses that are offered from semester to semester. If it looks like a good fit with your interests, you’ve found a contender. If it’s missing courses in areas that are vital to your development, forget it. For the programs in between, contact the faculty and students and ask lots of questions.

Equipment and Facilities.
A decade ago, the equipment that a school could offer mattered a lot, but it’s not a lot to get worked up about today. After all, you can buy an HVX-200, a laptop and Final Cut Studio for a fraction of a year’s tuition at most film schools. You don’t want to go someplace that has crummy equipment, nor do you want to attend a school that lacks enough equipment to serve its students. You need good (film and video) cameras, sound equipment, lights, and editing stations. (Maybe not even the editing stations, if you already own one.)

Beyond that, don’t get worked up about facilities and equipment. If you’re simply going to film school to touch the latest equipment, maybe you should go intern at an equipment house instead. Indeed, having access to every single new toy can be a distraction. You need to learn to make do with the basics. At least that’s what I think. If you need a huge state-of-the-art soundstage to make your movies, go for it.

Film Funding.
Some programs expect students to fund their own work; other programs fund their students’ work. Each system has its pros and cons. For instance, with school-funded films who gets to decide which films get funded? Are some films funded and others not? Who retains the copyright on school-funded films? On the other hand, when funding your own work, how will that impact your ability to graduate in a timely fashion?

Length of Program.
Some have 1 week workshops other schools only have two year programs. There may be a difference between what a school’s literature states and the reality though. Ask current students for the skinny on how long it takes for students to typically finish a program. It can be a positive thing, of course, to stay in school as long as you can. After all, student loan payments aren’t due until after you’re no longer enrolled. The point is, you need to know what kind of time commitment you’re making.


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