Should You Go to Film School?

This post asks both should you or should you not, but “not” comes out a bit more persuasive:

Let’s take a look at the reality of the numbers. AFI graduates roughly 140 students from their program every year, and USC about 850. While these programs offer you the best education money can afford, that is precisely the problem. Tuition alone at these schools runs about $40,000 per year, and that doesn’t cover books, thesis expenses, living expenses, etc. By the time you complete their programs you will have amassed anywhere from $80,000-$160,000 in school loans. And let’s say you are lucky enough to get a 3% interest rate. When you graduate, depending on your loan, you could have monthly payments ranging from $500 – $1,800.

Film schools tout the successes of their graduates, however I do not see 1,000 new Wally Pfisters or Terrence Malicks breaking out every year. And while having a degree from one of these universities is helpful, the reality is that the vast majority of graduates will start out in the field like everyone else, as a production assistant (PA). This is a performance based industry and no one really cares where you got your schooling, but they do care about your work. So it is highly unlikely that the day after you graduate, you’ll step onto a major feature film as a director or cinematographer. There is no shame in starting out as a PA. I started out doing an internship at a local production house as an office PA. So what does a PA make? $28,000 a year, or about $2,300 per month, if you are lucky. But even this number is high. When you first start out working as a freelancer, work will not be consistent. At least not until you build your network of referrals. A more realistic number would be around $15,000, or $1,250 per month. At these income levels, it is easy to see that you are going to need to figure out a way to make more money in order to live and pay your school bills. Oh, and don’t count on living in LA without roommates either, as the average cost of a one bedroom apartment is $1,350 per month. I’m not saying that it can’t be done. It can. However, it isn’t going to be as easy as the school’s literature and the hype of Hollywood may be leading you to believe.

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