An issue that has long troubled me is the well-known fact (at least within the film industry) that film school graduates rarely become successes in the film industry. Although film schools pump out thousands of graduates each year one of the dirty film school secrets is that less than 1% of them will ever make a feature film much less see any significant financial or career success in their chosen field.
The root cause is the basic nature of how filmmaking is taught within the university systems. Modern educational institutions are very good at teaching facts but very bad at nurturing creativity, personal initiative and entrepreneurship. To understand the reasons for this we have to back to the founding of public education in the early 1800s
The Start of Public Education in America
The concept of public supported education to create a more informed citizenry was put forward by many early liberal progressives but often met resistance from the conservative elements who didn’t want to see their taxes going to support the “common undeserving masses”. The breakthrough came when the industrial revolution factory owners realized it would be in their best interests to have a large workforce available that understood reading, writing and arithmetic.
The other requirements of the business magnates were that the workforce be trained to be “good” workers, meaning they would understand that a ringing bell meant go to the next activity. They would take orders, keep their heads down, do assignments promptly and always look to please their bosses over their own needs and desires.
Film Schools Emphasize the Wrong Things
Nearly all schools in America (and much of the world) include ringing bells, assigned tasks, respecting the all-powerful teachers and are very good at turning bright, enthusiastic children into quiet, plodding factory workers. But plodding factory workers will never find success in filmmaking.
Successful filmmakers are creative, free spirits who do things their way on their own schedule and are generally outgoing, self-learning and entrepreneurial. Students leaving film schools assume they will find jobs in Hollywood where they can enjoy all the glamour and high income but be able to punch a time clock and go home at 5pm. Those jobs don’t exist.
The actual knowledge set required to get started working in filmmaking is very small and can be learned in a matter of weeks, not years. Film schools will never be a wise investment for a student interested in filmmaking until they start to teach creativity over facts, personal initiative over skills. Given the history and inertia of education systems in America that isn’t going to happen very soon and will remain one of the film school secrets no one talks about.
What is your experience with film school? Please leave a comment.