These past few months, hundreds of thousands of hopeful students across the U.S.A. have been getting their notifications of acceptance (or rejection) from colleges across the country. And tens of thousands (if not more) of those are prospective film students, kids with dreams to become the next big director to break out onto the scene, be it in mainstream Hollywood cinema, or Sundance independent cinema, television or music video directing, or any slew of possible career paths in the film industry. Now that these dreamers are getting their notifications, they face a dilemma: Which school should they attend? Which establishment will give them the best education in the cinematic arts, lay the strongest foundation for their future careers and provide them with the knowledge and with the connections to pursue a career?
Over a year ago when I myself was in the position of selecting which film schools to apply to, I joined a number of online film school forums and communities, seeking advice and information to aid me in my process. This was especially essential for me since I lived in Israel at the time, and did not have access to the actual schools, could not visit them and see them and gather information for myself. Over the past year, I remained an active member of these communities, moving to the other side and starting to offer advice to newcomers seeking it, having been through the process myself and managed to get accepted into one of the best film schools in the world. These past few months have been especially busy, with concerned students and parents seeking the same advice I sought.
One of the biggest issues I have noticed come up is the question of whether or not to attend large, accredited universities with film programs or smaller, film-centric “technical schools,” schools that heavily advertise their state-of-the-art facilities, film-focused curriculum and hands on experience. These schools will often take pride in “putting cameras in their students’ hands from week 1”, and skipping all of the unnecessary excess that comes with a liberal arts education. A few examples of these schools include:
· New York Film Academy
· The Art Institutes
· Tribeca Flash Point
· Full Sail University
· Vancouver Film School
· Columbia College Hollywood
· Los Angeles Film School
· Brooks Institute
[EDITOR’S NOTE: NYFA also offer UK based courses, and there are many other UK based options on both sides of this discussion, ask your sixth form, careers or UCAS advisor for more details.]
And many others. Some of these names might be familiar to film fans who are exposed to commercials for these schools almost every time they visit a film-related website. However, none of these are accredited, big universities such as USC, NYU, UCLA, Chapman University, University of Texas at Austin, or any of those schools that offer B.A. or B.F.A. undergraduate degrees in film. Don’t let their names fool you – the schools mentioned above are actually “technical schools”, also referred to as “trade schools” of the kind that engineers or other individuals attend to be taught a technical craft in a relatively short amount of time, earning them a “certificate” and a trade under their belt.
These film trade schools make their offers sound extremely lucrative. The programs are short, usually no longer than 2 years, and offer intensive, hands-on experience learning the “science” of filmmaking and attaining crafts such as camera operation, setting up lighting rigs, etc. These programs are also far more affordable than attending larger universities, and for individuals just looking for a way to “break in” to the industry, they seem to offer a simple and easy way to gain hands-on experience, make connections, and begin a career in the film industry.However, there are certain invaluable advantages to attending larger, accredited universities with B.A. or B.F.A. programs that I cannot stress enough. First and foremost: if you are expecting to learn the theory or art of filmmaking, these technical trade schools are definitely not the place to go. While they allow their students to create short films, they do not actually academically teach filmmaking techniques, writing, directing, or any of the more holistic, theoretical information required to become a well-rounded filmmaker – at least not on nearly the same level as accredited universities do. In fact, most of the universities emphasize the importance of laying a theoretical, academic foundation before building technical skills on top of it. At NYU for example, as I have mentioned in earlier columns, students spend their entire first year learning theoretical foundations – called “core classes” – gaining knowledge and experience that we later implement in our second year film production classes.
Another very important aspect of a liberal arts education is the general education requirements. As part of a B.F.A. degree, students need to take general liberal arts education classes in addition to their arts focus, be it acting, dance, music or filmmaking. This may seem like a hassle for eager aspiring filmmakers thirsting for movie making and nothing else. But I cannot stress enough how vital general education classes can be, for the simple reason that they enrich general knowledge and provide essential material for screenplays that most people would not acquire any other way. Some of the greatest filmmakers working today actually majored in general liberal arts in addition to or in some cases in lieu of filmmaking. Wes Anderson, Ethan Coen, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick all studied philosophy. Martin Scorsese majored in English. Darren Aronofsky majored in anthropology. Peter Weir studied law. And the list goes on. As the quality of these directors’ film output proves, a well-rounded liberal arts education provides an essential and rich bank of knowledge and material for creating the best possible films.
My hope is that prospective film students will avoid the “easy way” and realize that if they have already made the decision to attend film school, they would be better off going all the way and getting a full education. One does not need to attend a technical school to get hands-on set experience. But the education offered by accredited universities is second to none, both within the film major and in general. And for anyone who wants to be a good filmmaker, the more they know and the more experience they have, the better their work will inevitably be.