I know that many of you are considering whether or not to go to film school. In this post, I’ll give you the top reasons why I think some sort of formal training is a must and why traditional film school can be the right decision for many.
Let’s face it, a good film school is really, really expensive. But here’s the thing, when you’re considering anything associated with personal growth, career or business, you must think in terms of investment, not expense.
An expense becomes an investment if you get a return. It’s called return on investment, or “ROI”.
And, before we go any further, I believe that if you want any level of success at anything, investing in yourself is a must and one of the best investments you can make.
The real question is, what kind of further education is right for you?
You might think about doing a DIY filmmaking study program. By the sound of it, you might think it means you’ll be getting an education at no cost. It’s nice to dream, but everything costs something. Some costs are initially hidden but become obvious with hindsight.
[bctt tweet=”You know – hindsight is 20/20. We’re always smarter looking backwards.”]
The obvious cost of a self-directed DIY filmmaking study program is that setting up a study structure takes a lot of time and an exceptional amount of discipline. But the real costs could be the lack of opportunities that come as a result of not having a network of classmates.
Here’s the big stumbling block to total DIY.
If you’re going to be “self-directed”, you need enough existing knowledge to create a curriculum. Can you trust yourself to create this?
Two important questions:
- Are you self disciplined? I mean, really focused and gifted with the ability to create structure in your day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month?
- Are your critical thinking skills good enough to discern which books are best?
- Are you objective enough about your work to know where you need to put more attention?
Why do I ask this? Because when you educate yourself without film school and without a mentor, you must create the curriculum, you must develop the ability to honestly critique your own work (good luck with that one), and you need to know when to shift your focus to another set of skills, constantly transitioning from the role of “instructor” to “student” and back again.
This type of study is possible, but it’s incredibly difficult without some sort of mentor, instructor or coach. The problem is we don’t know what we don’t know!
If you think you know how to make films because you’ve watched thousands of movies and every behind-the-scenes video you can get your hands on, you’re not alone, but you are mistaken. The first thing that happens when we work with a good instructor is we become aware of all the things we didn’t know.
[bctt tweet=”Filmmaking is a craft that continually unfolds new “A-ha!” moments.”]
So, when you’re initially exposed to a century’s worth of cinematic grammar, techniques for composition, camera blocking and screen direction guides, it’s common to become overwhelmed. But eventually, the same discoveries that once overwhelmed you now become tools you can use on every show and a way to kickstart every project.
If you want to be a “good enough” filmmaker, then forget formal study and ignore everything I just said. Just go out and shoot. Really – you’ll learn from your mistakes and eventually you’ll get better.
But remember, there is a cost. You know we’d come back to cost, right? The cost is – you’ll likely be unaware of your own film’s missing ingredients.
Your filmmaking will be lacking that certain something. You won’t be able to put your finger on it, so you’ll blame it on a lack of budget or another lame excuse. You’ll be thinking, if I had better lighting gear or if I could afford a top notch crew or better actors, this film would be rock solid. It probably wouldn’t.
I know this because I went through exactly what I just described. I know the hidden costs because I’ve paid them time and time again. Luckily, the pain of showing crappy movies was bad enough to motivate me to drop some money and a lot of time into taking numerous workshops.
Recently, I’ve seen this self-directed scenario play out even more frequently with the introduction of inexpensive DSLR cameras. Why? Because in the past you needed training before you could get your hands on expensive camera gear and frame-accurate editing equipment. But now, with a six hundred dollar DSLR and iMovie, the kid next door is, according to friends and family, the next Hitchcock. He’s a neighborhood star! But can he entertain an audience larger than the crowd at the neighborhood block party? Can he do it consistently and make a living at it?
That’s what film school and workshops train you to do. Here’s how the self-directed film school scenario unfolds 99% of the time.
A new filmmaker gets bored with book study. Being self-directed and bored, he or she decides it’s more interesting to shoot footage. That’s good – you must shoot!
The problem is that it’s almost impossible to avoid getting lost in the technical camera “geek-out” aspects of filmmaking. Without an instructor, there’s no guidance, and thus, no one to help them stay on track.
She may know how to document activity but:
- Does she know how to tell a cinematic story?
- Does she know how to create compositions that enhance a mood?
- Does she know how to create a “point-of-view” motivated shooting plan?
By deciding not to go to a film school, he or she missed the chance to be mentored by someone who has spent years perfecting their craft and who are now more than happy to share their knowledge with them.
A good mentor or an instructor provides structure and accountability. You’re forced to study:
- point of view.
- story structure.
- the language of cinema.
- and the multitude of other important aspects of filmmaking.
You study these things because you’re spending good money and you’ve made a commitment.
Film schools offer its students a unique chance that is very hard to replicate. When you’re on your own, you can simply decide to do what you think is okay. But when you have an instructor and others learning with you, you interact and see things from different points of view.
And now let me ask you this, where can you go to meet people who’ve been where you are and made it in the industry you want to be in, ready and willing to help you make valuable connections?
Film schools and workshops!
Structured learning can be frustrating at times, people may not always agree with your artistic ideas, you may spend time learning things you don’t think you need. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll learn faster and learn more when you’re nudged to see things from different perspectives. Being able to see things from multiple perspectives is a critical skill you’ll need to develop if you want to be a great film director.
Film schools also offer you the opportunity to get honest feedback. It’ll be frustrating to be criticized by an instructor or your peers at first, but this process sharpens your skills, thickens your skin and prepares you for the big stage.
[bctt tweet=”There are no short cuts, no straight roads and everything costs something.”]
Do you want quick results, need structure, and guidance? Are you willing to make a multi-year, full-time commitment to study? Maybe film school is right for you.
Do you have a job and need a flexible study program but are willing to learn at a slower pace? Maybe a mentor and workshops are more your style.
Are you the exception and capable of self-direction, willing to create your own structure and hold yourself accountable? Maybe a DIY direction is right for you.
[bctt tweet=”Film schools can be the shortest path to a career in the filmmaking industry.”]
However, they are also the most expensive. But if opportunities to work on TV shows or on well-run film sets come because you went to a good school, then your ROI might be very good.
It’s no secret that there is no best way to make it in this business, but there is one not so secret ingredient.
It’s called hustle. Regardless of which path you take, you’ll need a lot of it.
Which path do you think is the best for you? Do you have an opinion? Do you agree or disagree?
Your insights are always welcomed and valued, so please leave a message in the comment area.
If you’d like some private guidance, I work as an instructor and a mentor.