Aug 7, 2007

Should I Go To a Famous Film School?

I was lucky enough to get admitted to a famous film school (graduate program) and stick around long enough to get an MFA degree. It was a three-year program that stretched into five years for reasons of running out of money in the middle, and having to take the additional time to complete a thesis film (nearly impossible to finish within the third year of school).

There are many film schools around these days, but the big four remain, as always, USC, NYU, UCLA, and Columbia University. It is generally considered more prestigious (and possibly less expensive) to attend them as a Graduate student rather than as an Undergrad. NYU, for example, accepts approximately 1000 undergrad film students per year, but only 50 grad students. Competition for the grad programs can be ruthless -- but don't despair! There are many alternatives, which we will eventually look at. But first:

Film School PROS:

  • You can tell everyone you went to a famous film school.
  • Sometimes you have famous alumni visit and talk about filmmaking.
  • You can witness first-hand the struggles of your artistic peers and quickly realize there are no geniuses -- well, very few.
  • You will be forced to adhere to deadlines and finish your films (or fail the class). This is a not-to-be-underestimated benefit to all procrastinators out there (we know who we are).
  • You may find an instructor particularly inspiring (this is the rare exception, though, in my own experience).
  • You can tell everyone you went to a famous film school.
  • You get to live in a metropolis for awhile (if you haven't yet).
  • You get to drink microbrews and talk about movies all the time. All the time.
  • You can tell everyone you went to a famous film school.

Film School CONS:

  • A three-year grad program runs about $100,000 and up, not including film costs.
  • It takes over three years to complete when you could be shooting your own films.
  • Working on other students' films because you "owe" them can be really draining, especially when they aren't as knowledgable as you.
  • Many film school professors don't try very hard.
  • Film school, like any institution is very political and professors play favorites with certain students, which has nothing to do with the student's level of talent.
  • Many students come from very wealthy families and this can be a little disheartening if you are scraping to get funds together for your own films (especially after paying over 30K tuition per year).
  • A degree in film is worthless unless you want to eventually teach film or consult. Unlike other academic degrees, a film degree -- like any art degree -- does not mean higher pay on future jobs. Granted, you are probably not interested in going to film school for the actual diploma, but more for the experience of being in film school atmosphere.
In a future posting, I'll look at film school alternatives -- yes, you can can have your celluloid (or video tape) and eat it, too! Good luck to all.

B. Nathan