Is Film School worth it? 5 reasons for and against

May 2, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Is Film School worth it? 5 reasons for and against

May 2, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The film school debate never ends. It’s the same with going to school for photography, too. In both instances, there are large numbers of people for it, and just as many against it. But is it right for you? That’s something one can only really determine for themselves. There are both pros and cons go film or photography schools.

The folks at Aputure take a look at film school in this video. They look at the reasons you may want to go and the reasons you may not. And while not all of these reasons may apply to photography school as well, they should help to get you thinking outside of the box at what perks it may offer that you hadn’t thought of.

YouTube video

Pro #1 – It Builds Resourcefulness

Filmmaking is expensive. There are no two ways about it. The gear is expensive and location permits can be very expensive. But many rental houses and locations will offer big discounts to film students that you wouldn’t get if you were just turning up as your independent self. Film school can also teach you how to make the most out of a small amount of gear so that you don’t need to spend any more money at all.

Pro #2 – The Network

As with most professions, you need to build a good network of people in the industry. Going to film school allows you to learn from others who have already experienced real-world production and made the mistakes so that you don’t have to. You’ll also get to meet many new up-and-coming filmmakers at a similar level to your own with whom you can work on projects.

It can also help you to get internships, crew experience, a job after graduating, as well as valuable feedback on your work.

Pro #3 – Freedom

Film school isn’t just one thing. There are many different types of programmes you can attend covering a wide array of topics. Some are all theoretical and some are practical, while others are a hybrid of the two.

Pro #4 – Potentially Affordable

There are a lot of public universities out there which have film programmes. These are much more affordable than many of the higher cost private schools.

Pro #5 – Education

As mentioned in the video, film school is school. So, the goal is for them to teach and for you to learn. You’ll learn about the history and theory of filmmaking, as well as learn how to use cameras, lighting, audio, and other equipment. Plus, it’s often hands-on education. You learn by doing, not just watching some YouTube video or reading a book.

Con #1 – The Price

While there is Pro #4, many film schools are private and very expensive. You could be looking at over $50,000 per year, and if you ultimately don’t get your chosen career path, you could potentially spend the rest of your life paying it back. On top of this, there’s the cost of making your films. While you will often get discounts on gear & locations as a student filmmaker, there is still a cost.

Con #2 – The Internet

The Internet has been a wonderful thing for the education of many things, not just filmmaking. Just about everything you could potentially learn at film school, and more, is out there on the web. This might seem like a nail in the coffin for film school, but you still have to figure out for yourself what’s good and bad information. What’s actually applicable to you. You might skip something as non-important that’s potentially vital to your success.

I’ve turned this more into a pro for film school, haven’t I? But weighed against the cost (vs free), it’s definitely still a con. But you will need a lot of spare time to still go out and do. Experiment, learn from it. Don’t just watch videos and think you know it.

Con #3 – Structure

In a school, you learn what your professors want to teach you. This isn’t necessarily what you want to learn. Structure can be a good thing, but if you’re set on learning X and they spend 6 months teaching the Y that you’re not interested in… Well, if it’s costing you $25K or more for that, then that’s definitely a con.

Con #4 – Gear accessibility

While Pro #1 was about how you can save money by going to film school to get discounts on renting gear and such, gear as a whole is not as expensive as it once was. At least, not at the entry level. Sure, you’re still going to pay a fortune for an 8K RED camera, but a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera? A used DSLR?

There is so much equipment out there now, and so much competition for those dollars in your pocket that the barrier to entry is as low as it’s ever been. And it’s likely to keep getting lower as time goes on. So, those Pro #1 discounts aren’t often needed unless you know you need a very specific piece of kit for your project.

Con #5 – No guarantees

As many university students in all sorts of fields are discovering, a degree does not guarantee you a job these days. In filmmaking (and photography) a degree doesn’t really impress anybody. All they want to see is your work and your resumé. They want to see who you’ve worked for and with, and they want to see the final results that you made.

Ultimately, whether or not film school is for you will depend entirely what you need to do. The pros and cons listed above definitely should give you something to think about. But there’s a lot more research you need to do as well. It may be exactly what you need, or it might be the worst thing you could do for your future.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “Is Film School worth it? 5 reasons for and against”

  1. Motti Bembaron Avatar
    Motti Bembaron

    No substitute for school. No school guarantee you a job, you do not go to school for that. You go to school to squire skills that will be essential when you have a job. I never went to photography school and although I had great mentors, I know that school would have taught me a tons more when it comes to design, composition, color theory and more.

    Photography is a lot more than knowing how to use a camera and school in invaluable for that. Not to mention being among other creative people, learning from them and building a network for your future.

    If you have the option to go to school GO!!! And that goes for every profession out there.

  2. Albin Avatar
    Albin

    The film “The Wizard of Oz” continues to teach Scarecrows, Lions, and Tin Craftsfolk, that insttitutonal certification can make a lot of difference to public and self esteem. My daughter gained a lot from a commercial digital photography college program, mainly from professional contacts and confidence they gave her, taken back in 2005 with a Canon Rebel and L lenses. The hardware and softare for commercial shooting was completely transformed in just a few years, and she’s move on to some recent (fashion film) festival success in video. But she found out she was pretty good from others who had some institutional authority to say so, instead of proceeding on the basis of social media validation (or not proceeding for lack of it). Good schools don’t only teach, they evaluate and recommend.