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

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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.”

It 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.

INDIE FILM HUSTLE TV: On IFHTV you will find hundreds of hours of content like documentaries, filmmaking/screenwriting courses, feature films, interviews with the world’s biggest filmmakers and screenwriters and tons more.

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 an 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.

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.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Today guys I wanted to talk about a question I also get asked a bunch about especially when I'm lecturing or talking at schools or something like that. And I know it's it's kind of ironic this episode I talking at schools is film school even relevant anymore is it really needed anymore to make it in the film business. I went to film school. So I want to give you a little bit about what path I took. I went to film school I went to a great film school, Full Sail center for the Recording Arts It was called but now it's called Full Sail and has become a juggernaut in the film business. In the film, school business. They are monsters like they're huge, like beyond anything I when I was there, I graduated in 9595 96, somewhere around there. And I graduated with a specialized associate's degree, that cost me $21,000. And I was able to, I was able to pay that off fairly quickly. Within five years, I was able to pay off my student loan, today's world is a lot different to the world I was in. When I went to school, there was no, I was still working on film cameras, there was no digital cameras, there was barely any not any nonlinear editing system. So avid was still not at least it wasn't at full sail at the time, it was just starting to get off the ground. There was no Final Cut, there was no mini DV tape, there was no digital. I know it sounds like like how do they make movies. I know it's crazy, isn't it? I was unfortunately, right at the turn of the technology. So pretty much 95% of everything I learned in school was pretty much obsolete. By the time I got out, which is a problem with film schools. In general, you pay for all this education, and sometimes doesn't catch up with what reality is, or what life is is or what the business is right now, especially today's world where technology is changing on a daily basis. If you're going to go to a film school, let's say a USC and NYU and Art Institute, a la film school, any of these kind of film schools, you can expect to pay about $40,000 plus a year, give or take, I might be off by a little bit but give or take $40,000 a year. If you do a three or four year course, a four year course, obviously, with USC, or any of the traditional schools, you're looking at $160,000. That's before books, materials, and living expenses, among other things. So just so you know, when you get out of film school, you can expect a graduate is expected to make less than that a year, then your first year, so you're going to be less than $40,000 a year. Coming out of film school. This is what this is what the literature says. And I'm taking that number straight out of art Institute's own marketing material. They say that a graduate can expect to make $31,722 a year or in the world for that matter, but in the country. $31,000 ain't doing a whole heck of a lot for you and definitely not going to help you pay off that student loan. So the question is, does film school make sense anymore? My feeling is is that film schools are awesome. They have a great amount of information they teach you depending on the film school you go to obviously right now everybody in their mother has a film school here in LA you can't drive down the street without seeing some sort of film school because everyone's trying to get in on the racket and trying to sell filmmakers dreams. You know, everyone's still selling the Hollywood dream like you know, you're gonna make it you're gonna make a million $100 million movie and like, you know what you might, but realities are not are truly against you. And I'm not trying to be a pessimist here. I'm actually a very optimistic person. But reality is reality. And if there's a million people graduating a year from film schools all around the world, how many of those are going to make $100 million or $200 million Hollywood feature, the math doesn't add up. So somewhere along the line, this is not going to happen. So you have to figure out another way to make a living with this new degree you just got and I know a lot of you guys are saying hey, you know, I'll just get the degree and I'll just pay it off later. If not, I'll just, you know if things really go bad, I'll just file for bankruptcy. And you know, wipe it off. I'm like, Well, I don't know if you guys know this or not, but because of our, our, our fearless leader George W. Bush back in the day, he wrote into law, that student loan debt if you can't get ever get rid of it ever, ever you will die with it is an albatross around your neck, so you can't bankrupt your way out of it, you can't talk your way out of it is yours forever. And that is so disheartening for the generation, the few generations coming up behind me, because, you know, I could have bankrupted out of it if I wanted to. But I paid off my student loan, I was lucky enough to get work as an editor to be able to pay off my student loan. But a lot of people a lot of interns that have worked with me over the years, they they're still like, working hard just trying to make a living, let alone trying to pay off this ridiculous student loan. And again, also it's like, it's like, you know, imagine walking out of college and