Film School: A Graduate's Perspective
From October 2013 to November 2014, I attended the Met Film School based at Ealing Studios, London for a Masters in filmmaking, specifically Directing. Since leaving film school, I’m constantly asked by people whether or not it was worth going and whether they themselves should attend. In this retrospective look, I highlight the realistic expectations of film school and how it was the right decision FOR ME, but additionally how its not guaranteed to be the right decision for everyone. Film school provided me with both frustrations and the necessary skills to develop as a creative.
Prior to film school, I made several animated, live action shorts; acted in several projects in college and university; as well as freelancing in multiple roles, mainly storyboarding. However, my skills were still very limited to say the least and I learnt the (very) hard way that being inexperienced on a professional shoot is a big mistake. Upon graduating from university, I applied to many companies to try and gain experience as well as work on sets as a runner/assistant. I soon realised that like a lot of industries there will always be a cohort of people who will instantly dismiss so-called college based qualifications because they believe you only achieve success through hard work and experience, whereas others will be looking for a combination of both. There will also be the struggle to challenge the people that want both experience and qualifications because when you ask them to give you the experience they will tell you go elsewhere and to come back to them when you have accumulated sufficient “experience”. Therefore, I attended film school with specific goals; to earn a qualification; learn more about the craft of filmmaking; as well as develop my passion and personal ‘voice’ as a filmmaker.
Film schools used to have some credibility. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola attended film school’s and went on to achieve success in their careers. To many, this is one of the reasons why people would attend film school. They went and developed their craft. Surely that’s how it works for everyone else who attends? Not so. Someone once remarked to me their ‘frustrations that the film school didn't do anything to help them become a filmmaker’. Don’t attend film school if you are expecting to come out as a professional filmmaker or to have an instant career breakthrough. The access to ‘industry standard’ equipment is welcomed, but cannot be one of THE reasons to attend. From observations, perhaps one’s reasons for going to film school is because they themselves are afraid of the prospect of being out in the ‘real-world’ and they hold out for one or two more years (depending on the course). In short, film school is NOT a get out of jail free card. For those who are expecting a pass into the film industry, be prepared to be disappointed. My film school did not set any alumni association, didn't encourage us to form mutually beneficial professional relationships, but one of the things I take away from my experiences is that I have made great friendships.
At the end of the day film school’s are business’s and potentially profitable ones. This is the very reason why they are looked down upon. Marketing ‘sprinkled’ with fish-bait claims and even more questionable prices - in fact, they are astronomical. ‘Why pay so much to attend a school when you could make a film with the money?’ ‘Pick up a camera and shoot something, anything at all’ Steven Spielberg, David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino say. Is it really that simple? Filmmakers making feature films with a limited budget and great resources is not uncommon, Christopher Nolan’s £6,000 Following debut is an example. However the filmmakers mentioned are discussing film school in a time where films are not only shot on celluloid but on digital. Most movies are favouring digital formats because for the most part, it’s a lot cheaper than film. Hence why ‘pick up a camera and shoot something’ is very easy to say. Especially now with mobile phones having the ability to shoot high-resolution footage.
Going back to the question ‘why pay so much to attend a school when you could make a film with the money?’ From my perspective, why make one film, when you can make and collaborate on so many different projects. In my first month at film school, I worked on over fifteen different projects. Throughout my time, I grew confidently in my abilities as a filmmaker by consistently working on various projects in different roles in professional spaces where we could take chances, experiment and make mistakes, which were welcomed. The dissatisfactions of film school were the subjective views. The film industry is subjective! Overall my experience at film school was enhanced by the people I met. The directing tutors were fantastic. Sharing their experiences and their knowledge for the craft of filmmaking challenged me to make myself better. Collaboration is key in filmmaking and I am very grateful to have met some talented individuals I can, not only call friends, but collaborators.
Overall, the key is motivation. Learn by practice. I graduated from film school with a Masters and a short film that became my calling card as a filmmaker. Since its completion, it’s been selected and nominated for awards at prestigious short film festivals. Could I have achieved this without going to film school? It’s hard to say. I don't regret attending film school. Is it that simple to pick up a camera and shoot something? No, it is not. Neither is teaching yourself with books about making films and the internet. These could be a good start but pure on set experience whether at film school or not, or on a shoot, are critical to success. Film school is expensive. But if it is your passion, don’t let that get in your way. It won’t be easy. It’s not about having your name up in lights, it’s about living your dream.