The world of movies and movie making has a feeling of unattainable glamour to it. So much so that some young people dream of making it big in film making and believe that a degree in film is the only surefire way to get there. They’re sadly misinformed.
Depending on which statistics you follow, some suggest that getting a masters in film studies is becoming a more popular course of study in many universities. There are many possible reasons for this. Film making equipment isn’t as expensive or difficult to get as it once was. This makes the program more affordable to more people because universities don’t need to charge as much to cover the costs of equipment. Often there’s more money to buy more equipment allowing more students to enjoy the hands-on experience of film making.
But the lower cost of a film making degree isn’t enough of a reason to take this path of studying. Like all university programs, it’s still expensive. And compared to some fields, like healthcare, the percentage of graduates who get jobs in their fields upon graduation is lower. Not so low as to imply that few graduates get jobs in their chosen field. But with an average of not quite 60 percent of graduates from film school getting a job in the film industry after graduation, the numbers are underwhelming. If you look at some other statistics, an estimated fewer than 10 percent of graduates are able to make a sustainable career in the movies.
There’s also the misperception that film school is easy and that it’s the simplest way to the road of Hollywood fame and fortune. While it’s true that going to film school may put you in contact with individuals in the film industry whom you never would have met otherwise, it’s can hardly be said that film school is the way to fame and fortune.
If you were to believe statistics that fewer than 10 percent of film school graduates get sustainable careers in their fields, then those statistics could be considered a scandal. It could be said, then, that film school is all about universities taking students’ money. In other words, it could be said that film schools don’t care much for the individual students or the student body as a whole. The only thing they want is to make money off of the dreams of young, enthusiastic students who may look at the world with rose colored glasses.
The truth is probably somewhere between the extreme views of film school equals instant success and the perception that universities that offer film studies are basically stealing their students’ money. There are some film schools who give the impression that the fast ticket to Hollywood success is through taking their courses. But reputable universities will not make that claim.
If you’re a student considering studying film making, it’s possible to spend years and years and many thousands of dollars studying the industry. It’s possible to take post graduate studies in film making. No one should take film studies in university with the belief that that piece of paper they receive upon graduation will magically open the doors to the ever elusive Hollywood. It won’t. But that’s not to say that a film degree from a reputable university is completely worthless. It can open the doors to other jobs within the corporate world like artistic directors, marketing managers or copywriters. For those who want to stretch their creativity in the independent market, a film degree can help them with that. They won’t get famous and, like many artists, they won’t make a lot of money. But they’ll be able to put good use to their artistic skills and training while doing what they love and getting paid a modest income. (Film makers, even for small independent publishers should not be forced to work for free or for “the exposure.”)
Back in the day, those who wanted to be part of the Hollywood movie scene were either classically trained theatrical performers or individuals with the right connections who entered apprentice programs to train workers. The apprentice programs were usually expensive. In the late 1920s the University of California was the first university to establish a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Film.
There were not an unusually high number of students and the students paid for their own education. The film studios got to pick from the brightest students. As more film schools opened up, the ones that consistently produced what the film industry considered the brightest students often received better reviews which made demand for their tuition higher. The studios benefited in that they got highly skilled workers without having to pay or partially pay for an apprentice program or train anyone from scratch.
The perception that a film degree was the sure path to fame and fortune started in the 1970s. This was the time where film school grads like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese created blockbuster films like The Godfather and Star Wars. Studios saw film school grads as individuals more in tune with the tastes of the younger market and those with film degrees became the new hires in demand. While not all film school grads reach the caliber of Lucas, Coppola and Scorsese, the mystique surrounding getting a film degree like these men has still stuck in many circles.
So, the short answer to if film school is the ticket to a glamorous life is no. This is not to say that going to film school is a complete waste of money. Those who choose this route need to do so with realistic expectations. A degree in film can certainly be helpful for anyone who wants a career as a filmmaker. It’s not the magic ticket to success. You’ll still need talent and the drive to make the contacts necessary for a successful career.
When considering a film school, be sure to do research. Find out the qualifications of the professors and if any of them have actually worked in Hollywood. Get the statistics from the college of your choice to find out how many students found meaningful work in the film industry after graduation. Find out if there are masters in film programs available and what courses are covered in the masters program.