In the not-so-distant past, for the most part, aspiring filmmakers had no choice but to attend film school because they couldn’t afford the equipment otherwise. We’ve all heard about how directors like James Grey, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Catherine Hardwick and Gina Prince-Bythewood studied at top film schools before going on to tackle Hollywood.
But things have changed. Back when those filmmakers attended film school (really anytime before 2010 or so) a video editing system cost at least $25,000 and the cost of buying motion picture film and other gear was prohibitively expensive. Nowadays, filmmakers can invest in a laptop-based editing system for $1,500, while, as The New York Times reports, a film education run $80,000.
But with film schools becoming increasingly expensive and filmmaking tools cheaper than ever, why spend a year or more paying to learn the craft of filmmaking when you can learn by doing?
As The New York Times pointed out, the definition of “film school” has expanded as for-profit enterprises like New York Film Academy with open enrollment has gained popularity. Instead of paying big bucks for a film degree from an accredited and prestigious university such as NYU or USC, some film students are turning to these vocational schools to learn filmmaking skills for less money in less time.
The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes lays out the two options: “Along with broad areas of academic study (just in case the movie thing doesn’t work out), traditional colleges and universities tend to offer deep instruction on film history and theory before moving on to technical skills and full-fledged student filmmaking. Trade schools, in contrast, usually skip straight to the nuts and bolts — how to budget and schedule, post-production 101 — and compete by promising students speed.”
Then, of course, there’s also the option of skipping film education entirely and trying to land a production gig. But that also means working for little to no money – if you can find the work without any experience. Ultimately, what matters is the work you produce, not where you went to film school – although having a degree might help get you some interviews.
We recently polled indie filmmakers to ask whether film school was essential and not surprisingly, their answers were a mixed bag.
“I think film school is a tool, and a tool by itself is useless. A tool needs many other things in order for it to have a purpose, it’s there to create something else,” said Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”), who, for what it’s worth, went to film school for screenwriting at UCLA.
What do you think? Is film school worth the investment? Or is it best to gain “real world” experience? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.