Recently, I completed applications to graduate school for film directing and production related programs.
Long before I began my application processes, however, I began to hear discussions on whether film school is worth it, or rather, if it's needed at all in order to establish a career in the industry. Many people in the independent film community argue that it's not necessarily needed, while others believe it's downright useless.
While their arguments have merit, I have come to believe that film school's worth depends on the individual. To that end, this is the most prudent time for me to reflect on just what I hope to get out of this education. Why do I believe film school is worth it to me? The answer is a few interconnected reasons:
1) Networking: ask any filmmaker, independent or not, and they will tell you that networking is key to a successful career. That is because film is a collaborative medium. Therefore, above all else, when I go to school, I intend to make connections with my cohorts and educators, so that when I'm done, I will have a plethora of professional colleagues to work with.
2) It's just business: problem is, I'm not a business-savvy person. I hardly know the first thing about establishing a career in, and navigating throughout, the film industry. It seems like many independent film maker that impugn the use of film school behave like they know everything there is to know about the industry... but they show no signs of willingness to slow down for a moment and explain it to me. Sure, there are books on the subject, but if I resort to learning everything about a film career from books, I will literally spend years of my life reading, when I should be spending those years doing. If there is one thing that I hope to be "taught" in graduate school, it's an in-depth analysis of how to swim the turbulent waters of the film and television industry.
3) "Just do something": this is what the independent film folks will say when it comes to building a career. Just pick up a camera and make a bunch of movies. Try this, try that, find out what works, find out what doesn't work, figure out your style, figure out what you're good at, etc. The logic in that is sound, so I couldn't agree more.
However, there is an inherent flaw in that when it comes to doing it yourself: a day job. I work full time to pay for my food, gas, loans, clothes, utilities, basically everything that is needed for me to survive. Because of that, not only do I not have quite enough money left over to pay for equipment costs (it cost me a month's salary, plus 3 gift cards, just to buy my DSLR), but it sucks up all of my time. I have nights and weekends, which limits my availability for shooting movies. Plus, this ties right into the collaboration point. When you work full time and want to make movies with other people who have day, and sometimes night, jobs, scheduling becomes a remarkably daunting obstacle.
One of the biggest reasons for why I want to go to grad school for film is because I will literally be scheduling my full time for film. I will be giving myself the days, months, and years necessary for me to "just do something". Add to that the incredible amounts of equipment provided by these schools, it becomes a playground for me to unleash my film making mind unto and hone my skills. This bridges directly onto my biggest, over-arching reason of all...
4) Dedication & Focus: dedicating my full time and energy to the pursuit of this career is something that I absolutely need. With the full time job that wears my mind out on a daily basis, not only is finding the time to work on movies difficult, but mustering up the focus is as well. I've come to terms with the fact that I need to really apply myself toward this goal. If I turn my full time "job" into learning to make entertaining films, I believe I can accomplish everything that the successful independent film makers have accomplished. Instead of spreading my learning process over years and years via a handful of free weekends, I can utilize the full extent of a few years time to create my dream career.
All-in-all, I do understand where anti-film-school folks are coming from. School is not very every person. However, after analyzing myself and my reasons, I am more confident than ever that film school is the right choice for me. I have no doubt in my mind that I will look back on this decision and believe that it was an invaluable experience that lead to a lifelong career in storytelling.