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Film School Explosion

The New York Times recently wrote up a story about the current surge in Film School applicants: for example, 4,800 students applied for 300 spots at USC Graduate, up from 2,800 last year.

This is astonishing, and astonishingly scary. There is no place for all these people to work. What a glut in the market. Because of this, the major itself is morphing into an accepted form of uselessness, like an English or Art History major.

The article makes a great point of noting how job prospects are increasingly weak for the field, so the popularity of the major is kind of becoming it’s own reason for its existence. It’s turning into studying film for the sake of studying film, not studying film to work in film. To me, that seems to be the best and most natural direction for the major to go in.  While schools may do what they can to help job prospects (name recognition, resume writing, practical or technical education), they really should let go of the concept of “success” that will come with the film major they offer and sell on the point of studying a piece of human culture. Film school is less and less about getting a job and people should apply with that in mind; openings are still extremely scarce in comparison to the number of graduates and often have nothing to do with the film major anyways. 

I used to blame my school a lot for not preparing me for the workplace. There were a few things it could have done better but as the years go on I’m realizing that I was mostly just trying to find a scapegoat. I’m still happy I received my education; the productive, challenging environment did wonders to help me blossom aesthetically and my critical skills elevated to an incredible state I will forever credit the school for invoking.

Yet even then it was still pretty obvious my classmates and I were filming in a bubble. The outside, working world would be different. Our major was admittedly pretty useless and without knowing it at the time, really we were studying film… just because we loved film. In retrospect, it took me a while to accept the education for education’s sake and resist falling into a fetal position while watching graduating class after graduating class of competition grabbing their diplomas and transferring their tassels, wondering if I really just threw money in a trash can and burned it.

In a practical sense, film school is useless, but if you can afford it, I’m of the school (see what I did there…) that it’s some good medicine. You won’t come out with any way to pay off your loans, but you may come out stronger person. Know what you’re getting into.

I guess you could say that now, as of 2011, film school is a plus, not a necessity. Not when there’s Netflix and HDSLR’s, craigslist and Final Cut. Hopefully that mindset will abate those 4,500 souls who won’t make it to USC this year.

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6 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree more, the thing is though that I went into film school Five years ago knowing that it wasn’t really going to help me, if anything the student media programs on campus was my kick-start to a career. For some reason I just wanted Film on my degree though, I ended up also double majoring in politics simply because I found it more rewarding for money being given to the school as opposed to a degree in film which I would slide by with. If more classes had been run by a studio model I think I would have been much more prepared.

  2. I’ve got to agree. I enjoyed my time in film school; I learned a lot and I’m glad that I went but it has done precisely zero in helping me to achieve my professional goals. Career wise, I would have been better off begging my way into a PA job at 18 and having a crack at it without the diploma.

    The problem is two-fold. First, the majority of film programs aren’t centered on production, they’re centered on film theory and criticism. While it’s a fascinating field of study, it does not prepare a student to actually work in the film industry any more than a degree in economics will prepare one to be a bank teller.

    Second, those programs that do center on actually making films often put the emphasis in the wrong place. Pretty much all of those programs groom their students for (or at least groom them to expect) one of only about four or five jobs: writer, director, DP, editor and maybe production designer, jobs that there are only a very few of. I don’t know of any major university that trains POC’s, Script Supervisors, AC’s, AD’s, Production Controllers or any of the myriad of rank-in-file movie jobs.

    Moreover, for those rank-in-file jobs, a film school diploma may actually be a strike against you. I know plenty of department heads that refuse to hire recent film school graduates on the presumption that they’re going to have a big head, try and buddy up to producers and generally do a shitty job because they think that PA’ing, gripping, working crafty or being an assistant are beneath them. Sadly, I’ve found that this wisdom is true more often than it is not.

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