Is Film School For Chumps?

On July 4th, 2011, the New York Times published an article by Michael Cieply that seemed to suggest that film school was a waste of time and money (a "bumper crop" of film school grads were being dumped onto the streets of Hollywood, where the market was already "flooded" and Hollywood jobs were "elusive."). Two days later Bryce Renninger of indieWIRE replied - using a collection of responses from film teachers and filmmakers to make the case that film school was still relevant. But even the indieWIRE article leaves open the possibility that - because you can learn a lot by making your own films - film school is an option only for unmotivated wannabes (leaving unquestioned the idea that anything you can learn at film school could be learned on your own).

I disagree and here's why:

The Old World of Hollywood may be increasingly tough to crack, but the New World of Digital Filmmaking and Distribution is exploding with opportunities - and Film Schools (like UCF Film's MFA track in Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema) have a special role to play in filling the demand for New World filmmakers with entrepreneurial skills.

As director Alex Ross Perry observed in indieWIRE, the path that the New York Times bought into ("selling scripts and clawing your way up from the bottom") represents an "outdated, broken model (R.I.P: 1985?-2004)."

What about the New World of digital filmmaking and online distribution?

Both the NY Times and indieWIRE fail to give the job opportunities that are emerging in the New World of filmmaking their due.

Judging today's film schools by the success of their grads at getting jobs in the old Hollywood system misses the fundamental changes that are transforming the motion picture business. It amazes me that both articles (ostensibly about the role of film schools in preparing tomorrow's filmmakers to make money) somehow missed this central point: There are two worlds of filmmaking - and (while Hollywood isn't going away) film schools are uniquely positioned to train students to make money in the emerging New (non-Hollywood) World of filmmaking.

Here's what I mean: For around $5000 a year in tuition, the film school where I teach (University of Central Florida) offers aspiring filmmakers access to equipment, classes and the opportunity to be part of a filmmaking community. Our students make films. Lots of them. Every MFA candidate at UCF Film makes their own microbudget feature. They are free to make mistakes, connections, and breakthroughs - while learning about all sorts of things - including transmedia storytelling and the entrepreneurial skills they'll need to navigate the New World of digital filmmaking and distribution. Many of our students get jobs in Hollywood - but the classes in copyright law, guerrilla marketing and how to use social media are designed to prepare them to navigate a new entrepreneurial reality that is revolutionizing how films are made, delivered and monetized.

Focusing on how many graduates get jobs in Hollywood mailrooms or sell spec scripts to studios simply misses the point. There's a New World of online motion picture content exploding all around us - and the NY Times and indieWIRE do young filmmakers a disservice when they only measure success in terms of students getting Old World jobs.

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Sheri C said...
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Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.