To Film School or Not To Film School: Crash Course Film Production #14

September 12, 2019

To film school, or not to film school? That is the question. Or it might be, if you’re interested in
becoming a filmmaker. And it doesn’t have an easy answer. Some filmmakers, like Francis Ford Coppola,
Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas, attended film school and have thrived making feature
films. On the other hand, James Cameron and Steven
Soderbergh have both won Academy Awards for Best Director without ever attending a single
class. Everyone’s experience is going to be different,
but there are some things that you can generally expect to get from going to film school. And with some careful consideration, you might
be able to chart a course that’s right for you and emerge as the next big thing. [Opening Music Plays] The world’s first film school was founded in 1919. As with many early film schools, the focus
at the Moscow Film School was on studying films that already existed, rather than actually
making movies. The theories developed by the students and
teachers in Moscow eventually gave birth to the Soviet Montage film movement
and movies like Battleship Potemkin and Man with a Movie Camera. In 1929, the University of Southern California’s
School of Cinema Arts was founded by early cinema big-shots like Mary Pickford, Ernst
Lubitsch, and D.W. Griffith. USC has maintained that close connection to
Hollywood right up to the present day, counting George Lucas, Judd Apatow, and Star Wars:
Episode 8 director Rian Johnson among its alumni. And in 1965, two major film schools were founded
in New York City: one at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and the other as
part of Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Although younger than the Southern California
schools, NYU and Columbia have caught up in terms of the success of their graduates. Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Brokeback
Mountain director Ang Lee all went to NYU, while Columbia boasts Hurt Locker director
Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold who made 3:10 to Yuma and Logan, and Jennifer Lee, the writer
and co-director of a little movie called Frozen. These days, there are film schools in almost
every state in the United States, as well as in many other countries around the world. You can find them in big international cities
like Paris, London, and Beijing, to smaller places like Austin, Texas; Mahwah, New Jersey;
and Anchorage, Alaska. Some are well known, like the programs at
CalArts, the American Film Institute or AFI, or the University of California Los Angeles,
better known as UCLA. Others are hidden gems, like Emerson College
in Boston or Denver’s Colorado Film School. The point is: if you decide that film school
is right for you, you have options, no matter where you live. So what will you learn if you go? Film schools can be undergraduate or graduate
programs at universities, colleges, and community colleges. They might be free standing degrees at those
schools, or they might be housed in other departments, like English, Fine Arts, Theater,
Media Studies, or Communications. Most film schools will teach you to both study
and make films. Education isn’t necessarily just about practicing
a trade. It can also be about exposing yourself to
other ways of thinking, writing, creating, or watching. In other words, it can be a time for experimentation! Classes on film history, theory, and criticism
will introduce you to films, filmmakers, film movements, and various ways to think critically
about them. While courses on things like screenwriting,
cinematography, directing, and editing will give you the skills and experience you’ll
need to produce your own films. These same subjects are taught in many film
schools, but teaching methods can differ. Most schools follow either the conservatory
or liberal arts approach. Conservatory schools, like the American Film
Institute, the New York Film Academy, and to some extent NYU, focus on educating world-class
artists and technicians devoted to a single field within filmmaking. Very early on at a conservatory school, you’ll
choose a “track” with help from faculty and advisors, and you’ll study that subject
almost exclusively. You might decide to become an editor, a cinematographer,
a director, or a sound designer, and your classes and exercises will be geared toward
the craft, art, and technology of that particular role. As a result, conservatory schools tend to
turn out graduates who excel at their particular job and know it inside and out. If you’re looking for a broader understanding
of cinema and its place in the world, or you don’t yet know which track you want to pursue,
a liberal arts-based film school might be a better fit. In practice, liberal arts film schools offer
students the chance to try a variety of filmmaking roles, and gain a deeper understanding of
the whole filmmaking process, rather than just one specific part of it. And while students will still learn how to
line up a shot or make a rough cut, they’ll also be encouraged to think about cinema in
its larger cultural, economic, historical, and political contexts. Of course, you’ll also find film schools
that split the difference between these two approaches, providing a broad liberal arts
education for initial courses, and pivoting to a more track-based curriculum for the later
ones. So what does film school really get you? First and foremost: time. School gives you the time to focus on the
craft of filmmaking in a structured environment. Time to fail, learn from your mistakes, and
try again. And time to experiment and find your artistic
voice, while you’re given critical feedback from teachers and your fellow students. Depending on where you go, film school might
also let you move closer to a filmmaking hub, be it New York, Los Angeles, or even Chicago,
Atlanta, or Austin. Just being close to the action can be a powerful
motivator for aspiring filmmakers. In terms of technology, many film schools
