Do You Really Need to Go to Film School?

Many filmmakers learned their craft by going to film school – but is it really necessary? Although financial aid is available, USC’s undergraduate tuition for 2019-2020 is estimated to be $58,262 per year, and graduate tuition in the producing and screenwriting MFA programs is $47,000-$52,000. Is it worth the cost? It seems like there are really only two options

Why film school might be worth it

“Film school was such a great gift to me and I learned so much there,” says Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of Love & Basketball, Secret Life of Bees and Beyond the Lights. She even wrote a letter to appeal the decision when she didn’t get in at first – and was accepted.

Film schools provide professors and mentors, a supportive environment where you can focus on just filmmaking and passionate collaborators to help you crew your films. They also let you work as crew members on other people’s films. But they’re not absolutely mandatory. Especially with the development of less expensive camera technology and distribution platforms on the internet, why not try a short film or feature on your own? This might be intimidating, but many successful filmmakers have found ways to teach themselves how to direct films.

How you can succeed without film school

“I’m not a film school person,” says Johan Renck, director of the critically acclaimed HBO series Chernobyl. “I just sort of taught myself how to do this.” He got his start by directing music videos, which taught him how to work with a tight budget.


Natasha Lyonne, who has acted since her teens and has now directed episodes of Russian Doll, Shrill and Awkwafina, has found that learning on the job is like the film school she never finished. “It’s been great,” Lyonne said of her new role as a director. “I’m getting in my hours. I dropped out of film school when I was 16. I dropped out of Tisch. I was in the filmmaking program as a film and philosophy double major. I really thought that I was going to read all these philosophical works and then I was going to make movies about them. Then I dropped out, and so now I’m getting it all back in. My teenage self is in seventh heaven.”

The Third Option

There is actually a third option that takes the concentrated knowledge available in regular film schools, but approaches taking account for the actual demands of daily life in the 21st century – online education. Millions of people are foregoing regular 2, 3 and 4 year programs to take their studies online. Some chase down YouTube tutorials and try to build out their education on their own – but this is not something I recommend except in the most disciplined of people.

If you would like some guidance on how to get on set, how to find new sets to work on and how to make your first film and actually get people to see it. We strongly recommend you check out the different online film schools that are now available. There are three great options in this category that give you all the knowledge you will get in regular film school, without the significant demands on your time and for 70-95% less than traditional schooling.

Lights Film School – $1497 – Limited enrollment (currently closed)
Offers great hands-on learning over the internet with limited enrollment sizes and one-on-one assistance.

Fulltime Filmmaker – $799
Geared towards teaching the ins and outs of being the director or cinematographer on your first sets. Discusses really helpful techniques for low-budget filmmaking.

Pocket Film School – $1,197.99 (or 6 easy payments of $220)
Pocket Film School is the newest contender to the market of online film education and has positioned itself as your go-to resource for getting on actual film sets as fast as possible. All the while instructing students from the ground with real, working filmmakers as their teachers. This seems to be the film industry’s ‘Masterclass’ that actually sets you up to join the film industry when you are done.
Premium Beat has a great write-up on Pocket Film School.

Whichever path you chose towards your career in film, there is no substitute for hard work, a good attitude and the 10,000 hours that take you from novice to master.

Lessons and Tips

Leave a Reply