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July 09 2018
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Film School Or No Film School? That Is The Question

Dissecting the Age-Old Question For Aspiring Filmmakers

Ever since the dawn of time (well, not quite that long), debates have been going on about whether a filmmaker needs film school to be successful in the biz…or perhaps, more importantly, to be successful in their art.

Hollywood started with a rag-tag bunch who had come from just about anywhere but a school or university (theater, the circus, the streets). However, as the industry became more established and standardized, and as the demand to be inside its walls kept growing, there started to become certain advantages to going through the gatekeepers.

No gatekeeper seemed more assured by the late 1970s than film school. Now called the ‘Movie Brats’, this legendary group of filmmakers who changed the industry forever (Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Brian De Palma, among others) had all come out of film school.

This group combined to net several Oscars and other industry awards, along with billions in box office grosses, validating a film school education as the way to make it into Hollywood. That is, until the 1990s rolled around…

A new wave of filmmakers who didn’t have the money or the know-how to get into a film school tapped into a different way of honing their craft: cinephilia. Filmmakers we now clearly recognize as auteurs, such as Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, got their start by obsessively working their way through the stacks of their video stores (or even working in one). It was the very encyclopedic way in which these independent filmmakers were cataloging and teaching themselves films (something once thought only possible at film school) that gave them an edge in the industry.



Once again, awards were collected and money made. But, what since then? It’s always hard to categorize or compartmentalize recent history, but it’s fair to say the film school question hasn’t gotten any easier to answer. Technology has been rapidly moving along since the indie-laden 1990s, and the streaming revolution (in which we at Miniflix are proudly part of) has made seeing just about any film you want, anywhere you want, feel possible.

But the only real fair way to answer the question is largely as a numbers game. How many famous, successful filmmakers come out of film school now? Well, when we think of juggernauts in the early 2000s, it was a pretty balanced deck. For every Darren Aronofsky (Harvard, AFI) there’s a Christopher Nolan (self-taught). And when we think of directors like Trey Edward Shults (college dropout) and Colin Trevorrow (NYU) who have just risen to success over the last few years, the verdict has to remain undecided.



So what are we left to do?

If there’s no clear answer one way or the other, then we must look at the advantages and disadvantages of attending film school in our 2018 world.


Why You Should Go To Film School

It Gives You An Instant Community

Familiar with the following scenario?…

You’re in middle school and just start watching seriously good movies. Now you want to make them for a living. You’re still at that age where you find plenty of friends also interested in movies too, and so you start making fun, silly, occasionally well-made movies together. Maybe this even stays the same through high school, though you notice the number of consistent collaborators starting to drop off. Some still like movies, but are too dedicated to sports, or a music program. By the time you’ve reached junior or senior year, you find yourself being the only one who really wants to take this thing, filmmaking, seriously!

This is where film school has always been a salvation and a refuge. Just by virtue of the application process, film schools weed out those who just see this a little hobby or after-school activity. Factor in the small amount of those who actually get into said programs, and you’ve got the best of the best. There is no better way to create a network that, in many cases, will follow you throughout your career!

Film school is where you find your people. You know, the ones who want to talk about long-takes and film v.s. digital into the wee hours, the ones who just won’t shut up about film set life. There is still no better way to find truly committed film fans who will then become the reason you get good jobs in the industry.


Why You Shouldn’t Go To Film School

You Already Have An Instant Community

Remember that scenario we just went through? Yeah, well, sometimes there are the exceptions.

Sometimes that instant community of film lovers never goes away…and sometimes it’s even in your own household. The Duplass brothers may be the best example of a sibling duo that has managed to make movies their way for years and years. Even the majority of their film crew is comprised of repeats, people who have stuck with the Duplass brothers through thick and thin.

And how about the collaboration between director Steve McQueen (of the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave) and his long-time DP Sean Bobbit? McQueen dropped out of film school after one semester and Bobbit was an ex-news cameraman. They found each other later in life, but it was an example of two very creative filmmakers, passionate about finding filmmaking partnerships, that resulted in nothing but successful work.


Why You Should Go To Film School

It Lets You Try Anything

Even though all film schools must adhere to a set structure and curriculum, the rules tend to be pretty open-ended in terms of what you can do with your time. Outside of the classes, there’s always several student projects to help on throughout the week and weekends. Most film schools offer top-of-the-line equipment and let you rent out Alexas, Reds, and way more for days at a time. We guarantee that you probably couldn’t even take advantage of every opportunity offered throughout those four years. There’s that much to do!

Now, we know that these “opportunities” come with the tuition price tag (a question that largely comes down to you what you can and can’t afford, or what scholarships are offered), but nevertheless, there’s no other institution out there that can give you the keys to the film production kingdom like a film school.


Why You Shouldn’t Go To Film School

It Doesn’t Make You Try Everything

Just because you can try anything and everything, doesn’t mean you will. It also doesn’t mean the film school instructors will make you. Many film schools (even the most prestigious ones) have minimum requirements, and often won’t make you do more than the class projects and assignments. It should go without saying that only the self-motivated need apply to film school, but we also understand how much more gets accomplished when deadlines are given.

Unlike in film school, professional sets will often expect you to do just about anything asked, especially if you’re a PA. Working your way up the film industry ladder without a film school education requires you to learn everything and to learn it quickly. Film school typically does not require such urgency and energy, meaning less stress in the short term, but perhaps less success in the long term.


Why You Should Go To Film School

The Perfect Trade School For Below-The-Line Workers

It’s no secret that trade professions are in higher demand in the United States than ever before. Construction work, metal work, or any job where you’ve really got to get your hands dirty has become less desirable to our culture over the years. The same goes for the film industry. With greater access comes greater numbers of people who want to be the names on the posters of every movie. Directed by. Starring. Written or Story By. The film industry obviously needs new artistic blood coming in, but the industry also really needs all of those below-the-line jobs (electricians, gaffers, camera crew, makeup, hair, production design, etc.).

They may not be as glamorous, and they may not get you all the glory, but there’s consistent and well-compensated work for those who can do these things well. Film school is the place to acquire and hone the skills necessary to be the next in-demand person at your desired below-the-line position. It really doesn’t take much either. Start working on just a few student projects as a set dresser or a color correction specialist, and you’ll soon become the rock star of your film department. Guaranteed.

If you choose to approach film school as the ultimate trade school for your desired position, then there is no doubt that hard work and consistent experience will lead to a prosperous and successful career in the film industry.


Why You Shouldn’t Go To Film School

The Perfect Trade School For Below-The-Line Workers

Everyone going into film school wants to be the director. Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s also quite true much of the time. Ever heard of too many cooks in the kitchen? That’s what happens when you’ve got a student film set full of people who really want to be the director, and sit there in envious anger and self-pity over the fact that they’re not. There is such a thing as healthy competition, but when everyone wants to be the leader and no one wants to be led, the atmosphere is rarely ever healthy.

Now, there is no denying that you shouldn’t settle to be good at a job you don’t want to do. If you really only want to be a film director, go for it. But realize now that film school will be an uphill battle from the beginning, and that it will take everything you have to cement yourself as the director in your graduating class. It is possible to come out of film school with a strong directing, producing or cinematography portfolio, but realize that along the way must come humility and a willingness to be led and even make some mistakes.


So there you have it. Film school can largely be as helpful or as hurtful to you as you let it be. Just like with anything, great opportunities and resources await those who apply and get in somewhere, but you also have to do your part to give yourself the edge in the industry post-graduation.

Good luck in whatever path you choose to take!

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