Q&A Should I Go to Film School?

Q&A: Should I Go to Film School?

This question comes from cardinals1995 on Instagram.

Should I Go to Film School?

I hesitate to answer this question because it is such a personal one. I’ll do my best to lay out the pros and cons, but ultimately you have to decide the best path for you based on your personality, work ethic, and background.

First, let me say that film school is not a prerequisite for working in television or film. One of my best friends went to college and got a degree in English Literature — he’s now a successful television producer (and, unsurprisingly, one of the best writers I know). The subject of the show I’m currently working on is one of the most successful social media influencers of our time, is about to launch a Netflix show, and didn’t go to college.

So, college is definitely not a requirement. In fact, in some ways, college can confuse and confound you and inhibit your ability to succeed in television and film. Too many people graduate with a degree and think they know everything about television and film because they took a couple of classes, and this egotism ends up stopping them from ever becoming successful in their field after school.

Truthfully, you can be successful in television or film without ever having studied in a formal setting, however, this is an entrepreneurial path that requires a lot of discipline and a lot of work. If you are going to skip college to try to forge a career in television and film, you better still be studying video production and post-production with courses like what Lynda offers, and you better be making a lot of videos.

There are plenty of examples of people who skipped college (or dropped out) to focus on making YouTube or other social media videos. These people made videos consistently, often times releasing them daily, and slowly learned their craft by practicing. The best of them were able to make a modest living with YouTube ads or sponsorship deals, continuing to hone their craft, and eventually “made it big.” But, for each success story, there are probably 10 stories of failure… so this definitely is not an easier path.

The other option, going to college, can be highly beneficial. I got a lot out of college, specifically in two regards. First, I developed a huge network of people who were pursuing work in the same field. These people, professors and students alike, referred me for tons of work, including my first job in television in Los Angeles, and have been a solid support system ever since. Second, college offered me access to equipment and software I would have never been able to afford on my own, and I tried to use it as much as possible both in and out of the classroom.

The downside to college is that it is expensive and if you have to take student loans out to pay for it you may be hurting your chances of success after college in a profound way. If you do have to take student loans out (there’s no shame in it, I had to borrow money for college), you want to be very careful to choose the least expensive college that will offer you the most hands on experience. Do not fall into the trap of prestige. Schools like NYU, USC, and some of the other big, expensive film and television schools will ruin you if you are not careful. Less than 10% of my graduating class (from my major) went on to work in television and film, and my school had higher placement than most colleges in the country. If you’re taking massive amounts of loans to go to a prestigious school, you better have some family connections that are going to hook you up with work afterwards, or you better work 24/7 and not sleep a wink in college in order to ensure your future success. I’ve seen too many people graduate with large student loans and give up on their dreams to take steady jobs that allow them to keep up with the minimum payments in place of taking low-paying entry level jobs that help them realize their dream.

The other downside to college is that it does not guarantee success, which can be emotionally devastating after you’ve devoted four years to a degree. As I said, less than 10% of my graduating class went on to work in their chosen field. There are many reasons why this is true, but one of the primary reasons is that these kids thought that graduating with a degree was enough to get them a job. Wrong. If you go to college, you still need to volunteer your time to work for free in your field, you still need to do internships on top of that, and you still need to start from the bottom and work your way up after you graduate. There are no shortcuts, especially not college, so it’s better to dispel that myth now than four years from now after you’ve wasted a ton of time and money.

Now, after having said all of that, graduating from college remains one of my proudest achievements and I know for a fact I wouldn’t be where I am today without the connections I made in school. I cannot say which is the best path for you, but college was definitely the best path for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend.

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