“Should I go to film school? Should I have gone to film school? Is film school worth it?” These are questions most filmmakers have probably asked themselves sometime in their life. It’s a question most people seem to have a strong opinion about as well. There’s always going to be those people who need you to know they went to film school. And of course, there will be people who hate the idea of film school (maybe because of those exact people). Some will say it’s the best thing they have ever done while others will say it’s not worth the money. I’m not here to answer that question.
Truthfully, I feel like the right answer will always be this: it depends on the person. Obviously, every person is different: their background, experiences, etc. While one person might thrive in a film school setting, another person might not. I am here to tell you the story of how I, at the age of 35, made the choice to go to film school.
WHY SHOULD I GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
Let me tell you how I came to that decision. I had been working in a 9-to-5 job in the urban planning field for eight years. About halfway through that time, I started to feel unfulfilled and began craving a creative outlet. Shortly after, I found my way into writing and then film.
I started taking classes at night at the Second City Training Center in Chicago and eventually started making films with my friends on the weekends. That creative outlet was everything to me. It gave me new life. One day, I had an epiphany: filmmaking is what I had to be doing. There’s nothing else I wanted to do. I made the decision; I was going to make the transition into film. No matter what.
The thing is film is probably one of the most difficult industries to break into. I was well aware of this as I had already been volunteering for projects, working as a PA, and taking on any roles I could find. If you’re reading this blog, you probably have some idea of that too. There are no guarantees in this field- with or without a degree.
There’s no set way into the industry either; where in other fields, a degree or certification pretty much guarantees a job and a career. I was not naïve about any of this. I knew the difficulties I would be facing. I knew it would be a long road to establishing and eventually supporting myself in this industry. I didn’t know if film school was worth it, but I was ready to do whatever it took.
The little experience I had being on set and in production was enough for me to know what skills and background I was lacking. I knew I needed more hands-on experience and a space to practice these skills. At this point, going back to school wasn’t even in question for me. I already had two degrees and therefore student loan debt. There was just no way I’d even consider more school.
So, I signed up for a few weekend filmmaking workshops to get more experience. As time went on, I realized I had exhausted all program and workshop opportunities in the area. I still felt like I wasn’t getting the hands-on experience I was craving. I didn’t know how I would get that experience either. Sure, I could make a film myself and figure it out as I went along. But renting equipment and putting together the necessary crew and talent requires a lot of time and money. There are a lot of risks involved, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. I started feeling stuck and unsure what the next step should be.
WHY IS FILM SCHOOL SO EXPENSIVE?
One day, I found myself wondering what type of film school programs were out there. Were there master’s courses? Any certificate courses? So I did a quick Google search just to see. As I expected, film school in the US is VERY expensive. Just to give a sample, prestigious programs like the American Film Institute run about $35,000 a year for tuition alone. That kind of jaw-dropping figure is enough to make anyone wonder “Seriously, why is film school so expensive?”
I had just gotten back from a trip to Ireland where I discovered that I really enjoyed being there, so I began to wonder what kind of film schools are in Ireland? So, I did another Google search. To my surprise, I found a few programs that fit exactly what I was looking for. The best part was the cost and time frame: they have 1-year master’s programs (as opposed to 2-year programs in the US) at a fraction of the cost of US tuition! Seriously!
IS FILM STUDY ABROAD AN OPTION?
The affordability was a huge influencer in my decision. But still, living abroad seems expensive, right? Luckily, my sister had gotten her master’s degree in England, so I had an idea of the whole process. I did a bit more research between the two programs I was interested in and discussed the programs with the respective staff. During the process, something just felt right. It felt like a great fit.
The whole process of attending a university overseas was much easier than I imagined. I discovered I didn’t need an official visa either, another perk of Ireland. And because so many Irish universities coordinate with US universities and other agencies like US Financial Aid, the process is very streamlined. If you or anyone you know is looking at attending higher ed, I highly encourage you to look at Europe- something I wish I had known earlier.
WHY FILM SCHOOL MADE SENSE FOR ME
Having a “hands-on experience” was the main motive for me in going to film school. It was the most important thing I looked for in a program. I also wanted to be immersed in the production element. I didn’t have any experience in the technical side of the industry: cameras, lenses, sound, equipment, etc. so I wanted to develop a strong understanding of that. I also was drawn to the fact that I would be leaving school having completed three films, where I would be getting experience in all roles (camera, producing, directing, etc).
Finally, there was the networking aspect of it. I would be able to have a group of peers to learn and collaborate with. I would be able to work with great teachers with real industry experience. There were also other film-related opportunities outside of class, such as the international film festival hosted here called Galway Film Fleadh, where we could network and experience other aspects of the industry. All of this excited me.
The way I saw it was that I wouldn’t be able to get that kind of experience outside of attending film school. But for me, it also came down to time. I knew I was getting older and truthfully, I felt so far behind already. I knew I couldn’t waste any more time not doing what I wanted to do- or at least taking the steps to get closer to doing what I wanted to do. To me, it was like a perfectly packaged deal: everything I wanted to learn and do offered in one place within one year. Being fully immersed in film for an entire year seemed like a dream. I was sold.
Now on the other side of it, I’m glad I made the decision. I gained skills I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I feel more confident and experienced in most aspects of filmmaking. I also learned what roles and aspects of film I don’t like. I met great people that I hope to collaborate with in the future. I landed a great internship that gave me experience in an area of filmmaking I wouldn’t have gotten experience in otherwise. In addition, I learned the ins and outs of the film industry in another country. I also got to live in Ireland! All of it was invaluable to me. Personally, I feel I’m better poised to succeed in the industry as a result of the experience.
Was Film School Worth it?
I will say film school is not for everyone. In fact, many argue that film school is a waste of time and money. I get that argument. Hell, I’ve even made that argument. Is film school worth it? At that specific time in my life, it was the best choice for me. Maybe it is for you too. There were many in my class who felt the same way. I would also like to add that at age 35, I was the 4th oldest person, including someone in their 50’s taking part in the program. So, what I really hope you take away from this blog post is that it’s never too late. Don’t let anything, especially age, stop you. Whatever your dream is, pursue it. Life is too short not to.