you've got a mortgage, but you don't have a house. And the information that they've given you Is this the other thing like Like I said, film schools are wonderful, and they do give you a tremendous amount of information. But is that information and is that experience available to you and other less costly outlets. Nowadays, you can do so many different things to get that same information. Look, I'm not gonna say that you're going to learn stuff on YouTube that you're gonna that you can learn at USC. USC is probably one of the top film schools in the world. Same thing for NYU, la film school, Full Sail they I mean, they have access to, you know, stuff that you won't have access to. I mean, Steven Spielberg comes in and talks to their students in a George Lucas comes in and talks to the students at USC. And Scorsese comes in and talks at NYU, that's wonderful. And if you can afford that, that's great. But don't get yourselves into debt. If even if you can get into the schools, but don't get yourself into debt, that's going to just ride you for the rest of your life. Because of some shiny lights that a film school throws in front of you, like oh, I, you know, this person graduated from here and this person graduated from here, and you're going to be able to make it just like they did. I just want you guys to be safe. I'm so tired of seeing all these filmmakers, you know, come out of film school, and, you know, they don't know what to do, they don't know how to get a job, you know, then we just put it this way, you know, the first job you get out of film school, generally, unless you open up your own business out of Film School, which is very rare. But if you just come out of film school, you're going to be a PA, you're going to be a production assistant, a production assistant here in LA, on the low one makes 50 bucks a day. And on the high end makes about 175 bucks a day. For a PA, that number really hasn't changed a whole lot in the last 15 to 20 years, when I was going to film school, it was 75 bucks, 100 bucks in Florida. Here, it's about 150 under 75 on the top end a day. I don't know about you. But that's not a whole heck of a lot of money for someone who's trying to pay rent, and so on and so forth. And that's here in LA, I can only imagine what it's like around the rest of the country. You know, if you're going to go to film, if you're going to go to a college, let's say if you're going to be a doctor, when you when you walk out, you have a quarter of a million dollars, or $200,000 in debt, but you know what you will be able to pay that off within the next five to 10 years, because you're going to be a doctor, you're going to make money. Same thing for an attorney for the most part, and some other careers that you can go down. filmmaking is not one of those careers. filmmaking is an art. And it is a career and you can choose certain parts of that career. So if you want to be an editor, there are certain tracks you can go down. If you want to be a crew guy, you want to be a gaffer, you want to be a dp, you want to be a camera op, there's definitely ways of going about it. But it will take time to be able to create those relationships and get get steady work in the field. And mind you don't forget that you're not the only film student anymore. These schools are popping out probably, Lord probably, I don't know, 10,000 students a month around the country. You know, think about it like that's how many people are being thrown into the workforce, all hungry, all wanting to work. So there's a gluttony of of people who want to work and like I don't even want to get into the visual effects industry. What they do those poor kids is, is insane. You have to think about this practically, you know, so if you're going to go to school, you know, will you learn as much going to a year of working on sets? interning, making your own movies for a year, will you learn as much as you will go into a four year school? I don't know, maybe, maybe not. But the bottom line is at the end of the year or two that you're doing that by yourself. You won't have debt, not the kind of debt that I'm talking about as far as going to a full school. So let me just give you a couple of ideas of where you can go out and get stuff. So again, information to take the place of film school, YouTube. I know it sounds cliche, there is so much information about teaching you The basics about filmmaking. I mean, there is so so much amazing content on YouTube. I can't even go into it's basically there's even film schools that put out full courses on youtube for free. So there's so much stuff you can learn the good old fashioned DVD and blu ray commentaries from the greatest filmmakers of all time Scorsese spill were color saw with the criterion collections, all those stuff, there's so much information in those director commentaries, and some stuff also in the behind the scenes in the documentaries. If you're just starting out, that is insane to go, because that's what I did it, I did it with laser discs, I was learning. You know, I was listening to Scorsese analyze Raging Bull. So in a way, it was like having him guest speak in my own personal classroom. So just look at it that way. Jump on a professional set, or students set. There's a lot of stats from NYU, USC, full sail, la film, school Art Institute, all these big schools, they have students productions, so offer to work for free on those productions. And you know what, you're basically going to be standing right next to the guy who paid 60,000 or $40,000, that year, to go to that school to get that experience, you're going to be standing right next to him learning the exact same thing that they are, but you didn't have to pay. So that's a great way to get the experience of those big schools on those sets. And