Is there a good reason to invest time and money into film school or can it all be learned on the job?
On-set learning is better suited for those who are happy to stay in one department with one specific skill set. Those who desire to move up in the industry and have greater control over the creative process should be equipped with a wide, practical understanding of the entire production process. Having gone through the full production process already, film school graduates are well-rounded filmmakers who will already have the skills needed when promoted.
Film school offers a safe environment to make mistakes while learning and honing a craft. Making mistakes on set can ruin reputations, compromise the success of the show, and become safety catastrophes. That’s a lot of pressure!
It’s also easier to work and be creative with a strong foundational understanding of the organizational aspects of filmmaking. Learning as you go can increase inefficiencies and disorganization that ultimately wastes money and detracts from the artistic potential of a film.
Film school also affords students opportunities to expand their creative ambitions. Students often don’t know where their passion and talent lie early on. Many come to film school initially wanting to direct, but not everyone is suited for it. In fact, they may discover a new passion for Production Design, or Cinematography, or Producing etc.
Even if their passion is directing, students benefit from learning the possibilities and limitations of all departments. Directors are the creative leaders—a leader with limited knowledge relies on everyone else to dictate what’s possible instead of the other way around.
Safety is an especially under appreciated aspect of filmmaking when it should always be the top priority. To bring their visions to life, filmmakers blow things up, bring wild animals to set, crash cars, set people on fire—one accident can end careers and lives. Training is critical in this area and cannot be self-taught.
Graduates of film school leave with two important things: a network of colleagues and the support of the school. After months of working together and building relationships of trust and interlocking skills, graduating classes often go on to make movies together. Alumni benefits may also let them use the school’s equipment for their projects. These relationships mean graduates have a base professional network before they even enter the industry.
It’s hard to say that film school is a waste of time. It may not be for everyone, but it’s advantageous for the ambitious, passionate filmmaker who wants a leaping head start in reaching their creative and career goals.