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So Many Film Students, So Few Films

USC, NYU, UCLA film schools Over the long US holiday weekend, The New York Times reported on the current landscape at American film schools, which seem to be increasing in number with every passing semester. The gist of the story is that, even though it may be tougher than ever to get jobs at traditional Hollywood studios, film schools are exploding with eager young talent. Writer Michael Cieply says applicants for slots at USC grew this year to 4,800, compared to 2,800 last year. (USC will admit fewer than 300 students.) He quotes an official at Western Kentucky University, which has 84 majors in a film and TV program that just launched last year. The MPAA says it got entries for the Student Academy Awards programs from 136 schools this year, up by a third from 2009. While that seems like an awful lot of film students are about to be let loose in the world, Cieply also hears from the dean of the UCLA film school, who thinks digital media greatly expands the possibilities for new graduates. So how important is film school, anyway? Is it important to get a solid grounding in technique and history before you start shooting and cutting your own material? Or is any high-school kid with an iPhone and a copy of iMovie (or, for the serious student, Final Cut X) ready to start learning about film grammar and on-set collaboration? If you went, how much did it help you? Update 07/06/11: IndieWIRE has published a rebuttal to the original Times story.


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  • Jan Becker

    I never went. But I’m happy for the new onslaught of cheap PA’s.

  • Ed

    I went. Above all, it’s very important to understand the grammar. I am always amazed, by being an editor, how unfocused the directors are these days. It seems that they don’t really know what they are looking for. Grammar and watching films is what matters, if you are one that reads a lot and have access to great films, you probably can pass without one… if not, just go. And whenever one of your colleagues break in, you will follow. Technical lectures is BS tho…

  • Paul

    If you can get into a top film school, go. However it is as important who you meet there as what you learn. Otherwise, you can probably get the education a lot cheaper on your own.

  • Alberto Gatcia

    Getting an education can never be the wrong step weather your talking about film or some other field. Getting a film education or any other education for that matter is not only about technique or history its about expanding your mind and every film student, or accomplished director needs that.

  • Paul Izbicki

    Can anyone really justify $64k for a film school degree? That’s what it costs in central Tennessee. How long would it take to pay back the loans?

    Get a 2 yr Associate degree, then finish with a liberal arts degree. Same job potential.

  • http://www.jaredisham.com Jared Isham

    I went to film school and now the program is about 8 years old. Me and two other people are the only ones I know of that have feature films completed and distributed.

    There is a difference I see from film school trained and not, but the biggest difference is between knowing set etiquette and not which you don’t need to go to film school to learn it, in fact, if you don’t maybe you won’t have an ego when you show up to set.

  • http://NexGenProductons.com Ralph

    Reality Check:

    Paying big, in fact ANY money to major in one of the Film/Video Production majors is like paying to go to college to become a professional football player!! And the chances being gainfully employed and making a decent living as a film/video professional are just about as slim.

    The advancements in technology are great… the equipment prices have taken a plunge, and so have the opportunities as a gainfully employed member of the film/video production family.

    At one time there was something “special” about being identified as a Producer, Videographer, Editor, Animator, Compositor, and on and on… in a crowd, people gathered around you because you were part of an elite class of “interesting” people…

    Now when you’re in a crowd of people and you are identified as a film/video professional, someone undoubedly will grab your arm, pull you to a computer, log onto YouTube, and start showing you a video of all of the videography, editing, and special EFX that their 13 year old shot, produced, edited, and posted to the web!!!

    In a recent poll I read that video producton facilities are one of the Top 10 (#7) fastest declining businesses in the U.S. As a point of reference… record stores were #8!!

    Spending money to go to school to be a film/video professional is a bit like spending money to go to school to be a hamburger flipper at McDonalds… the irony is that you stand a better chance at getting hired and making a better wage with benefits by working at McDonalds…

  • http://youtube.com/user/OperationMiracle Karl Kaufmann

    The problem is — if it is one? — that nowadays many film school instructors have never been on a set, except as guests.
    Yet, from my own experiences studying in a film school quite a while back, you have room to explore and also to learn how to delegate work.

  • Ced E

    I went to a small film school in NYC. It gave me access to equipment and fundamental terminology I did not have at the time. I have learned a lot more on my own both in class and out as I love to study film production. As stated, only a handful of alum are actually still in the industry and only a finger or two have worked on feature projects.

  • http://www.steveoakley.net Steve Oakley

    I spent several years working in a NY TVS as a LD. I had my share of interns from a well known local college. of the average of 10 kids I’d get – 1 or 2 would be self motivated, interested, and want to do something. they were worth showing stuff to. 2 or 3 would try if you kicked them a little and stayed on their butts. the rest where just taking up time on mommy and daddy’s tab getting some sort of degree by going thru the motions and at the time, communications was the hot ticket.

    nothing has changed. get a liberal arts degree, sub major in film / communications / TV and more importantly, just go out and work.

    and as some one else said, a steady supply of cheap PA’s.

