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Should you go to film school? Great question? But there aren't necessarily a lot of direct answers. Do you want to go to Hollywood? Do you want to make movies in your spare time? Do you want to learn about world cinema? Do you want to be a director? A cinematographer? An editor? Do you want to pay for tuition? All of these questions can help you figure it out, but today Lily Gladstone will talk us through a few important things to keep in mind when deciding if film school may be right for you!


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  Intro (0:00)

To film school, or not to film school? That is the question. Or it might be, if you're interested in becoming a filmmaker. And it doesn't have an easy answer. 

Some filmmakers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas, attended film school and have thrived making feature films. On the other hand, James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh have both won Academy Awards for Best Director without ever attending a single class. 

Everyone's experience is going to be different, but there are some things you can generally expect to get from going to film school. And with some careful consideration, you might be able to chart a course that's right for you and emerge as the next big thing. 

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 History of Film Schools (0:48)

The world's first film school was founded in 1919. As with many early film schools, the focus at the Moscow Film School was on studying films that already existed, rather than actually making movies. The theories developed by the students and teachers in Moscow eventually gave birth to the Soviet Montage film movement and movies like Battleship Potemkin and Man with a Movie Camera.

In 1929, the University of Southern California's School of Cinema Arts was founded by early cinema big-shots like Mary Pickford, Ernst Lubitsch, and D.W. Griffith. USC has maintained that close connection to Hollywood right up to the present day, counting George Lucas, Judd Apatow, and Star Wars: Episode 8 director Rian Johnson among its alumni. 

And in 1965, two major film schools were founded in New York City: one at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and the other as part of Columbia University's School of the Arts. Although younger than the Southern California schools, NYU and Columbia have caught up in terms of the success of their graduates. Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee all went to NYU, while Columbia boasts Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold who made 3:10 to Yuma and Logan, and Jennifer Lee, the writer and co-director of a little movie called Frozen

These days, there are film schools in almost every state in the United States, as well as in many other countries around the world. You can find them in big international cities like Paris, London, and Beijing, to smaller places like Austin, Texas; Mahwah, New Jersey; and Anchorage, Alaska. 

Some are well known, like the programs at CalArts, the Amercian Film Institute or AFI, or the University of California Los Angeles, better known as UCLA. Others are hidden gems, like Emerson College in Boston or Denver's Colorado Film School. 

The point is: if you decide that film school is right for you, you have options, no matter where you live.

 What Film School Teaches (2:21)

So, what will you learn if you go? Film schools can be undergraduate or graduate programs at universities, colleges, and community colleges. They might be free standing degrees at those schools, or they might be housed in other departments, like English, Fine Arts, Theater, Media Studies, or Communications. 

Most film schools will teach you to both study and make films. Education isn't necessarily just about practicing a trade. It can also be about exposing yourself to other ways of thinking, writing, creating, or watching. In other words, it can be time for experimentation!

Classes on film history, theory, and criticism will introduce you to films, filmmakers, film movements, and various ways to think critically about them. While courses on things like screenwriting, cinematography, directing, and editing will give you the skills and experience you'll need to produce your own films. 

These same subjects are taught in many film schools, but teaching methods can differ. Most schools follow either the conservatory or liberal arts approach. Conservatory schools like the American Film Institute, the New York Film Academy, and to some extent NYU, focus on educating world-class artists and technicians devoted to a single field within filmmaking. 

Very early on at a conservatory school, you'll choose a track with help from faculty and advisors, and you'll study that subject almost exclusively. You might decide to become an editor, a cinematographer, a director, or a sound designer, and your classes and exercises will be geared toward the craft, art, and technology of that particular role. As a result, conservatory schools tend to turn out graduates who excel at their particular job and know it inside and out. 

If you're looking for a broader understanding of cinema and its place in the world, or you don't know which track you want to pursue yet, a liberal arts-based film school might be a better fit. In practice, liberal arts film schools offer students the chance to try a variety of filmmaking roles, and gain a deeper understanding of the whole filmmaking process, rather than just one specific part of it. And while students will still learn how to line up a shot or make a rough cut, they'll also be encouraged to think about cinema in its larger cultural, economic, historical and political contexts. 

Of course, you'll also find film schools that split the difference between these two approaches, providing a broad liberal arts education in initial courses, and pivoting to a more track-based curriculum for the later ones. 

  To Film School (4:17)

So what does film school really get you?

First and foremost: time. School gives you the time to focus on the craft of filmmaking in a structured environment. Time to fail, learn from your mistakes, and try again. And time to experiment and find your artistic voice, while you're given critical feedback from teachers and your fellow students. 

