No, You Don’t Need to Go to Film School

Lately, several readers have been asking if they need a degree from film school to get a job.

No, you don’t.

The truth is, the only film schools recognized by the Industry are USC, UCLA, and NYU. Outside of those three schools, no one is going to be impressed. No one’s going to be impressed if you did go to those schools, but if you brag about your media studies degree from U of M, people are going to think you’re a hick who doesn’t know anything about Hollywood.

The same goes for “film certificates” you’ll get from summer programs at the New York Film Academy, and the like. In fact, those programs may even hurt your chances of getting a job. A coordinator once told me he throws out any resume that lists PA Bootcamp under “education,” because, in his view, anyone who pays money to be a PA is a rube.

Keep in mind, I’m talking about getting a job. There are other reasons to want a university education. The Scriptnotes podcast outlined these quite well in a recent episode:

  • The information
  • Certificate/degree
  • Access to special equipment
  • Structure
  • Professors/instructors/experts
  • Peers
  • Alumni
  • Enjoyment

If you’re considering whether or not to go to school, you should absolutely listen to that podcast.1

It’s a big decision, with a lot of factors. The cost (both time and money) is high, the benefits are delayed, if they ever come, and the guarantee of future success doesn’t exist.

But one aspect that does make it easier is this simple truth– you don’t need a degree. Scratch that off your list. If that’s the only thing holding you back from throwing everything you own into a bindle, finding the nearest freeway onramp, and sticking out your thumb, stop worrying. Go west, young man.

You might wonder if this is an image of you before you come to Hollywood or after. The truth is, I don't know.
How I picture my readership.


Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. You should listen even if you’re not thinking about filmschool; it’s a great podcast.
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17 Responses

  1. Do you need to go to film school? No. My experience has been that with film school, you’re not paying for an education so much as you are paying for a Rolodex (do those even still exist?). And so I would caution anybody that WANTS to go to film school needs to either (i) go to USC, UCLA, or NYU, or (ii) if you cannot afford to go to those but still want to go to a different film school, the most important thing to look at is NOT the facilities/equipment/one or two faculty that have had a film in Sundance the last couple of years. The most important thing to look at is the post-graduate resources that those schools have available or are affiliated with.

    For instance, I did one year of film school at a decent-sized midwestern university. It was in my home state, it was cheap, and I had (and still have) a strong allegiance to it due to growing up a sports fan. I only did one year or film school (hated film school, but still loved film production – chose different liberal arts major). But what I came to find out many years later is that there WERE people who had gone through to school there and had made their way out to Hollywood and they had not only found some success, but also found there were a lot of their fellow alumni (and just plain ole dropouts) who had done so, too. Though not officially a part of the alumni association, they formed their own sub-group of alumni who worked in entertainment (many of whom did not even go through the film department) and the group is now affiliated with the university, doing a spring break trip for current students who want to come work in Hollywood.

    What they found out was that we are a small but tight group and several people have found work through that group. I have found clients and opportunities through that group since moving to LA. So look at the school’s alumni group and what kind of connections you can make. I’ve heard from friends that went through USC, UCLA, and NYU that because they are SO well-known, the connections groups are too big and too concentrated in New York and LA, so it’s a lot harder to do the cold-call “Fellow Bruin” or “Fellow Trojan” email to them because it does not set them apart. Too small a school in terms of representation in the industry, and you face being even more of a pariah. But non-Big 3 schools that have representation in New York and LA mean people may be more willing to take that phone call or answer that email because of the tribal aspect of being a small group in a large city. So if you really, truly want to go to film school but not USC, UCLA, or NYU, what you need to look at and ask about is what alumni or groups affiliated with the university have resources to put you in touch with employers.

  2. I just found your blog a few weeks ago and this post addresses a question I’ve been wondering about. I was afraid having a bachelor’s degree in a non-film-related-field was going to be a big setback for me. Glad to see that’s not the case. Loving what I see on the blog, very informative– answering a lot of my questions and giving me good food for thought. It’s a new favorite and on my list to check weekly!

  3. You don’t need to go to any school, but film school is one of the few degrees that you actually learn A LOT (assuming you go to a good school…like say Santa Fe, which is where my brother goes). Also, a lot of people need college time to “grow up”, so consider that as well. 🙂 Just playing devil’s advocate.

  4. On my first job, no one even asked where I went to college. No one asked to see my resume. They threw me a walkie and it was trial by fire.

    College was a personal experience that I think was necessary in my life, but I did not need to it get a PA gig, and now I’m training on the job for the things I really want to do in film.

  5. Okay, cool. So we don’t need to go to film school. We don’t need a college degree at all? I dropped out freshman year. Do I have any chance at all at getting a job?

  6. Agreed with Jacob here. You don’t *need* to go to graduate school, but it certainly helps you get better at the craft of film making. That should be motivation enough, but unless you’re very rich, it’s inordinately expensive.

  7. I got in the non-college way – I do have a college education though, it’s just in office administration.

    I was working full time as a book co-ordinator for a novel and magazine distribution company and decided I’d had enough and should forge into the job I’d gone to school for, which landed me at a Producers’ association as their admin assistant and receptionist on a mat leave contract.

    That contract ended up turning into full-time permanent work, and now, after three years here (and taking some PA courses at the local college to fulfill the requirements), I’ve applied to the local Directors’ Guild and got in to their Production Assistant program.

    And it was all a fluke.

  8. Just got a job in a pretty damn good production company… they pulled me right out of college, so I have not received my degree. Mind you I have been in college and a university for about 6 years combined and had some damn good internships under my belt.

    I’ve still got like 21 more units needed (yeah, I took my damn sweet time in community college) to get my Bachelors so I’m really wondering if I should even bother with night/online school to finish the degree.

    I’m not discounting the education or experience as I’m sure it definitely helped (and I wouldn’t have been able to intern without receiving credit from a school) and like mentioned above, in college and CSU got “The information, Access to special equipment, Structure, Professors/instructors/experts and Peers.”

  9. I used to work for a producer and he claims that Harvard belongs on your list of “schools that matter.” You know, in case any of your readers are deciding if they should go to Harvard or not.

  10. It’s important to keep in mind that while a film degree from some unknown university in the Midwest is practically useless; if you are actually talented at the filmmaking/screenwriting/cinematography aspect, film school is not something to just write off.

    Your chances of getting a position having some degree of creative input over a project are magnitudes higher if you went to a prestigious school and used that time to produce high quality/high concept work. And it’s much easier to do that when you have professors who have spent years working on major projects and can critique your work and offer suggestions.

  11. Emerson’s film program isn’t on par with USC or NYU, but their alumni network seems pretty solid. I feel like I run into at least one Emerson grad on every show I work.

    1. You’re right, Eddie, having gone to the same school as a potential employer is always a plus. Be it Harvard, Yale, or Emerson. But no one who didn’t go to that school will take not.

    2. I’ve met more Emerson College grads than UCLA grads… I have been working in music video and commercial production as a PA or a 2nd 2nd and I don’t think I have ever met UCLA grads… I think Columbia of Chicago and Full Sail come up a lot though

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