5 Reasons You Don’t Need Film School for a Successful Industry Career

5 Reasons You Don't Need Film School for a Successful Industry Career
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In my many years of working in the film industry, I’ve encountered people who went to film school and people who didn’t.  Many young people with ambitions to work in the industry wonder if they need to go to film school to succeed.  I have some thoughts on that matter.

My husband went to a top graduate program at a film school in the L.A. area, although he left the program before graduating when he realized what he’d have to spend on making his graduate film project.  He still had a long, successful career as a member of IATSE local 728 doing set lighting.

I didn’t go to film school, and my undergraduate degree has nothing to do with filmmaking.  I moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduation and knew some people who worked in the industry.  I got into the DGA training program, became a DGA member, and worked as an assistant director for many years.

There is no one best path to get into the film industry, and people come into the business from various backgrounds, film school being one of them.  The main predictors of success I’ve witnessed are continuous networking and the willingness to hustle.

I haven’t seen film grads being more successful than others who came into the industry through different means.

Here are five reasons you don’t need film school to have a successful career in the film industry:

1. The reality of working on a professional film set is very different than working on student films. You won’t be prepared for how a real set runs until you work on one and you don’t need film school for that.

That’s one of the main complaints I hear from people who went to film school.  Professional sets proved to be nothing like the sets they’d worked on in school.

2. While many successful filmmakers are film school graduates, a degree in film doesn’t mean much in the industry. Frankly, no one in a position to hire you will care whether or not you went to film school.

Most of them would be more impressed if they knew you’d worked as a production assistant on a ‘real’ set.

3. Some film school programs are more theoretical than others and are taught by professors who have little work experience in the industry.

Programs geared towards the theoretical do not prepare you for working on a film set.  There are plenty of opportunities to learn from professionals who are actively working in the industry.

Courses offered at some schools aren’t particularly relevant to filmmaking today, such as a course I recently saw on shooting 16mm film.  Why?  Is anyone still shooting projects on 16mm film?  It seems irrelevant to me and will not help anyone’s industry career.

4. There are numerous online sites where you can learn about filmmaking gear. You don’t need to go into debt at a school to understand the equipment used in filmmaking.

Aspiring filmmakers used to have to borrow equipment from a rental house for their projects.  Now some are making high-quality movies on their phones.

5. Many film school graduates mention the contacts they made as the best thing they got from attending the school, but you don’t need film school to make industry contacts.

You can join a professional trade organization and attend events to make contacts in the industry.  There are plenty of networking opportunities online and at in-person industry events.

I believe you can learn more by working as a production assistant and interacting with all the departments on set than you can from going to film school.

As a production assistant, you have the opportunity to learn about and interact with every department on set.

I started my film production career working as a p.a. for a commercial production company.  I can’t imagine a film school could have provided me with a more thorough education about the industry than what I learned there.

As for my husband, he says there are many more opportunities to learn about filmmaking than when he was a graduate student in film school.  Today he says he would take individual classes from many sources rather than attend film school.

Top people in the film industry teach classes at MasterClass, and it only costs $180 plus tax for a one-year subscription, which is a lot less expensive than film school.  You can read my review of MasterClass here.  (If you want a free one-week trial of MasterClass, drop me a note in the comments section.  They gave me a few free classes to share as a subscriber.)


I’ve heard people in the industry call film schools a breeding ground for unemployment.  I’m not sure if that’s true, but I know that it’s not the only way to learn about filmmaking, make contacts, and have a successful career in the industry.

If going to film school is your dream, by all means pursue it.  Just know that unless you have a wealthy family who’s footing the bill for your education, you’ll be paying off student loans for decades for a degree that may not help you advance your career in the film industry.

I believe there are other, possibly better, means for building your industry career.



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