Dear 80s’ Baby: Do I Have To Go To School To Be Filmmaker?
When I enrolled in college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in so I took business administration with a concentration in marketing because I thought it would guarantee me a job when I graduated. After I received my Bachelors, I went on to earn my MBA and I was pretty satisfied with it since I was able to land a job at a marketing firm about 6 months after graduating. That was 4 years ago and the job is great but I am extremely bored with my job. It pays well but it just doesn’t excite me. A few months ago, I was assigned an account with a small video production company. My client and I hit it off so well he invited me to tag along on one of his shoots and I suddenly became interested in becoming a filmmaker. Now I have not quit my job at the marketing firm yet but I am seriously considering it. I do have some money in my savings that I can use to invest in equipment but before I make this career change I wanted to know, should I go to film school or can I learn on my own? I would much rather spend money on the equipment then for another 4 years of schooling. What are my options?Not missing school daze, Robert C. Chicago Heights, IL
This is one of those questions that doesn’t have one straight answer. The best I can do is explain a few of the pros and cons to going to film school. Then you can decide for yourself which choice is best for you. I must warn you by saying please weigh all of your options before you quit your job.
Now according to your letter, you majored in Marketing and earned a Masters in Business Administration. Since the film industry is so competitive, that degree you earned will not go to waste because that background can be useful in any industry. Marketing is everything, especially online marketing. You are considered nonexistent if you do not have an online presence.
Going to film school can be good for several reasons. Number one, you will learn a lot of the fundamentals to film making. For example, the history of the film industry , how to use a camera, lighting techniques and other essentials. Another plus for film school is that the courses vary in length from a few months to four years and the curriculum tends to be very focused. You also have the option to be in a physical classroom or take courses online. Whatever you chose, I would suggest a school that specializes in hands on training. Trust me you will thank me for it later.
Thirdly, film school will most likely be your ground zero for networking. You may be even lucky enough to gain a mentor in a faculty member. Furthermore, the school usually grants you access to their video equipment and editing facility. Mostly any homework assignment they give you will be a film assignment which means gaining experience which is what you want in the long run.
Robert, before you enroll in film school, ask yourself, do you even want to go back to school? I mean after four years in undergrad then two more years in graduate school, you may find yourself not even wanting to be bothered with school any more. This is very understandable. When you think of the cost and time commitment of going to school it can be a turn off. Luckily, there are a few other alternatives to enrolling in school.
For one, instead of enrolling in an actual school, try signing up for local film workshops. They are typically very short and not as expensive as school tuition. You can either sit in a classroom or attend online just like an actual school. There are also a lot of websites that provides free tutorials, networking opportunities and advice columns in film.
A second alternative is purchasing an inexpensive but good camera and editing software. Then just start shooting videos and editing them yourself. This is where those online tutorials will come in handy. Start with small projects and go from there. The more you do the easier they become. Use your family and friends as your audience and as your portfolio builds, apply for real freelance jobs. This will determine if you want to pursue this as a career or not.
Here is a thought, do some volunteer work with a non-profit organization or offer some cheap labor with a film crew to gain some experience and contacts. It won’t be easy so expect a 100 nos before you get 1 yes but if you are serious about getting in this business, get used to being told no and putting in major grunt work.
All this being said, it takes a lot more than just wanting to be filmmaker in order to actually become one. Hands on experience, good marketing, industry connections and creativity are vital in this business without them you are dead in the water. Now I don’t want to give you the idea that after graduating from film school you will be the next Spike Lee. Or just because you filmed your grandmother’s 75th birthday party you should quit your job. Hang with your friend on a few more of his video shoots and do some of your own for a little while longer while you contemplate on it.
Robert I like your spirit so I will end this with a quote I found by film director Robert Wise about being a filmmaker:
“My 3 Ps: passion, patience and perseverance. You have to do this if you are going to be a film maker.”
The 80s’ Baby