give you the opportunity to get your hands on a lot of the equipment you’ll find on
sets – like jibs, dollies, cameras, or microphones – while an expert helps guide you. And you’ll learn to collaborate! Film is an intensely collaborative industry
and medium, and being forced to rely on and work with your peers is a big part of the
film school experience. Even more importantly, film school gives you
access to a community of people who are just as obsessed with films and filmmaking as you
are! That network of teachers, mentors, and trusted
peers will become your allies as you all develop your creative projects and find opportunities
to work in the film industry. Many film school graduates think of this community
as one of the biggest benefits of their formal education. And, of course, you’ll earn a degree. A degree can have value as a symbol of your
passion, commitment, and follow-through, but, sadly, it doesn’t guarantee you a job or
a career. And that leads us into some arguments against
attending film school. It’s expensive. Not only will you pay tuition, but you’ll
have to fund your own films. And don’t forget, you might have to move
to a bigger, pricier city to pursue your dreams. Not to mention, film is an exceptionally competitive
industry that often depends on who you know and how good you are at your job. There’s a lot of luck and timing mixed in
with the tenacity, hard work, and talent required to succeed. Also, your learning style might not be suited
to a classroom. Some people thrive in an academic environment,
while others do better with a hands-on approach or more unstructured exploration. If that’s you, film school might not be
the best option. But if you decide film school is too expensive
or not a good fit, there are a number of other paths you can take to become a professional
filmmaker. Many directors started out working as crew
members on other people’s films before making movies of their own. Alfred Hitchcock began as a title designer,
and worked his way up to directing classics like Psycho and Rear Window. Before dreaming up The Terminator, Aliens,
Titanic, and Avatar, James Cameron got his start as a set painter for famous B-movie
producer Roger Corman. Cameron reportedly mastered so many different
skills that, today, his crew members talk about upping their game because he can probably
do their job at least as well as they can. This kind of apprenticeship approach was even
built into the structure of some international film industries until fairly recently. Up until at least the 1980s in England, for
example, most directors were obligated to put in their time as an Assistant Director
before they were given the chance to make their own films. In the 1990s, though, A-list directors like
Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh took an entirely different path. Instead of apprenticing for other filmmakers,
they both studied hundreds if not thousands of films on their own, with a focus and intensity
most film students couldn’t muster. Their feature film debuts – Reservoir Dogs
and sex, lies, and videotape – both display an incredible grasp of storytelling, film
grammar, and tone, at a level remarkable for self-taught directors. Paul Thomas Anderson, acclaimed director of
Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, split the difference. He was an intense student of film long before
he got to film school… and then dropped out after the first day! The proliferation of things like Blu-ray special
features and online tutorials make this kind of DIY approach more possible than ever before. “Lessons from the Screenplay” on YouTube
and the website and podcast ScriptNotes are great resources for screenwriters. While sites like can teach
you tips and tricks about cameras, lighting, and special effects. In fact, the falling cost of film equipment
and the ability to distribute your work on the Internet has done more to change the film
school equation in the last decade than anything else. You can build online communities and peer
groups of like-minded filmmakers from around the world, which might make film school less
necessary. And it’s not like Warner Brothers is gonna
turn you down for a directing job because they find out you don’t have a degree! Think about it this way. If you want to become a doctor, you need to
go to medical school, right? If you can afford it and your grades are good
enough, you’ll graduate and – boom – you’re a doctor. It doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it does
mean you’re very likely to find work in the medical field. It’s also the only way to become a doctor. For filmmakers, film school is just one
of many paths you might take. That’s the great advantage and drawback
to pursuing a career in film: you can get there any number of ways… but none of them
are guaranteed. So, is film school the right choice for you? I can’t tell you that. But luckily, the person who can tell you
is watching this video right now. …It’s you, I’m talking about you. Take some time and think about the environments
in which you learn best, the communities you could build and be a part of, and what you
can afford. And remember: whatever form your education
takes, it’s the work you do, and the kind of collaborator you become, that matter most. Today we talked about the history of film
school and the different approaches they take to educating filmmakers. We discussed the benefits of film school,
from access to equipment, peer groups, and mentors to the time to make mistakes. And we looked at other options, from apprenticeships
to self-education and building your own community of collaborators online. Next time, we’ll focus our attention on
the history and exciting current state of television production. Crash Course Film Production is produced in
association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest shows, like Space Time, It’s Okay To Be Smart, and Physics
Girl. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people and our
amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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