In the past four years, I have heard everything about how studying film was pointless, how I better get used to retail, or how I could study anything else and let film be a hobby. I'm lucky that I have a thick skin and let these jokes and critiques slide by me without much harm. I don't regret being in debt from studying film. I don't regret choosing the creative arts. I am so passionate and fascinated by the arts.
The other day, I watched a Casey Neistat vlog. He told viewers not to waste their time and money on film school. He advised that you take that money you might otherwise spend on film school, and use it on life experiences. He explained that the equipment, like the cameras and lighting, doesn't equate to good cinema. You can't be taught storytelling. You need experiences.
I kind of agree with him, but I kind of loved film school. I'm also coming from a place where I learned a ton of important information in film school. He is coming from a place with no college education at all. He's still a brilliant filmmaker. I just don't think going to film school, or not going to film school will make or break you.
I agree entirely with the point Neistat made in regards to equipment. Some phenomenal cinema is created on an iPhone, or cheaper digital cameras. You don't need expensive, or complex cameras and microphones to make a movie. You don't even have to have cinematography knowledge to shoot something impactful. That's the wonderful thing about film. It's so versatile. There are so many choices that you can make, and you don't have to be a master of anything other than passion and storytelling to get your point across.
I know that film schools vary. When I was researching undergraduate programs for film in the Northeast, I wanted a program that taught me a little bit of everything, because I knew that I wanted to go to grad school at some point. I wanted to know a little bit about production, editing, acting, screenwriting, and theory, so that I could make a well-informed choice on what I really wanted to focus on later.
I found the perfect school for me. I went to the State University of New York at Oswego. To graduate with the Cinema and Screen Studies degree, I was required to take multiple theory classes, production classes, and screenwriting classes. I learned so much about filmmaking and film history, and the best perk was that it was extremely affordable.
While I agree in a sense that film school isn't required to become a filmmaker, I think it will help you in so many ways. I have made so many connections and spent two years constantly working on screenplays and short films. I have experience directing, acting, script editing, and crewing. I have the knowledge and tools regarding film production, as well as the rules you should follow. I have a network of filmmakers in my back pocket that I can rely on if I want to create something. I wouldn't have that currently if I didn't go to school.
Not only does it give you connections, it really gives you an in-depth understanding of the industry that you are about to (hopefully) dive into. I'm a very academic person. I'm interested in history and context for what I'm doing. It was nice to be taught film history as well as film theory. I love that I am able to analyze films that I otherwise might not understand. It's nice to notice homages and patterns from film to film. I was able to view films that were works of art, rather than sheer entertainment. I had weekly screenings, and watched over 200 films in the two years that I was there.
Can you learn everything that I learned during my past two years at film school online? Probably. You would have to conduct a lot of research in regards to the historical and theoretical aspects of it, however, you can easily find online tutorials on how to work a DSLR camera, a zoom mic, and a three point lighting setup. You can find tutorials on editing, screenwriting, directing, and producing. You can find all of that information. Neistat wasn't out of line saying that you don't need film school, because there are free tutorials everywhere you look.
Overall, I think film school was necessary for me to feel more educated in the field that I desire to be in. I was in an environment of other aspiring filmmakers and producers and writers, and it was such a collaborative and supportive community. My professors were professional and working screenwriters, filmmakers, and authors. I was given such a great education and if I could go back in time, I would do it over again.
At the SUNYWide Film Festival that was held on my campus last spring, Christine Vachon was our keynote speaker. During one of the panels, I asked her about her opinion of film school, because she is an MFA professor at SUNY Stonybrook, and she was also on the fence. She said you don't need it, but it's not pointless.
I value education. I obviously think that film school was beneficial for me, and could be for others. What are your thoughts? Did you go to film school, or not? Did you study fine arts, or a degree that is widely deemed 'silly'? Do you think film school/fine arts degrees are useless?