If you have talked to professionals in the film industry, you’ve probably heard it before.
“Film school is a waste of time!”
“The best place to learn about film is on a film set!”
You’ve probably pondered whether their statements are true or not. There is some truth to their statements. The best place to learn about film is in the film industry and film school, for many, is a waste of time but at the same time, many great filmmakers of today got their start in film school.
So what’s the truth?
The truth is there is a lot of value in film school but that value is not what students might expect. There are 1300 film schools in the US. Some film schools have working professionals in the faculty, provide many opportunities for real work experience, and teach valuable information you can’t easily find on YouTube. Other film schools…. not so much.
If you are one of the students attending those “other” film schools that students find to be lackluster, then you may be reflecting on if going to film school was the right choice. The good news is no matter what film school you’ve chosen, you get out of it what you put into it. In this blog post, we are going to go through 5 ways you can make the most out of film school, wherever you are.
If you rely solely on your classes to learn, you will feel like you’ve barely learned anything at all. Professors have a lot more knowledge and experience than they share in class. Develop relationships with your professors outside of class, during their office hours. Once you get close enough to your professors, they could help you in many ways. One way is by creating a customized course called an Independent Study where you can focus on a specialized role you are interested in. They can also give you a letter of recommendation for internships or jobs you apply for in the future.
Upperclassmen were exactly where you are now. They have felt the frustration you have felt. Many upperclassmen take the role of mentor naturally because of this fact. They have made mistakes that you can learn from. Undoubtedly, they have things that they wish they knew when they were at your level. Pick their brains. Get to know them. Offer to help out on their projects. You can advance twice as fast just by observing upperclassmen in action.
Alumni are a valuable resource that many students forget about until they become one. Unless your school is absolute trash your alumni network is full of school pride. Many times alumni will offer opportunities to students just because they went to the same college. Reach out to them in an email and put your school association in the subject line, it will catch their attention. There are also many times a school will bring in alumni as a guest speaker or to host other events. Go to those events and absorb all the advice the alumni has to give. Afterward, you can introduce yourself. That connection may lead to a job one day.
Speaking of connections, the network you create is arguably the most valuable aspect of film school. The people you meet and work with will be connections that stick with you throughout your career, especially at the beginning. If you are lucky, you will make friends with people who will become your go-to production crew in the future. The number of stories I’ve heard about people who have gotten jobs from friendships in college are too many to count. I cannot stress this enough, make as many friends as possible. Work with as many people as possible because the network you have when you graduate will likely lead to many opportunities in the future.
Your school should have many clubs and organizations available for you to join. Getting involved in general is a great way to meet new people and make long-lasting friends. Film clubs/media organizations are a great way to constantly create films, work with people, and obtain experience in a variety of roles. Film school contains a diverse amount of personalities and film clubs allow you to find a community of people who actively want to create. Some universities even allow clubs/organizations to apply for extra funding through grants. If your school doesn’t have a film club, create one. I guarantee that as long as film students have the time they will join a film club.
Film school students have a special ability and I’m not talking about the ability to do all-nighters 3 nights in a row. The student label alone announces to the world that you are willing to learn… and that you most likely have no money. It’s humbling in a way. For film students, there are many opportunities that companies, colleges, and professionals will provide to aid your learning experience.
Take advantage of all the different discounts that are offered to film students. Adobe Creative Cloud offers students all of their apps for only $20/month, the original price is $53. Final Draft gives students $30 off of their original price. For a day in 2020, Master Class offered students an entire year’s subscription for only $1. Many film schools also have deals with companies to allow their students to access certain programs for free but many schools are terrible at advertising those great deals. Check with the faculty of your film school to find out if they have any deals with any useful companies. Make sure to look for student discounts in any service or program you are interested in purchasing. You may save yourself a lot of money.
Many professionals in the industry went to film school. They understand how you feel and have a soft spot for any student looking for guidance. Although, professionals are extremely busy and their time is valuable to them. It never hurts to send an email asking for advice. When emailing them, ask them a specific question about the industry or their career. Make sure the question is relevant to their past experience as well. Some professionals will even agree to meet with you to discuss in person. Especially if you make the meeting convenient. For example, if they stop at a Starbucks to drink coffee before work, offer to meet them at that Starbucks.
The obvious perk of being a student is an internship. Internships allow you to get real experience in the film industry and have led many professionals to their first job. Internships are usually for students and recent students who graduated up to 6 months ago. So, it’s important to take full advantage of internships as a student. I wouldn’t graduate film school without having at least 1 internship experience. You can learn more during a 3-month internship than a year studying at your film school. Internships can also expose you to different roles in the film industry and helps you find what best suits your interests.
The beauty of film school is in your freedom to make mistakes. Your first short film will be bad. Your second one may be worse but as long as you are learning and growing from those productions, they will always be important to your development. Film school gives you everything you need to create a film. Equipment, actors, a crew, all who more often than not, will work for free. After you graduate, you won’t have the same freedom you had in college. Productions become costly and mistakes become something you can’t afford.
Equipment is a great example of that. The access you had to your school’s equipment room is vastly different from a rental house. Renting equipment from a rental house can bring hidden costs, late fees, insurance, etc. If you are looking for a rental house that is similar to a film school’s equipment room, a subscription-based rental house is your best option. Subscription-based rental houses are a new phenomenon and companies like Film Gear Club are pioneers in this market. Film Gear Club allows subscribers to pay a low monthly/annual fee and in return get up to 50% off daily rentals, insured protection for damages or theft, and they allow subscribers to have the rented equipment picked up/delivered directly to the location that is most convenient for the renters. Film Gear Club is a great resource for anyone entering the film industry. They also have job opportunities and events with industry professionals exclusive only to subscribers.
You can learn more about Film Gear Club here.
It’s also important to get experience in many different roles on a production. Not only will the diverse experience help you zero in on what you’d want to specialize in after graduation but it will also help you obtain a holistic perspective of the filmmaking process.
Film school is expensive and if you aren’t getting the experience you envisioned, it can feel extremely discouraging. Although, there are many benefits to film school outside of your curriculum. Whether you are at a film school in LA or in the middle of nowhere, you can gain a valuable experience that follows you well into your career.