At the end of 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that over 400,000 people were employed in the motion picture and sound recording industries, up slightly from the end of September in the same year. The Bureau also lists the unemployment rate of those industries as 8.1%; double the national unemployment rate of 4.1%. California’s unemployment rate is 4.6%.
Not the best way to start off an article on the pros and cons of Film School, is it? Well, wait until you hear the rest of it. According to the-numbers.com, from 1995 to 2017 the average sales price of a movie ticket went from $4.35 to $8.90 (domestically.) This caused revenues to jump from $5.3 billion to almost $11 billion over the same period.
Sounds great! Let’s go into the movie industry! Who’s with me?
Ummm…hold on, Tex. Here is the rest of the story. In 1995, ticket sales were around 1.22 billion. In 2017, they were only… 1.23 billion. In 2002, ticket sales rose to 1.57 billion, but really it seems the same people that always go to the movies are still going to the movies, and that’s it. Viewership isn’t really growing, so is a career in the industry possible, and more importantly, sustainable?
The optimism is there. Every year thousands of hopeful, young men and women graduate from universities all around the country, with stars in their eyes and gripping their newly minted, Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degrees in their hands. Each one convinced that they are “THE” one that will make it in Hollywood.
And you know, they might be!
The first thing that eager young person will need is Vision. You won’t make it in this business without one. Vision is not just the movies you want to make or to be the best (insert producer, director, editor, etc. here) you can be. Your vision should be specific.
For example: Some of the greatest directors in history were known for their vision and way of seeing the world around them. Cecil B. DeMille pulled faith into his vision and is known for epic, Biblical movies starring some of the greatest actors of the day. Most of his movies are on a grand scale, and filmed in rich colors featuring elaborate sets.
Stanley Kubrick, on the other hand, still made grand movies, but exposed the dark undertones of the world in which we lived. Case in point, his 1968 critically acclaimed, award-winning movie 2001: A Space Odyssey explores the possibility of a computer taking over and keeping a human astronaut captive in his ship. It was during this time that computers were becoming more commonplace in society and future “smart homes” were envisioned in everyday life. Today, it seems has if life is imitating his art.
Charlie Chaplin found humor in the darkest situations (The Great Dictator ~ 1940,) and Steven Spielberg created iconic characters (Raiders of the Lost Ark ~ 1980.)
Make a plan and find your voice. Write out a vision statement about the kind of work you want to do. Plan out the steps and find others in the industry that can help you achieve it. Will every project you are involved in be part of your vision?
But every project will help you define your vision a little more and give you the tools to realize it. Film school may actually help you on this pathway.
USAToday.com ranked the Top Ten Universities for Film Studies and, as it has in other polls, the University of Southern California ranked #1. In 2017, 386 students graduated with a BFA degree in Film Studies. Another 195 graduated in programs such as theatre design, screen writing, drama, and acting. These numbers do not count programs like digital arts, media arts and animation. And this is just the number of graduates from USC!
It’s probably no coincidence that 3 of the top 4 schools are located in California, and the one that isn’t is New York University. Articles in other publications rank up to 25 universities. These rankings don’t include private, for profit schools and schools located abroad.
“90% of the most successful professionals in film never went to school…”
There are many reasons to go to film school and just as many to try it on your own. In a lot of ways, it really depends on what you want to do. School is probably a great option the more technical your field is. However, you may find a university closer to you has the same classes you want to take without the “film school” designator. If you are an actor, you may not need to go to school at all. While a cast member on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, comedian Eddie Murphy joked that he was a high school dropout, while his chauffeur graduated from Harvard.
The website FilmSchoolSecrets.com states “90% of the most successful professionals in film never went to school…” And in many cases, you can do it on your own and save some money. After all, University of Southern California charges about $45,000 a year for out-of-state tuition, books, and board.
But there are compelling reasons to go to film school, as well.
One of the best reasons to attend film school is to network. While in school, not only will you be working with instructors that have a background in film, you could also be working with the next Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Spike Lee or Ridley Scott. Your classmate today may be an Oscar winner tomorrow. Develop those relationships and cultivate contacts. Film schools have guest lectures from some of the greats in their fields. Research and ask them thoughtful, intelligent questions about their work. You may find you’ve piqued their interest and they may ask you to keep in touch. If you can find a mentor of professional status, your career has a better chance of taking off, and there isn’t a better place to find one than at film school.
Film school also lets you have access to professional organizations earlier in your career than if you choose to branch out on your own. Join as many as you have time for and keep up with their publications and seminars. These are great places to meet others in your field, exchange ideas, and find out about job openings.
Diversity and Voice
During this time in school, you are exposed to a diverse array of subject matter, such as different genres, film studies from other countries, film styles such as film noir, and different voices. Women are making a mark in producing and directing acclaimed films, when only a few years before it was an “all boy’s club.” Minorities are making their stories heard with films such as Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay or Fences, directed by Denzel Washington. Learning about these different voices can only enhance your understanding of your field and will broaden your vision as your gain experience.
Instruction and Evaluation of Work
At school, you also have a chance to fail and learn, with your work being evaluated by instructors and peers alike. This gives you a chance to improve your projects into usable work. You can evaluate your progress and refine your skills, along with your vision in an environment that not only forgives mistakes, but encourages them.
In addition, you can learn in a traditional classroom environment from people that have worked in the field. Using tried and true techniques in a controlled setting, where you can ask questions and make mistakes is invaluable when it comes to learning your craft. You don’t have to figure out what you don’t know on your own, which saves time and frustration.
Whether you choose to go to film school or not, there are a few things that will help you on your journey. The first is to volunteer your time and talents. Get involved with a community theater group or an independent film company. You can trade your talent and skill for actual experience.
Work with students at a local university. With technology becoming more mainstream and easier to use, alternative ways of doing projects and reports are becoming popular with students. Work with the college TV station, or offer to help a business student with a film report about advertising or finance. It will help them stand out and give you a chance to use your skill.
Another way to stand out from the crowd and learn something in the process is to volunteer you time to an established filmmaker in your area. There are many people that make independent, low-budget films. Use their skill and know-how to learn more about your craft.
Keep Developing Your Talent
However you decide to go about establishing yourself as a professional, never stop developing your talent. Every profession has dry spells, so find creative ways of keeping your skills up and getting your name noticed. One way is to have your own YouTube channel. Write, produce and direct your own shows and short films and publish them on a streaming channel. YouTube is the most well known, but there are many others. You can even stream your videos on your own website with the right software.
A Premier Industry
The film industry is considered a “premier” industry. Everyone has stars in their eyes and wants to work in the movies. Unfortunately, the market only has space for so many, so only the best of the best get in. Or, more accurately, only the best of the best who know the right people, get in. This is why networking and building relationships is so important. People in the industry like to work with someone they know or know of.
That being said, opportunities exist for those who think outside of the box. If you can bring something new and fresh to the industry, you could be the next star. With or without film school.