Film School

Film School FAQs: Is It a Waste of Money?

Is undergraduate or even graduate film school a waste of money? Well, it really depends on your circumstances and what you wish to get out of it.

I didn’t go to film school, but some of our blog writers and judges did. I’ve worked on set with people who have and people who have not. And, depending on where my career takes me, I still might enroll!

It sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s true: it depends on your circumstances. Film school is great for meeting like-minded creatives and networking.

But you can make a film without going to film school. You’ll just have to work harder to immerse yourself in a creative community. In this post, we answer some questions we commonly get about film school to help you figure out an answer that best makes sense for you.

If you want to make your own short film productions, you don’t need film school to do that. You can submit a pitch for a chance to get funding from our funding opportunities.

First, what are your circumstances?

hollywood sign independent film

The film school vs. no film school debate depends on several factors such as what you want to get out of film school, if you’ll be responsible for paying for tuition yourself, and what stage of your career you’re currently at.

If you’re coming out of high school, you know that filmmaking is your ultimate passion, and you have a full scholarship to attend film school, then yes, we would say that film school represents a great choice.

If you’re forty years old with some industry experience, steady income, and you want to get a graduate degree to further network and hone your skills, then it could also also be a great choice. Or it could be a waste of time that costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do you need a portfolio for film school? Can you go to film school with no experience?

independent filmmaker with camera and smoke on set

They always say you can go to film school without any experience. Of course they’re going to say that: they want your tuition, and they want you to apply.

And it’s also true: you really don’t need experience. Students get admitted with no experience all the time, especially at the undergraduate level. But it sure would help to have a short film under your belt.

Oftentimes, the applications will ask you to submit a video sample or a series of photographs that tell a story. If you have a film that tells a good story and is polished for this purpose, that would be much, much better than not having one, right? So, yes, you do need experience.

Go and shoot something, even if it’s with your friends inside your house. Use your phone and an app like Filmic Pro. Boom, there’s your experience (pun intended).

How do you get into film school?

camera lights film set photo film school

The best film schools are fiercely competitive. According to FilmSchool.org, as of 2019, for directing, NYU’s acceptance rate is 20%, UCLA’s is 26%, and Columbia Film School’s is 26%.

So, to get into film school, we’d say to write a killer essay, submit an amazing short film, and tell them why you want to go to film school. It will also help to have professional recommendations. So start PA’ing and meeting some producers.

Why is film school a waste of time?

There a million reasons people might say film school is a waste of time. A few of those reasons might be: they likely won’t show you how to get a producer for your film (they might tell you how, but they won’t get you one themselves).

Another argument is that you could take the money you’d spend on tuition and put it towards producing a feature film instead.

How much does film school cost?

indie filmmaker music video set

A lot of people can’t afford film school. It depends on the school and whether you’ll be an undergraduate or a member of a graduate program, and many factors can influence the cost, such as whether you live in- or out- of-state.

To give you a ballpark idea of how much tuition costs, we took The Hollywood Reporter’s top 14 best film schools and averaged their annual out-of-state graduate and undergraduate tuition:

Graduate tuition average: $44,974 per year.
Undergraduate tuition average: $65,169 per year

Based on stats reported by The Hollywood Reporter, 2019

So, instead of paying $134,922 for a three-year master’s program, you could spend that money on a micro-budget feature. Or, you could consider it an investment in your career, as you’ll meet fellow passionate filmmakers and learn from some of the best instructors. For example, Spike Lee is head of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and he teaches a class to graduate students (at least as of a few years ago).

So, it all depends on what you value and what your financial situation is. Keep in mind that many schools offer financial aid and paid graduate assistant positions that can help offset the cost of tuition.

Can you go to film school after college?

extras on indie film set

Yes, this is exactly what graduate film school is for. In fact, I almost applied to graduate film school myself, but I ended up deciding to work on growing The Film Fund full-time instead.

Why is film school important?

arri alexa mini independent film camera for independent filmmakers

Film school will teach you how to achieve a high production value, create short film structure, and short film budgets.

It will expose you to all of the film crew positions on the film crew list such as those in the art department, boom operator, key grip, assistant directors, 1st AC, prop master, art director, set designers, and more.

A good film program will also teach you the importance of pre-production, production management, sound design, and call-sheets.

Most importantly, you’ll be immersed in a community of like-minded filmmakers and creatives. That’s why I considered going. You’ll learn, be surrounded by people who care about their craft, and you’ll work side-by-side with people who will be (or are already) industry professionals.

You won’t be handed a book that tells you how to become a film producer, but it will give you many of the tools to do so.

If you want to practice your budgeting skills in the meantime, you can download our FREE Short Film Budget Breakdown.

Which film school should I go to?

There are many factors to consider: do you want to direct Hollywood blockbusters, or are you more focused on telling a story that represents truth and emotion? Do you want to work on big-budget commercial sets or smaller independent productions?

The best way to find out if a school suits your aspirations is to schedule a visit as a prospective student. An even better thing to do is to talk to some of the program’s upperclassmen or recent graduates to really get the answers for which you’re looking.

If you want to make a short film before attending film school to strengthen your portfolio, check out our funding opportunities.

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