When is the best time to go to film school? This is entirely up to you. Some are ready right after high school, others try a different career before they feel the creative itch.
Peter Jackson once said "The more you know, the less you achieve." He is a self-made filmmaker, and claims to have proven you don't really need film school.
Google "Which filmmakers did film school?" - and you'll find a long list of articles, and Top 10-lists of filmmakers who NEVER went to film school. Is it cooler not to have to go to film school? Well, definitely for the Big Ego guys who want to claim they did it all by themselves.
Admitted, there are things you cannot learn at school. Like FAILING (in the real world), which is probably the most important experience you need to build resilience in an industry as fickle as ours. So what can you learn? Well, about everything else.
I had my first teaching experiences in my twenties. I love teaching, and since 2008 I have been teaching frequently at about 6 film schools, both in Australia and overseas. (Disclosure: I also run my own screenwriting courses)
During this time, I have learned a lot about what students do and don't pick up from my and other courses. Obviously there is no need to convince people they don't need film school.
So let's look at all the reasons why you would choose a formal film education.
1. Don't Re-Invent the Wheel
Film school - don't reinvent the wheel. It's great to learn through mistakes. But it's dumb to make the same mistakes others have made before you - a thousand times over. Why not move to the next stage? Raise the bar and move forward faster!
Even if you don't accept 'the rules', an awareness of the principles of good storytelling and successful filmmaking will help prepare you to see the light.
2. Find Your Place In The Industry
So many students start film school, not really knowing what exactly they want to do. This is completely normal. There are so many different roles and responsibilities in the world of story development, film production and digital post-production. How can you know what you love until you've heard about it?
Other students can't make up their mind... Do they want to write - or direct? The best way to find out, is to do it. At film school you have nothing to lose, yet still the ability to emulate the experience, and find out for yourself if this is what you want to spend your working life doing.
3. Learn In A Structured Way
Sure you can go on the web and Google everything you need to build a career. But others have been there before, done the hard work, and facilitated the process for you. At film school you get a comprehensive overview of what may otherwise be a daunting underground world of people and systems that don't always make sense.
When you start looking at things with an analytical mind, you will find ways to save time, or do things simpler. This is where film school is invaluable. Why would you spend years finding out by trial and error, if you can go straight for the kill?
4. Get Affordable Access To Professionals
If you were to hire me directly for advise on pretty much anything, I will charge you more than the school pays me. Your share of that fee is absolute peanuts, compared to what I would charge you direct. So even if your film school fees seem high? Once you start adding up the value of access to people and materials, you will soon find out that it is actually a no-brainer.
And you'll see that even those who proudly claim they didn't go to film school, will hire film professionals to get advice on their work. True, they can cherry-pick, but proportionally they will still pay a lot more than you do.
5. Find Yourself
I love schools and colleges. They are very special places. Information doesn't flow just in one direction. Teachers are learning and growing, too. And we don't all just learn about the craft of filmmaking, we learn a lot about each other - and about ourselves.
Thinking about stories forces you to think about people, and about what matters. It helps you see the world in a different way - and discover your place in it. Your interaction with your mentors and peers, will also shape you in a way you never expected.
Most people will never again be able to socialise on the same level with as wide and diverse a community as they do at school. Your workplace will likely be more limited in numbers, and the type of people you'll meet more homogenous.
This deep interaction with peers and mentors is immensely valuable, and it will probably be what you will remember more than the classes and the tricks you learn.
6. Fail Safely
Once you're out in the real world trying to make money, failure is expensive and painful. A bad script sent to the wrong people may burn your reputation forever. A poor film can tarnish your career for a long while. Failure in the industry can instantly annihilate your future.
At school, making films is play. This is immensely beneficial in two ways. First, that freedom will allow you to be creatively uninhibited, and you may well come up with your best work ever. And nobody will fire you or make you feel miserable because you're not fit for the job. (Because yes, my friends, that's what the real job world looks like for many!)
You are completely liberated, free to try anything you like. How great is that?!
Collaboration is one of the critical skills for filmmakers, and increasingly also for screenwriters. The days that misanthropes could escape from the real world to be writers, are long gone. And I'm not talking about the fun, team sports type of collaboration. I'm talking about the high-stakes, extreme-pressure, problem-solving kind. This is a skill that kids from high school don't naturally display.
At the very best film schools, you are introduced to all main jobs during pre, production and post-production. This will help you better understand the challenges of other people on your crew. You may also be inspired to do your own work in a way that makes the entire process smoother - and ultimately more successful.
8. Film School Networking
The best film schools hire people who are active in the industry, who themselves have extensive networks. I have matched numerous students with each other, or with powerful industry people, in order to support their career. Once you learn that marketing is just as important as making your films or writing your scripts, you'll find out that building a strong network is half the way towards a successful career.
There is another important aspect to the networking potential of your films school.
Some of the people at your film school will break into the industry in a big way. If you have treated them well during your time at school, there is no reason why you shouldn't stay in touch. Big name filmmakers often go back to the people they know when they need help.
9. Challenge Teachers
The teachers may be challenging, but you should be challenging them, too.
Believe it or not, but often the smart hecklers are our favourite students.
Challenging teachers makes them re-think what they teach. The market changes, so the course materials have to be updated regularly.
The last thing you want to do is just learn stuff by heart. Making movies is about understanding the process of storytelling. You will be surprised how many teachers have forgotten this - or never even understood it... These people deserve some serious heckling!
10. Have Fun!
Film school - Lights - Have fun. Yes, you are allowed to have FUN at school.
In fact - You may have more fun making movies at film school than you ever will after.
Imagine, collaborating on your own creative projects with a group of like-minded people, who are not in it for the money. How can it possibly get any better?
You'll find film schools in every possibly pricing bracket. And if you can't afford the big ones, try the more community driven film hubs. For writers, there are even some really cool online screenwriting courses. (more to come here very soon)
When is the best time to go to film school? This is entirely up to you. Some are ready right after high school; others try a different career before they feel the creative itch. At middle age, you'll be surprised how much you achieve because your focus is sharper than most of the youngsters.
You're never too old to learn. Some of my most devoted screenwriting students are in the same age bracket as Academy Award® winner David Seidler.
In terms of actual filmmaking experience, you will get out of it what you put it. It is a cliché, but you have to understand this before you dive in - or you ARE wasting your time (and money).
And to counter Peter Jackson's argument, it suffices to look at the alumni of a few famous film schools.
Are you inspired yet? - Written by Karel Segers
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