Aug 9, 2007

Breaking the Bank: Film School Tuition 2007-8 and How To Beat It

Egads! Film school costs are up again, costing as much as the average American's take-home salary for a whole year. The numbers for a top west-coast and a top east-coast film program:

New York University, Tisch School of the Arts (NYU) Tuition and Fees (Per Semester)

  • Full-time Tuition, 12-18 point flat rate, per term: $17,397
  • Nonreturnable Registration and Services Fee: $943
  • Film Production Lab and Insurance Fee: $448
  • Cinema Studies Projection Fee (per point): $12.25
  • Photo Lab and Insurance Fee: $310

University of Southern California, (USC) Tuition and Fees (Per 2 Semesters)

Based on the 2007-2008 academic year, the following are estimated two-semester costs at USC for a full-time undergraduate (taking 12-18 units each semester) living in university housing:

  • $35,212 Tuition
  • $598 Mandatory fees
  • $10,858 Room and board
  • $750 Books and supplies
  • $1,600 Personal and Miscellaneous
  • $580 Transportation
  • $49,598 Total (add $144 for your very first semester at USC orientation fee)
If your funds are liquid and these costs are not a problem, by all means consider going. If you are stretching your budget to the limit and considering going into heavy student loan debt, proceed with caution. I have a friend who has been out of film school for ten years and is still drowning in student loan debt.

Consider: What else could I do with $50,000 per year that would give me practical film experience? Make movies. Some possibilities:

Buy a $3500 HD video camera and shoot short films with friends. Have them chip in for the time they use the camera.

Buy a $3500 or better HD video camera and $10,000 worth of fancy, fancy lights (you could get a serious lighting kit for this amount of money) and then post on Craigslist, etc., that you will rent the equipment out to students. Suddenly, you've created your own film school!

Rent a camera and lights and shoot a short video and your budget can be under $1000.

ULTIMATE CHALLENGE: Buy a camera and rent or buy lights and shoot a feature film. This will immediately give you a better education than film any $150,000 film school education because in most film schools, you will NEVER make a feature film. If you work on a feature at some point while in school, odds are it will NOT be directed by, written by, or edited by you. So, if in three years time, you shoot three $50,000 feature films, you are far beyond the film school pack in terms of practical experience (even if it's mostly by trial and error) and film ownership (you will own your films). And you will have just as many filmic friends as you would have made in film school, but these will be actual HARD WORKING people who want to make movies, not just students trying to make a passing grade.

Am I oversimplifying this? Not really. I've done both -- gone to school and worked on indie film sets. I personally think the current cost of three or four year film programs is ridiculous and exclusive. It doesn't have to be that way.

If you really want a taste of film school and some technical experience in an educational setting, I would suggest the more condensed & pocketbook friendly film programs (like summer film classes or adult education programs). Then follow up one of these programs by making a few films with the people you met in these programs. In the end, you'll have a lot more money to play with when you make your own films.