  • vic

    You’re better off watching and shooting and reading. The good thing about school is the early networking opportunities, and the free equipment. that’s it. as far as gaining any special knowledge, for an appendage a semester, you can just get your local film directory and call around to see who wants an intern or hell-who has an hour or so to talk to an upcoming filmmaker. You will get a yes out of all the no’s. and that one hour with someone in the industry, no matter your town, will be worth semesters of f#@king money and time and loans that still need to be paid back. speaking of which, i better get back to work. Render’s done.

  • Bee Gomez

    Frankly, if you’re not going to USC, NYU or UCLA, why bother? A degree from someplace in TN isn’t going to open any doors. You can get an entry-level job without a film degree.

  • SAM

    The author Eudora Welty was often asked, how do you become a writer. Her answer was alway the same: READ! Same with becoming a film maker or any kind of creative in this business. Watch films, commercials, animations and just go out there and do it. Watching classics is especially worthwhile. The great ones always have one thing in common: GREAT STORIES. Whether you’re making films, commercials, shorts, docs, news, whatever. The story’s the thing. Audiences will forgive bad camerawork, bad lighting etc. But they won’t forgive a bad story. With the advent of digital media the horizon is expanding beyond my wildest dreams of my youth. And equipment is about the only thing in our crappy economy that’s getting cheaper while getting better.

  • http://nettelmedia.com Erick Nettel

    In this industry you will find people who went to film school and got a good job in the industry; people who did not go to film school and still got a good job in the industry, and people who went to film school and could not get a job in the industry at all.

    Unfortunately, the advancement in technology provides a false sense of guaranteed success for anyone using it because at the end of the day is there, it is easy to use and it is more affordable than ever. But technology by itself does not provide all the proper background and education to deliver a professional product at the end of the day. I believe education is the first of many steps to really understand any industry you will work in.

    Just to make a point, I might be able to grab a cook book, follow the recipe step by step and finish with a very decent dish. I can even get inspired and add my own touch but… will that make me a chef?

  • John B

    If you don’t know anybody or don’t have any connections like somebody from TN or IN, like myself, the only way to get even a PA job is by having a resume and some experience in something. There are so many graduates flooding the market that you can’t even get a PA job without a Degree. People Hiring have to separate the Wheat from the Chaff and a degree only helps you make that first connection that starts the ball rolling and keep it rolling.

  • http://fullsailuniversityreview.blogspot.com/ Nancy Ford

    Film school…. biggest waste of money. EVER. Especially if you attended a for-profit media arts business that has the nerve to call themselves a university.

    fullsail university review blogspot … google it.

    I attended Full Sale and what holds true for Full Sale holds true for the lot… LA Film School, NY Film Academy.

    Follow LLoyd Kaufman’s advice and take that tuition money and “make your own damn movie”.

  • Kenny Robert

    What do you want to be? Whatever it is, you’re going to have to spend the time to learn–really learn. Those who go to school and then can’t do anything when they get out didn’t really learn anything. And it’s not the school’s fault!
    Even those who don’t go to school but work as a grunt in the industry will not get ahead unless they learn from everyone around them and then do the required work. It’s called work ethic. No one is going to just give it all to you. You’re going to have to work your butt off for it.
    If all you get out of film school is terminology you’ve wasted your time and money. You’re also an idiot. Whether you go to school or not, volunteer everywhere. Read (and understand) everything you can get your hands on. Study the people you work with. And study movies and TV–don’t just sit and enjoy them. Study how they were made, and why the director/producer/dp wanted to tell that story.
    Making a good story is what matters–no matter what the story is (love story, sci fi, documentary, commercial, music video, etc.) if the viewers don’t ‘get’ your story you’ve failed. Can you tell a good story? Can you at least contribute some kind of work to make the story? That’s the only thing that matters.

  • http://www.randalkleiser.com Randal Kleiser

    George Lucas funded a 2 set DVD of my favorite directing and acting teacher, Nina Foch. For film students, this is a gold mine. Nina Foch taught for 40 years at USC and the AFI and trained such directors as Ed Zwick, Amy Heckerling, Ron Underwood, and James McTiernan. She developed her own style based on her studies with Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen, and being directed by such icons as Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Kubrick.
    Check out the website and click on all the video clips:
    Randal Kleiser- director of
    Grease, The Blue Lagoon, White Fang, It’s My Party

  • John

    I didn’t go to film school but rather went to college in a state that is blossoming with film production. I worked all throughout school. It was the smartest decision I’ve ever made. Now, when people come out of film school ready to work, I’m already 4 years ahead of them.

    What people fail to realize is that regardless of if you go to film school or not, we all still have to get our movie made one way or another. Film school just puts you in debt.

  • Cameron

    Many of the comments here assume that all film degrees are alike. That is not the case. Also, there is an assumption that everyone who is a film major wants to work in Hollywood. If the school is liberal arts – then the degree earned (BA or BS) offers more than just film. A student may have many more opportunities because of the wider exposure of subject matter. This is true of many other majors, not just film. Learning film techniques for 1 or 2 years doesn’t make you an educated person who has been exposed to many areas of life, including literature, drama, and philosophy. A school with good technical training, which also offers a good college education overall, is not a waste of money.

  • Kaylee

    where did you go?