Do You Really Need a Film Degree?

I am always amazed by the number of parents I bump into whose children want to attend a film school. After running into yet another parent who was asking about film degrees, I decided to track down the following post that I wrote a couple of years ago…

If you want to get into the movie industry, do you need to go to film school?

That’s what I was wondering after two stressed dads, within the space a few days, emailed me about how they are going to pay for their teenagers’ dreams to attend a film school.

Film schools tend to be located in extremely expensive universities such as Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, USC, NYU and UCLA (for non residents).

The dads who I heard from were worried that underwriting a film degree would break the bank. They felt, however, that if they didn’t underwrite their kids’ dream to pursue this sexy major, their children would never have a chance to be the next Spielberg.

I think that’s hogwash. You don’t have to major in filmmaking to break into the movie industry. Sure, it might be easier to get connections at a film school, but there are no guarantees. It’s also better in graduate, regardless of your major, without being burdened with six-figure student debt.

Oscar Director Winners and College Dropouts

After the Academy Awards last year, I wrote a post - Oscar Night Nominees Included Many College Dropouts – that explored where the Oscar winners attended college. Only two of the five director nominees actually graduated from college – Kathryn Bigelow, who earned a master’s degree in a graduate film program at Columbia University and Jason Reitman, who majored in English/creative writing at USC.

The other 2010 Oscar director nominees:

  • James Cameron dropped out of California State U. Fullerton.
  • Lee Louis Daniel dropped out of Lindenwood College in St. Charles, MO.
  • Quentin Tarantino never graduated from high school.

Other directors who never went to film school include Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Frank Capra and Bernardo Bertolucci.

For students who believe attending a film school is essential, I’d urge you to read this post from Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo, who has a blog called NoFilmSchool, which is devoted to do-it-yourself filmmaking. Koo wrote this post at a previous website:

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go to Film School

Here’s something else you should read – an article from The New York Times that explains why you don’t need a film degree to work in the movie industry:

Where’d You Go to Film School? In My Bedroom

Coincidentally after I had finished writing this post, my daughter, who is a senior at Juniata College, got an assignment yesterday from her boss at the school’s marketing department asking her to write a story about the cinematographer of Weeds, the wildly popular cable show on Showtime. He’s a Juniata grad and will be visiting the campus. A kid from rural Pennsylvania breaking into Hollywood. Actually, it doesn’t sound strange at all.

Here’s my advice for families which would assume serious debt to underwrite a film degree:  Don’t do it!

 Hollywood sign courtesy of minnemom. Creative Commons.

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2 Responses to Do You Really Need a Film Degree?

  1. Rosemary January 31, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Thanks! This really put things in perspective I was just looking up film course using the course search here : ( I live in the UK) but I will reconsider now. The education is just as expensive this side of the pond (and a lot less opportunities for aspiring Spielbergs).

  2. Christopher Gelsey June 7, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Okay, so I’m wondering you know anyone who went into an alternative film school like FIlm Connection which assign students into any studio in their hometown which a mentor who actually has experience in the film league and teach their knowlege in the filmmaking business to students? Could schools like those be possible or true?

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