Do You Need to Go to Film School?
A question I get asked constantly during my Q&A sessions is "Should I go to film school?" or "How did you get a job if you didn't go to film school?" and so many other variants of the same question, and 99% of time it's a question that I don't answer because I don't have a definitive answer for it. That's because it's an answer that is completely dependent on the individual, it's not a question you should be asking somebody else, it's a question you should be asking yourself because you're the only one that can answer. Think about where you are now in your filmmaking career and look at you end goal, if film school is a vital part of that path then go for it, if it's not essential for you then don't. But there's a lot more to it than that, so I'm gonna discuss a couple of points that are worth considering.
So I'm gonna start by talking about the reasons I didn't go to film school, because it was something I had my heart set on. The idea of studying film at university sounded like an absolute dream to me, but the more I thought about it and the closer the time came to actually leaving for film school, the more I realised that I didn't need it. The thing is, I started making films at a much earlier age than anybody else I've met, most people I know didn't start making films until their mid/late teens so they're not really starting making films until they're almost the age to go to film school, so it makes sense if you're still new to the camera to then go to film school. But I was 7/8 years old when I attempted to recreate a scene from Lawrence of Arabia on a family beach trip using my grandfather's Panasonic mini DV camera, and ever since that point in my life there was rarely a moment that I didn't put down a camera, I was constantly making short films, making music videos for friend's bands, filming weddings, filming promotional videos for local companies and more importantly I was determined to continue learning, I read a tonne of books on filmmaking, watched hours of behind the scenes, trawled through hundreds of internet articles. So by the time I was at the age to go to film school, I already had almost 10 years of experience under my belt.
Film School was something I was so close to considering that I already had offers from 2 of the best films schools in the UK (National Film and Television School and Brighton Film School). And turning down those offers was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Because if I had gone to film school I'd still currently be sat in a classroom, studying and holding myself back. But instead I'm the youngest employed director at the BBC and I'm climbing that ladder higher and higher every day and that never would have happened if I wasted time at film school.
But attending those interviews made me realise something. On the one hand there's people who need knowledge fed to them by a teacher, and there is absolutely no shame in that whatsoever, that is just the way some people are programmed to learn. And on the other hand there's people who are hungry enough to go and find that information and learn for themselves without the help from someone else, because the information is out there for you if you're passionate to go and find it for yourself.
But neither way of learning is superior to the other, it's all about which way you think is most beneficial to yourself and which way you think is ideal for you to reach your full potential. I've seen people go into film school as completely novices and come out the other side as incredibly talented filmmakers. And then contrarily I've seen people with absolutely no formal education in film become obsessed with the concept of learning and then have also gone on to master their craft.
Steven Spielberg didn't go to film school but Martin Scorsese did. David Lynch went to film school but Quentin Tarantino didn't. All these filmmakers become masters of film in entirely different ways. How you learn is entirely irrelevant as long as you are learning, and how you learn is a decision that nobody else can make but yourself. But get the idea out of your head that film school is the only option if you want to go somewhere because it's absolutely not true, a certificate from a university is meaningless, employers couldn't care less if you have a degree but don't have a showreel to prove your worth. It's not about a piece of paper, it's about the filmmaking talent and passion of the individual.
So sit yourself down and really think hard about whether you want to commit 3 years of your life and a lot of money to getting a formal education from people who know what they're doing, or whether you have what it takes to reach that standard off your own back.