Degree In Film
A Degree In Film - Is It Worth It For You?
When it come to degrees in film: Caveat Emptor (That's Latin for "Buyer Beware")
In recent decades a degree in film has become a more and more popular course of study at universities.
As the cost of filmmaking equipment has fallen, film schools have been able to offer much hands-on experience which is really the way you learn filmmaking.
But as equipment and alternate training has gotten cheaper it has also become less clear why a degree in film is a good value for the high cost involved of both time and money.
Some people seem to think that film school is an easy route to fame and fortune in Hollywood.
If that's what you believe then you need to get real!
There is a short list of things the film schools claim you get from having a degree in film including the knowledge of how to make films and future helpful contacts.
But by some estimates much less than 10% of graduates with degrees in film are ever able to create a sustainable career in the movies.
If graduates had that low a success rate in any other field of study it would be considered a scandal. So why do students keep applying to film school, why don't the schools warn them?
Film schools are in the business of making money, not talking you out of your dreams.
Show Business has always been an exciting place to work and there has always been an endless stream of people trying to make it in Hollywood. The draw to get a fast ticket in is irresistible.
When I've talked to industry insiders and mentioned film schools they often laugh about the fact that people spend years and thousands of dollars to learn filmmaking instead of spending the time and money actually making films and learning from the process.
The fact is you don't need a degree from a film school to work in Hollywood. It doesn't even open doors. Persistence, hard work, famous relatives, experience, talent, luck and contacts are ways people get ahead in the film making industry.
You simply can't work as a doctor without a medical degree, but in Hollywood many of the top earning filmmakers got there without setting foot in film school. The techniques needed in filmmaking are more "crafts" than professional skills and the basics can be learned in a couple of weeks.
Over the years I have heard many graduates complain about what a disappointing experience they had after getting their degree in film. But those people didn't have realistic expectations. It's up to you to get real and start taking control of your filmmaking future.
So let's get real about what you can expect. It helps to start with some history.
A little film school history
The first film companies in California ran apprentice programs to train workers. But the apprentice programs cost them money so in 1929 they joined with the University of Southern California (USC) to establish a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Film.
The filmmaking students paid for their own education and the studios got to pick from the best and brightest to work in the film factories. The film schools made a profit and saved the studios a lot of money. It was a win-win for both of them -- and it still is.
Be realistic about what film schools really are. They are a huge BUSINESS.
In the 70s everyone suddenly wanted a degree in film
For years the film industry continued to be dominated by a closed club of old white guys. Then in the 70s a revolution occurred when a few young film school graduates, including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese, started creating blockbuster hits like Star Wars and The Godfather.
The studios had never seen such profits. They realized that the young film school graduates were much more in tune with the tastes of a huge, untapped youth market. Suddenly everyone with a degree in film was in demand.
Of course the studios soon figured out that not every film school graduate was an undiscovered genius and the hiring binge stopped. But the mystique stuck that a degree in film was a sure path to fame and fortune.
Why do people want degrees in film?
Admit it. In large part it's the glamour factor. Tell someone at a party you're going to film school and you have a much better chance of scoring than telling them you're goal is to be an accountant.
Who benefits from film school?
A good friend of mine told me this story. She attended one of the top three film schools. She had a classmate, who was a close relative of a very famous director. The classmate arrived at film school with a story idea and quickly became the darling of the professors.
They helped him polish his script and encouraged him to use the school's equipment and classmates as crew to create his first film. After graduation he got a good jobs in the film industry with the help of his many family contacts.
My co-worker friend never got to make a film during her four years. She got good grades, graduated, then worked a succession of exhausting, low-paid jobs in the film industry and finally gave up to go back to school to become a nurse.
Clearly a degree in film helps people with the the right connections. If that's you then send in your application and good luck with your career. If not ... read on.
Now you're getting real
If a film school degree doesn't guarantee success should you just give up the idea of ever being a filmmaker?
Not at all!
If you have a true passion for fimmaking and are willing to be persistent then there is a very good chance of having a satisfying career as a filmmaker. A degree in film is certainly helpful if you want to spend the time and can afford it.
You'll still need passion and determination. When you try to get work it will be your work samples and contacts that get you hired, not the degree.
Before you (or your parents) sign that big check to get you into film school be sure you ask a lot of questions of the school.
- What are the qualifications of the professors? What are their contacts in the film industry.
- How many of the professors have actually worked in Hollywood? Have helped make a produced and distributed feature film?
- What percentage of the students find meaningful work in the film industry?
- What is the average starting salaries for graduates and what are the typical jobs they get?
- Will you actually get to make films?
Useful Sites for Filmmakers
Library Of Annotated Film Schools Filmmaker.com has a site where you can find extensive feedback from film students describing their experience at all the top film schools. Don't even think about signing up at a film school until you've surfed this site.|
If a degree in film isn't the ticket to Hollywood what other options are there?
If you can't afford a degree in film don't give up hope. There are many sources of training such as online film courses, local community colleges, apprenticing with small companies in the film and video fields and, of course the completely free film schools at online film schools 4Filmmaking.com and FreeFilmSchool.Org.
There are many tricks to get onto professional film sets where you can learn and make contacts. There are many opportunities for filmmakers working outside of the Hollywood mainstream.
As an independent filmmaker you can follow your passion to carve out your niche in the world. The cost of equipment to make films has plummeted and new opportunities for distribution are opening every year.
Do you know who George Lucas is?
He's an independent filmmaker who lives and works on a beautiful ranch in Northern California and has as little to do with Hollywood as he possibly can. He does have a degree in film but he's also the worlds most successful independent filmmaker and has all the power, fame and fortune anyone could want.
There are many, many other independent filmmakers, some highly successful, who work mostly outside of the Hollywood system and get to control their own destiny. Wouldn't you like to be one of them?
Every year some young filmmaker, who may have barely finished high school, manages to create a brilliant new original film that wins all the awards at Sundance, and Hollywood welcomes them with open arms. "Nothing succeeds like success" is doubly true in Hollywood.
If you truly have the passion and determination to make films then do it your own way with or without a degree in film. Go for your dreams with everything you've got. Never give up.
And Happy Filmmaking!
Alternate sources of getting started in filmmaking besides a degree in film
There are a lot of way to learn about filmmaking. If there aren't any good, cheap classes available in your area here are some excellent, comprehensive resources you can get.
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- Peter Jackson
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