Depending on where you go, film school might also let you move closer to a filmmaking hub, be it New York or Los Angeles, or even Chicago, Atlanta, or Austin. Just being close to the action can be a powerful motivator for aspiring filmmakers.

In terms of technology, many film schools give you the opportunity to get your hands on a lot of the equipment you'll find on sets - like jibs, dollies, cameras, or microphones - while an expert helps guide you. 

And you'll learn to collaborate! Film is an intensely collaborative industry and medium, and being forced to rely on and work with your peers is a big part of the film school experience. 

Even more importantly, film school gives you access to a community of people who are just as obsessed with films and filmmaking as you are. That network of teachers, mentors, and trusted peers will become your allies as you develop all your creative projects and find opportunities to work in the film industry. Many film school graduates think of this community as one of the biggest benefits of their formal education.

And, of course, you'll earn a degree. A degree can have value as a symbol of your passion, commitment, and follow-through, but sadly, it doesn't guarantee you a job or a career. 

  To Not Film School (5:28)

And that leads us into some arguments against attending film school. 

It's expensive. Not only will you pay tuition, but you'll have to fund your own films. And don't forget, you might have to move to a bigger, pricier city to pursue your dreams. Not to mention, film is an exceptionally competitive industry that often depends on who you know and how good you are at your job. There's a lot of luck and timing mixed in with the tenacity, hard work, and talent required to succeed.

Also, your learning style might not be suited to a classroom. Some people thrive in an academic environment, while others do better with a hands-on approach or more unstructured exploration. If that's you, film school might not be the best option. 

But if you decide film school is too expensive or not a good fit, there are a number of other paths you can take to become a professional filmmaker. Many directors started out working as crew members on other people's films before making movies of their own. Alfred Hitchcock began as a title designer, and worked his way up to directing classics like Psycho and Rear Window

Before dreaming up The TerminatorAliensTitanic, and Avator, James Cameron got his start as a set painter for famous B-movie producer Roger Corman. Cameron reportedly mastered so many different skills that, today, his crew members talk about upping their own game because he can probably do their job at least as well as they can. 

This kind of apprenticeship approach was even built into the structure of some international film industries until fairly recently. Up until at least the 1980s in England, for example, most directors were obligated to put their time in as an Assistant Director before they were given the chance to make their own films.

In the 1990s though, A-list directors like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh took an entirely different path. Instead of apprenticing for other filmmakers, they both studied hundreds if not thousands of films on their own, with a focus and intensity most film students couldn't muster. Their feature film debuts - Reservoir Dogs and Sex, Lies, and Videotape - both display an incredible grasp of storytelling, film grammar, and tone, at a level remarkable for self-taught directors. 

Paul Thomas Anderson, acclaimed director of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, split the difference. He was an intense student of film long before he got to film school...and then he dropped out after the first day. 

The proliferation of things like Blu-ray special features and online tutorials make this kind of DIY approach more possible than ever before. "Lessons from the Screenplay" on YouTube and the website and podcast ScriptNotes are great resources for screenwriters. While sites like can teach you tips and tricks about cameras, lighting, and special effects.

In fact, the failing cost of film equipment and the ability to distribute your work on the Internet has done more to change the film school equation in the last decade than anything else. You can build online communities and peer groups of like-minded filmmakers from around the world, which might make film school less necessary for you.

And it's not like Warner Brothers is gonna turn you down for a directing job because they find out you don't have a degree.

Think about it this way. If you want to become a doctor, you need to go to medical school, right? If you can afford it and your grades are good enough, you'll graduate and - boom - you're a doctor. If doesn't guarantee you a job, but it does mean you're very likely to find work in the medical field. It's also the only way to become a doctor. 

For filmmakers, film school is just one of many paths yoy might take. That's the great advantage and drawback to pursuing a career in film: you can get there any number of ways, but none of them are guaranteed. 

So is film school the right choice for you? I can't tell you that. But luckily, the person who can tell you is watching this video right now. It's you. I'm talking about you.

Take some time and think about the environments in which you learn best, the communities you could build and be a part of, and what you can afford. And remember: whatever form your education takes, it's the work you do, and the kind of collaborate you become, that matter most. 

  Review and Credits (8:44)

Today we talked about the history of film school and the different approaches they take to educating filmmakers. We discussed the benefits of film school, from access to equipment, peer groups, and mentors to the time to make mistakes. And we looked at other options, from apprenticeships to self-education and building your own community of collaborators online. 

Next time, we'll focus our attention on the history and exciting current state of television production. 

Crash Course Film Production is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel, check out a playlist of their latest shows, like Space Time, It's Okay to Be Smart, and Physics Girl. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people. And our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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