IFH 026: Is Film School Really Worth the Cost…NO!

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Is Film School Really Worth the Cost…NO!

Film school, is it worth it? Let me start by saying that I’m a big believer in education and constant learning throughout life. I believe that the only way to truly experience the amazing things the world has to offer is by educating yourself as much as humanly possible.

With that said, people who go to film schools to educate themselves about the basics of filmmaking are fools. Now full disclosure, I was one of those fools.

A little about me, I’ve been in the film industry for almost twenty years. I started my filmmaking journey by attending a technical college in Orlando, FL in 1995. My first job in the industry was in the post-production world.

As years went by I learned different crafts and wore different hats; I became a director, writer, producer, editor, colorist, post-production supervisor and visual effect supervisor.

I’ve done pretty much almost every job imaginable in the film business. In my multicolor travels I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous indie filmmakers, with Oscar® and Sundance winners and even a Moose Jaw Film Festival winner, so every kind of filmmaker under the sun.

When I went to film school non-linear editing was just getting off the ground. No AVID, Final Cut or After Effects. No DSLRs. No RED Camera. No Mini-DV cameras. No low cost digital VFX. No YouTube. No DVDs with awesome film commentaries and by the way, the Internet was just getting started.

I wanted to take you down memory lane because at that moment in time there were very few educational options for a person wanting to get into the film industry.

So I ponied up and took out a loan for a specialized Associate Film degree from Full Sail that cost me $21,500. At the same time I took an internship working on the backlot of Universal Studios Orlando.

Looking back I realize that I learned more from my internship than I did from my film program. After years in the business I discovered that about 95% of my filmmaking knowledge was acquired “on the streets” as they say.



The Bad News

Today if you attend USC, NYU, Art Institute or LA Film School you can expect to pay $40,000+ a year. This does not include books, materials or living expenses. That’s more than most graduates will earn in their first year and I’m not just pulling that figure out of the air.

In the Art Institute’s own marketing material they state that a Digital Filmmaking & Video Production graduate can expect to earn $31,722 a year.

Now you might say:

“I’ll just get a loan and pay it off later.”

Sounds like a good idea but… WRONG! You have to understand that this student loan debt is with you FOREVER. You can’t bankrupt your way out of it (thanks George W. Bush).

It’ll be an albatross around your neck for decades to come. Once you get out into the world with your $100,000+ degree your first job more than likely will be as a lowly production assistant that pays you between $75 – $150 a day. Do you know what your first job industry will be if you don’t have a film degree… drumroll please… a lowly production assistant who gets paid between $75 – $150 a day!

As Dov Simens, Quentin Tarantino’s mentor, likes to point out:

“Less than 1% of film school grads ever make a feature.”

Many film school grads scramble for entry level work and end up getting hired by people who never went to school. More than 90% of successful professionals in film never went to film school.

James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and most of the most powerful people in Hollywood never attended film schools or even college. Do you know how many times in almost twenty years anyone has asked to see my degree?…never.

With the wealth of information out there today for aspiring filmmakers there’s NO reason to go to a four year school. As Will Hunting said in Good Will Hunting

“One day you’re going to wake up and realize that you could have gotten the same education for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”



How to learn what you need to know

YOUTUBE: You can find thousands of filmmaking videos on youtube.com. Full college film theory lectures for free. Videos on what camera to buy, how to light a scene and screenwriting courses.

DVD & BLU-RAYS: There are tons of amazing filmmaking commentaries on DVD and Blu-ray from the masters of the craft like Scorsese, Spielberg, Kurosawa, Coppola, Fincher, Nolan, P.T. Anderson, Kubrick, Altman, Tarantino and many more. It’s like having them as your personal filmmaking mentors.

JUMP ON A PROFESSIONAL OR STUDENT SET: There is no shortage of film sets looking for free or cheap labor. It’s fairly easy to jump on a NYU, USC, FULL SAIL, or LA FILM SCHOOL set. You’ll be standing right next to the guy who spent $40,000 and you’ll be learning the same lessons.

MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIES: Just do what Robert Rodriguez did and learn by making your own films. The amount of knowledge and experience you’ll pick up is invaluable.

READ A BOOK: There’s a cornucopia of filmmaking books written about every aspect of the film industry. Take your pick. Check out our Top 10 Screenwriting Books You Need to Read.

LOCAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Going to your local community college is an amazing way to learn the basics of the business. It’ll cost $60 or so a credit, compared to almost $1200 a credit from a top tier school.

ON-LINE COURSES: In today’s world there are so many high end on-line film courses that can teach you what you need to know to make a living in the film business. In many instances these courses can be much more accurate and more updated than film schools and don’t have to go through film school bureaucratic red tape to be revised with current information.


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Check out some of the best on-line filmmaking courses available:

Warning shameless plug: Check out our Indie Film Syndicate. It has 50 hours  of tutorials and content.

So is it still worth spending $40,000+ a year on a film degree or is it better to invest that money into equipment, online training and real world experience?

As a filmmaker myself I want the next generation coming up behind me to not only make great films but not to be shot in the foot with debt before they even get a chance to walk on the playing field. Please do yourself a favor and always think for yourself. Think outside the box.

Question everything but listen to people who have walked the path before you. I wish you all the luck in the world. Tell beautiful stories and shoot remarkable images.

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  • Vashisth Trivedi

    i am already in film school in canada and feeling like it was better if i didn’t took and admission here. not at all worth enough and have to face a lot of competition and tremendous pressure for using equipment. But dont have any other option :/

  • Thanks for this Podcast I can relate a lot even though I went to university and completed a bachelor degree then a master degree in different fields, I can still relate to those who have done film school… I think university as a whole, besides limited uses, is largely worthless. It should be noted as a scam in my opinion, especially because they manipulate young people into paying for something that costs far more than what they actually give you.

    I will share this website with my cousin who is about to choose if he wants to do film school or not, I think it will help him a lot. Maybe I’ll make a documentary one day about university corruption.