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Benefits of Film School

Updated on October 15, 2021
Kenna McHugh profile image

I work in modeling and film production and like to share insights into both businesses.


Film School or No Film School

Deciding on film school or no film school is a choice that will determine how you plan on developing your film career. If you pursue going to a film school, you will need a ton of money. You will need to know how to build working relationships in school. You need to choose a film school with dedicated and influential alumni. Many blockbuster filmmakers went to film school. Why should you go?

It might make your parents happy, but put a big old dent in their pocketbook or credit score.

Some say if you got the dough, you might as well go. At least you will be able to cut your teeth by working on films in school and even producing your own as graduation criteria.

Knowledge is power. The more you know about the business of film business, the better off you will be. But do you need to go to film school to get that knowledge?

Further down the page, there are some questions for you to answer, which will help you decide whether to go to film school or not to go to film school.

Some say it is necessary to go to film school, while others say why not just get a jump-start on your career -- learn the ropes as you go. Many blockbuster filmmakers never went to film school as well. Why should you go?

What Do You Think?

Have you ever applied something you’ve heard in an interview to your own career?

See results

Cost of Film School

Some say you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a decent moviemaking education. They are living in the Stone Age. These days, all you need is Internet access to an online film school and the willingness to listen to some good advice. With Fat-Free Film, this type of DIY film school is just a mouse click away.

Independent moviemakers Joel Marshall and Kamala Lopez-Dawson established Fat-Free Film. It is essentially a series of in-depth interviews with members of the moviemaking community. Throughout the episode, interviewees-including Henry Jaglom and Peter Bogdanovich - weigh in on how to make it in the indie film world and provide some choice anecdotes while teaching the fundamentals of filmmaking.

What Do You Think?

Do you think anecdotes and advice from professional filmmakers add to one’s movie making education?

See results

No Film School

You can attend a film school with influential alumni to build relationships. There you can meet students who have the same desire as you to produce movies. Writer and director Nicole Holofcener told me in an interview while in film school in New York, she met her producer for Walking and Talking. The film was her first feature that launched Catherine Keener, Liev Schreiber and Anne Heche careers. Holofcener noted that her producer friend was instrumental in getting the film done and into the movie theaters. In the same interview, she told me that film school is an excellent idea if you have the funds.

The cost of film school ranges between $7,000 to $50,000 per semester. It depends on which film school you pick.

You can ignore film school, save money, and work your way up the industry later. I spoke with the owner of Puppet Artist, who works in the film industry. He told me he hires someone who isn’t fresh out of film school. He likes working with people who work hard and are willing to learn the ropes, not act like they know it all because they went to film school.

The list of self-taught directors and producers is endless. Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Francis Ford Coppola are just a few to name. Each one has their story of how they worked their way into the film industry and became successful.


“The beauty of our show is that it reaches places where there are no film schools. Places where our listeners may be the only person in his or her town or village who has any interest in the art of filmmaking,”

— Joe Marshall, Founder of Fat Free Film

Fat-Free Film School

But Fat-Free Film doesn’t focus on the typical interview subjects like actors and directors. The school goes behind the scenes to talk to editors, distributors, costume designers, and many essential members of the film world. Fat-Free Film’s ultimate goal is to create a virtual moviemaking community.

Marshall notes, “The beauty of our show is that it reaches places where there are no film schools. Places where our listeners may be the only person in his or her town or village who has any interest in the art of filmmaking,”

Marshall further says, “Trying to break into filmmaking can be a very daunting and isolating experience, and what we are trying to do with Fat-Free Film is reach out to each other, share our stories, help each other and create a network of people with similar interests and goals who can support each other.”

James Cameron Skipped Film School

Before he became involved in the film industry, James Cameron was a machinist and trucker. His first job in the film industry was as a model maker on a film produced by the notorious low-budget film producer Roger Corman's New World Pictures in 1979.

Cameron recalled the job to Paula Parisi of the Hollywood Reporter in 1995. He talked about the miniature work was going well and the live-action set work too. Director Jimmy Murakami was having trouble figuring out how to combine the two elements. Cameron convinced him to apply the little-used front projection technique as the solution, and he was the man for the job. The Cameron knighted supervisor of process projection, and four weeks later, they fired the art director and asked Cameron to take the position.

Before he was ever on a film set, Cameron studied that technique in the library at USC film school. He taught himself how to make movies, and he could see an opportunity knock while on the set.

Cameron's next project was as co-supervisor of visual effects for John Carpenter's 1981 film Escape From New York. Cameron's work on the film mainly consisted of supervising model making and process photography. Once that project finished, Cameron moved right on to his next project, Galaxy of Terror, also released in '81. On that production, he designed the sets, miniatures, costumes, and second-unit direction.

Best Film School is Experience

Cameron's first shot at the director's helm was for another independent producer. The association developed out of his tenure at New World, which made Joe Dante's Piranha in 1978. Corman sold the sequel rights to two Italian producers, who needed a director for this tale of killer fish that takes to the air to terrorize a beach of bikini-clad beauties.

Cameron's luck would have it. In their search, they happened to visit the set of Galaxy of Terror while Cameron was directing a second-unit scene.

As he recounted the event in his career some years later, Cameron recalled that a scene he was directing was of dismembered arm lying on the ground: "It's supposed to be covered with maggots ... and they've got it covered with this tub of mealworms. You can buy them in pet stores; they're feed for fish, fairly innocuous little creatures. They're pretty law-abiding; they don't do very much...They're supposed to be writhing around, but they just sat there."

He formulated a solution to run hidden electrical wires to the slugs and deliver a few "inspirational" jolts. Just then, the two future Piranha II producers strolled onto the set to watch.

Cameron called "Action!" The cue for the technician who was hidden out of eye range to throw the juice. "The worms start moving like crazy. I say: 'OK, that's good. Cut.' He pulls the plug, and the worms stop. I turn around, and these two producers are just gaping. I guess they figured out that if I could get a performance out of maggots, I should be OK with actors, so they offered me the film."

The film industry looks for people who want to work hard and do a dedicated job.
The film industry looks for people who want to work hard and do a dedicated job. | Source

Should I Go to Film School?

"Should I go to film school?" is a great question and requires weighing the pros and cons of going. The most significant advantage is networking with other people who want to work in film. The biggest drawback is the cost with no guarantees of success. You still have to work hard and build your credits.

If you go to film school, give it all you got and don't waste the expense. If you decide not to go to film school, be prepared to build your film career by working hard and building your film credits.

In all honesty, getting a job in the film industry is not hard as long as you are willing to work hard and be available to work anytime and anywhere. Once your film career is established, you can pick and choose your projects or create your projects.

Success Story

Closing this article is a success story I received from someone who I helped get n the business, by reading my book.

"About a year ago, I spoke with you a few times via email. I would like to thank you for your invaluable advice.

Thanks to your emails and your book (which I read nearly once a month), I now have a full-time job as a video editor (it's a great start), was offered a PA position on a feature film, was accepted (1 of 10 students) to the New York Film Academy, and have an extensive list of contacts in the industry.

The best part is I am only 18 years old. I seriously doubt I could have come this far without your help. Thank you so much."

© 2007 Kenna McHugh


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