Home Industry Is a Film Degree Really Worth It? (For Working in Film)

Is a Film Degree Really Worth It? (For Working in Film)

by Natasha Ferguson

As the film industry continues to expand, more and more aspiring filmmakers are questioning whether film school is the right place to learn about the inner workings of filmmaking.

So, you’ve decided you want to investigate film school?

Before you dive into your applications, do some research. Consider whether you want to focus on theoretical or practical filmmaking skills, networking, or all three? Depending on the film school you choose, each will have a slightly different weighting towards each of these three elements.

Also consider the technology each film school has to offer, especially if you’re passionate to learn about the production side of filmmaking.

As we’ll see later, there can be some big differences.

Is a Film Degree Worth It?

Let’s break down the pros and cons of film degrees, and whether film school is going to be the right place for an aspiring filmmaker.

Pros of a Film Degree

Access to Equipment and Crew

When you go to film school, they’ll have all the facilities you could hope for. This will include cameras, lighting, and sound equipment, as well as editing suites and software.

However, it is important to note that the equipment provided by each of the film schools you’re considering can widely vary depending on the school or program. Plus, if you’re looking to pursue a specialized degree in a certain area of filmmaking, you may not have access to everything you may think.

Guidance from Experienced Filmmakers and Scholars

These professionals will be there throughout your degree to mentor and help you with anything you need, with just an email or chat, something you wouldn’t necessarily have available to you.

Alternatively, you can of course build a network by seeking out support yourself, but this can be more difficult.

Likeminded Individuals

In film school, you are automatically thrown together with like-minded people with similar aspirations. Here, you will naturally begin to network, which is crucial in the film industry, as you build a crew around you that you can hopefully, call upon once you graduate.

Other Opportunities

By attending film school, it can open the door to internships and other industry opportunities. Combined with the experience you’ll be gaining in your studies, you may well get your foot in the door early at studios and companies.

This in turn could support you in making your name early within the industry.

Develop Your Voice

With the support of your teachers, peers and experience, you are able to take your time finding your unique voice as a filmmaker.

In essence, you’re free to experiment without the risk a filmmaker in the industry necessarily has. With a wealth of assignments to complete, you can afford to make mistakes while still learning your craft.

Outside of the educational environment, it would be ridiculously costly to make too many mistakes, something a film production simply could not afford for very long.

Cons of a Film Degree

Cost

Any degree program requires a momentous investment, and this is no different for filmmaking. It could be argued that it doesn’t make sense when there are increasingly more courses and free content online for aspiring filmmakers to utilize.

However, just like the range of film schools and quality of education courses out there, you’ll need to sift through reviews and success rates to find a cheap (or free) course that is of good standing.

Alongside your degree, you may need to secure a day job to fund it, which could distract your attention and energy from the film degree itself.

Of course, you could apply for the scholarships and grants most faculties offer. Despite bringing some students’ costs down considerably, these are competitive and selective.

No Job Guarantees

As we’ve already discussed, the cost of film school can be overwhelming. Combined with the high-risk factor a film degree brings, you cannot expect to automatically land a job in the industry or role you want upon graduating.

With more students wanting to be filmmakers, the job market has become completely saturated, meaning there are increasingly more filmmakers than there are roles across the industry.

Limited Transferable Skills

If you decide not to pursue film as a career after graduating, it could be challenging to transfer the skills you’ve learned into a different profession.

As the skills required for filmmaking, especially on the technical side, are specific, they don’t tend to apply elsewhere.

Advancements in Technology

With the advancement in technology moving at a mind-bending pace, it is now possible to make a film using just your cell phone. You don’t necessarily need a multitude of expensive cameras or equipment to bring your vision to life.

From writing your film to shooting it, there are free and inexpensive options out there, from complimentary screenwriting software to cell phones, ring lights and editing software.

It’s not ‘one size fits all’

The structure of a film degree can be stifling to some creatives, so film school isn’t naturally going to be the right thing for everyone.

If you are eager to pursue film school, however, we highly recommend that you do your research. Check out the contents of the course first, look at testimonials and comments from past students and what they went on to do afterwards if you can.

From there, you can work out if film school is the right path for you.

What Can You Do with a Film Degree?

Of course, we would assume that you’re looking to become a filmmaker with your shiny new film degree. However, you may be looking to pursue a specific role, such as a camera operator, editor, cinematographer, director, or writer, the list is endless.

If you remember our point about a film degree providing you with limited transferable skills, there are several trades where this could be possible.

Of course, film leads nicely into television, where you could lend your newfound skills to broadcasting, researching, or presenting.

As part of the creative industries, filmmakers can also pursue careers in music, art, or the advertising world, as well as visual effects and marketing. After all, they all require storytelling, something you would have learned a lot about in film school.

What Are the Best Film Schools?

You may have heard that you must relocate to Los Angeles to become a filmmaker, as that is where it all happens. Now, this isn’t necessarily true for everyone, as there are many other areas around the world that can set you up well for your film career.

The US

The American Film Institute is based in Hollywood, initially founded to sustain American cinematic history. Alumni from the institute have won Academy and Emmy Awards.

Now, the courses offered at the AFI aren’t strictly degrees, but a range of Master of Fine Arts programs: Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design and Screenwriting.

Another famed US film school is the University of Southern California (USC), which has most likely given the film industry the most graduates than any other school.

Alumni such as Lee Unkrich, the director of Toy Story 3, that the school runs very much like a studio, giving its students a true insight into the pressures and realities of the film industry.

The UK

Over in the UK, the London Film School and National Film and Television School (NFTS) both offer the traditional Bachelors and Masters degrees across many film disciplines.

The NFTS’s courses are specific to different disciplines within the industry, so you’ll need to apply separately for those.

Australia

Sydney Film School has been established for 14 years, offering a Diploma and Advanced Diploma, both one year in length.

These courses are generalized across Screen and Media, with the Advanced Diploma offering specializations in Production and Cinematography.

What Does It Cost to Attend Film School?

The costs can vary massively, depending on the film school you choose. Let’s take the examples we’ve just discussed and look at the tuition fees for their Masters degrees:

Film SchoolCourse TypeCourse Name2022-2023 Tuition
AFIMastersAny$62,049
USCBachelorsFilm & TV Production$63,468
London Film SchoolMastersFilm Production$32,000 (est.)
NFTSMastersProducing$30,000 (est.)
Sydney Film SchoolBachelorsScreen Production$37,797 (est.)

You’ll notice that the majority of these programs are Master’s level degrees. Of course, there are many options out there for both Bachelors and Masters degrees. The main caveat is that you do your research and choose the film school that’s right for you, depending on its course content, structure, and what your ultimate goal within the film industry is.

Is majoring in film worth it? You may decide that it definitely is. Then again, you might decide that film school isn’t for you, which is fine too.

As we’ve seen, you can also build your own career through other means, and even write, create, and release your first film without a degree.

After all, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, plus Andy and Lana Wachowski have all had significant and successful careers without film school, which proves it is possible! 

Author

  • Natasha Ferguson

    Natasha is a UK-based freelance screenwriter and script editor with a love for sci-fi. In 2022 she recently placed in the Screenwriters' Network Short Film Screenplay Competition and the Golden Short Film Festivals. When not at her desk, you'll find her at the theater, or walking around the English countryside (even in the notorious British weather)

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