To go to film school or not?

I’ve been struggling with this issue for a while. And with the application deadlines just 5 weeks away, I need to make up my mind and not let the decision be made for me by procrastinating..

Background — I have a graduate degree in business. I have a Filmmaking Certificate from NYU where in 12 short weeks, I made two shorts, one of which is here. I live in New York, so there are only two options – NYU and Columbia. NYU probably has a better all-around program and Columbia probably has a better program for writers.

Now the question is whether I invest THREE years (two if Columbia) and go to film school.

Pros —

  • Get much better training on all the basics and all the advanced technical skills of filmmaking
  • Be in an atmosphere where all I do is come up with ideas and make them happen
  • Learn to work in very tight timeframes — if NYU’s 12-weeker was any indication, I’ll learn how to have extremely low shooting ratios and tight production timelines.
  • Finish my feature script with access to professionals who can guide me through it (both schools have great writing departments)
  • Meet a group of peers with whom I will form creative and professional connections
  • Give me more credibility in the world
  • Be in school again! Go to classes, work in coffee shops and otherwise be burden free!

Cons —

  • It is THREE years (at NYU and even at Columbia, because in the third year, you are doing the thesis project). In the same amount of time, I could be working! Actually making a short or working with a great director on his/her feature and learning on the job. While this is just one simple bullet, this is the hugest issue for me. HUGE. I love the doing of it! I’d learn a lot. This is like 5 bullets worth of cons for me.
  • The cost. At a minimum, it is $100K, probably more like $150K once you add in all the film stock needed, the thesis project etc.
  • I have a full application packet I need to put together! 😉

Am I missing any pros or cons? I am eager for input as I try to make this decision in the next couple of days.

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  • Sudha

    Shirpiya..I know exactly what you are going through…touch I am not at the same note as you, I almost got myslef enrolled into a local school last week and something stopped me.

    Let me give you my opinion. I agree technical skills are important but nothing beats practicals. You know the A-B-C-D of movie making from your 12 weeks course and also you are in the right hub(NY). I would suggest you try finding the job of Assting a Director. You will have a better vision and understanding of your creativity, approach, style etc, then after that if you stil feel that you need to go to school to master the craft you can do that then.

    Good Luck:)

  • Rony D’costa

    Shripriya,Hi,i would say go with your gut feeling.pros & cons are there in everything you do.i believe in gainin hands on experience on the sets.there are so many books & other options available to help you learn the theory part of it. i am learning script writing with the help of books by Syd Field & it works for, take a deep breath, relax & decide and ALL THE BEST!!!

  • I am certainly leaning in that direction. It’s hard though for a couple of reasons. I think film school provides a certain structure that is missing once you are out in the real world.

    The thing that’s hard before film school is finding a director who you can learn from who is also willing to invest in emerging/aspiring filmmakers.

    From the business world, I’ve learned that “mentorship” is a must. I benefited from it and I made sure I passed that on to almost everyone who approached me.

    The film industry does not seem to have that built into directors’ DNA. Once a lot of directors have proved themselves, they treat everyone like peons :). Hey, each to his own and all that, but my take is that it would be great if we saw more directors willing to share what they’ve learned.

    On that vein, if any of you are aware of directors who are open to apprentices, please let me know. I’ll happily jump in and work my ass off.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

  • Shai

    My two cents. If you know that you are gonna go out there and scout around for (even unpaid) work (while not going to film school) it is a great idea to just not go to film school. Having said that I realize that just going out there and scouting around is easier said than done because there are a million people likely doing it.

    On the other hand, ‘going’ to film school is no guarantee that you will get work, even if after three years you do the same going around and scouting around for work.

    Eh? So, it’s a question of whether you wanna sink time and money into something that you want to learn formally, or just wanna learn it on the move, if you can. It’s a tough call.

    I would opt for not going to film school and making some good short documentaries to start with. You will probably be amazed (I’ve been told this by others who’ve eschewed film school) at what you could learn from the people you hire to do the camera, editing, sound, etc. And in a couple of years you would ‘get’ a lot of things that you didn’t ‘formally’ learn. By then, you will already have made some good documentaries…:-)

    All of this of course depends on whether you have the economic means to make these short documentaries. But think about it. Spend some cash making them docus or spend loads of cash going to primo film school.

    I realize I haven’t helped much, but am just trying to get you to think of this in slightly different ways (if they are at all different!)…keep us posted!

  • Rony D’costa

    Hi, awaiting feedback on the script writing information.have a nice day.

  • Hi Shripriya,

    >On that vein, if any of you are aware of directors who are open to
    > apprentices, please let me know. I’ll happily jump in
    >and work my ass off.

    I do. And given your online savviness, you just might be right for it.

    I work with a team led by Global Brain author, Brooklyn-based Howard Bloom, that produces futuristic films. See and for a feel. Big Bang Tango Media Labs is a distributed media lab with most of the brains in NYC and California.

    BTW on Tatvam and reality, Bloom’s rather famous quote is “Reality is Mass Hallucination”. Are you game to working on movies that challenge and raise the imagination of Asians? Google my name and you’ll get a feel for the themes that suck me. Eg Why has India not produced a single quantum invention in over 1000 years when before that it together with China was responsible for nearly all of them?

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