believe me, all of those student projects want free work. So you're going to have to figure out a way to how to be able to give yourself up free to be able to learn, make your own movies, just like Robert Rodriguez did, he learned by making his own movies, he, he went to his local community college, which I'll get to in a second, and learned a lot about the filmmaking process. At the time that he was going there was not as much stuff, he came out around the same time I did, we came out a little bit before I did, you know, there wasn't a lot of information out there. So you had to learn as you went. So and that's what he did. Look at your local community colleges, you'll be amazed at what you can learn as far as the basics of the business, the basics of filmmaking, it costs almost $60 a credit compared to 12 $100 of credit at a top tier school. So I would definitely look at your local community colleges, to at least get the basics and there you could also network with other filmmakers and start working and start building that networking up. And one day I'm gonna do a whole episode on networking coming up in the next few weeks, because I think that's one of the most under taught, underestimated things about being in the film business. Also, there's online courses, you know, we sell an online course guerrilla independent indie film school, where, you know, we take you through the whole process of pre production, production, post production, and so on, there's so many courses online, you can go over to creative live.com, they've got a ton of amazing courses that you'll pay 200 bucks, 75 bucks, 100 bucks, sometimes 300 bucks for like, you know, 15 hours of an amazing teacher who's going to come in and really teach you what you need to know about that specific art, you can head over to stage 30 two.com, they do amazing courses on very specific things about like if you if you want to be a first ad, which is a very specific job on set, though, you know, the guy that the first ad will come out and teach you how to be a first ad, you want to be a production manager, there's a course about that you want to write there's, they have really great courses. So that's another avenue, there's so many things online FX PhD, if you want to learn about editing, visual effects, how to build your own post house, everything, it's insane. So these kinds of places have so much so much material now online, that film schools, in many ways seem obsolete. And, again, if you can afford it, film schools are awesome, if you can afford it, and if it's not going to put you in, you know, in the hole, and mom and dad's gonna pay for it, or you got loans and loans, but grants and scholarships, man go to film school, it's a lot of fun. I had, some of the best times of my life was at film school, I met a bunch of good friends, I'm still I'm still friends with today, I learned a ton, you get access to a lot of gear that will take you a lot longer to do by yourself. But it's all about the cost versus what you get out of it. And that's where I have a problem with film schools today. So there's a lot of affordable film schools out there. So look for them in your own state and your own county city. You don't have to come out to LA to go to film school. There's a ton of film schools out there, which are affordable, and you might just be able to piecemeal stuff to or know a four year film school, in my opinion, for film is ludicrous. I'm sorry, I don't care what anyone says. Go into an NYU or USC unless you really want to get that NYU USC UCLA experience. You know doing two years of prerequisites. Just to be able to hold a camera makes no sense to me in today's world makes absolutely no sense. It makes sense in the many other career paths. But it doesn't make sense for me. As a filmmaker, you'll learn a lot more about grabbing a camera and making your movies than you will by doing anything else. So I hope this helped you guys a little bit if you should or should not go to film school. This is just my opinion, guys. I've seen a lot of other filmmakers go through the stuff I talked about in this episode, I want you guys to make smart decisions. That's what indie film school is. indie film, hustle is all about. Because I just want you guys to be able to survive and thrive in the business and walking out into the business with 60,000 80,000 $120,000 in debt, it's going to make it really, really, really difficult to survive and thrive. It's going to take you a lot of years to get rid of that damn debt. So if it makes sense for you, man, do it. If it's something you have to do that might by all means go for it. But in my opinion, there are other options out there. So just pick what's good for you guys. And what makes the most sense for you guys. All right. Thanks for listening, guys. And don't forget, if you haven't already, please head over to iTunes and leave us an honest review about the show. I made it really easy for you guys. All you got to do is type in filmmaking, podcast calm, that's filmmaking podcast, calm, it takes you straight to iTunes. leave a review for us. It really helps us out a lot guys, we have become the number one filmmaking podcast on iTunes. So all of that is due to you and your amazing loyalty and listening to this and getting the word out of this podcast. So thanks again guys for all your support and I will continue to bring you guys as much great information as I can. Also guys if you want to read the show notes, head over to indie film, hustle comm forward slash zero 26 that's indie film, hustle, calm forward slash zero 26 to get all the show notes, and to get any links to any of the things we talked about in the show. So keep that dream alive. Keep that hustle going. I'll talk to you guys soon.

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