What do Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Terry Gilliam, and David Fincher have in common? Aside from their magnificently acclaimed careers, all four directors opted out of school and decided instead to jump head first into the film industry. On the other-hand, greats like Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Darren Aronofsky attended film school before developing their careers.
So, what’s the better option? Film school, or no school?
A lot of young aspiring filmmakers ask: “Is film school worth it?” Simply put, the answer depends on the type of person you are and what you’re interested in taking away from the experience of receiving an arts degree. First, you must know that film school is not for everyone, and it’s certainly not necessary to begin a career in the film industry. But even if the program you’re pursuing isn’t prominent, you’ll still get something out of it. What’s important is if what you get out of your experience is worth it to you. In my case, I believe it was.
Sure, you can learn how to be a filmmaker simply by watching tons of movies and hopping onto sets – but film school is about more than just the creative and technical components of filmmaking. School teaches you etiquette, theoretical process, team work, and self-confidence.
Here’s a bit of what film school taught me:
You have to work well with others.
When I started college I thought that all that high school “group work” nonsense would be over with, but apparently college professors also think it’s super important to learn how to collaborate with other people. And they’re right. As much as I am not a fan of group work in college, learning how to work with a partner or group is extremely important. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and if you don’t know how to work well with others, you’ll never work. Period.
You can’t (and shouldn’t) take yourself too seriously.
When you start your program you’ll think you have the coolest ideas. Quickly, your confidence begins to dwindle as you work to develop those “high concept” ideas and discover all of the mistakes you’ve made on your project. It turns out horribly. It’s a humbling experience and one that happens to everyone. You just have to accept that with experience comes great stories to tell, and with great stories comes great filmmaking. The creative process takes time, it’s never immediate.
Murphy’s Law is real.
Remember, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Period. Fin. End of story. Film school teaches you to be prepared for any mishap imaginable, sparring you the embarrassment of learning the dark reality of Murphy’s law on an actual set.
There are some awesomely talented people in this world and you should take advantage of their skills and abilities.
I can list 5 classmates off the top of my head that I would work with again in a heartbeat. In film school, you meet some truly interesting people with amazing talents and creative ideas. Use your connections. Keep in contact. Even after you’ve graduated, create and develop ideas with these people.
Being a perfectionist is your only option.
If you really want to be a part of the film or television industry you have to be prepared for competition. Intense competition. Film school is like a multi-year competition for “most innovative student”. The only way that your work will stand out is if it’s nearly perfect. You must take the entire process very seriously and dissect every last detail of your work. It took me four years to understand that perfection, though unattainable, is something you must pursue in each and every project that you approach.
Confidence is key.
Even when you’re not proud of your work, you have to own it. Lack confidence and you’ll be dissected. You will most likely be eaten alive at some point during film school. It will hurt, but it’s good for you. Filmmakers need bullet proof back bones.
There’s a fine line between giving constructive criticism and insulting someones creative choices.
Understanding how to critique someones work without hurting their feelings takes time and experience. In film school, you spend most of your time critiquing or being criticized. In order to give guidance to your classmates you must understand how to phrase your advice so as to not hurt someones feelings or question their creative integrity. During school, you get the hang of it. Tread lightly.
You also have to know how to take feedback.
In order to accept feedback properly, you have to understand how to truly listen (rather than get riled up if someone is saying something you take offense to). Take notes. Try not to take what they are saying personally. Ask questions. Know that even if you’re feeling insulted, the intentions of the criticizer are most likely good. Even painful critiques can be constructive. If you’re a film student you’ll get used to criticism and it will eventually become an objective process.
Are you a current film student or film grad? Did you decide to skip out on film school? Share your thoughts and advice below!