Should I go to film school?

Should I go to film school?  

That’s a wonderful question that’s super personal and different for every person. 

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Jk.  I went to film school right out of college ( Emory University).  I then went to Florida State University film school and received my masters of fine arts.  I absolutely loved my time there and would not change it for the world.  Film school offers you a chance to do nothing but focus on the craft of filmmaking.  But - it’s more than that.  It helps and forces you to work with all different sorts of people and personality types - and you have to make it work.  Also for me - it was the first time that I thought of myself as an artist who was put to such professional challenges as critiques and deadlines.  It was a perfect place to make mistakes.  This team building, working with deadlines, and - oh yeah - the brutal/truthful critiques along the way is something that I don’t think you would find as easily in the real world.  If you make mistakes on a job - you don't get hired again. 

And, the equipment comes and goes - I’m not sure why we call it film school anymore b/c only a handful of places still shoot on film.  Maybe Digi school.  Or 1’s & 0’s school?  I was the last year that the school edited on steenbecks.  We actually had rolls of film and actual film bins.  I was on an editing panel at a conference and a person asked why they are called "bins."

 I remember being devastated by the flashing of one of my two allowed rolls of film for my first directing project.   I had to make the story work.  This certainly teaches discipline and resourcefulness.  I also really enjoyed the curriculum of learning all the disciplines of filmmaking from art dept, to sound design, to cinematography, to producing, to writing, to editing and directing.  It certainly prepared me for a future in this business as I regularly fill these roles or direct these roles on a job.  I am able to speak from experience and confidence when collaborating on choices.  I don’t think you’re going to get that experience in the real world while learning the proper techniques.  

Sometimes, I wish I could go back to film school because there’s not really another time in your life where you are going to be 100% immersed with creating your films - truly only your inspirations- with the equipment and dedicated crew.  I was a kid for the most part when I went and I did not quite know who I was as a person or as an artist.  When I left - I felt very confident and considered myself a professinoal.  So - I went out to the real world and was ready for the industry to hire me right away.   

Well - that didn’t quite happen because  I decided to go to a smaller, tight knit film community  b/c I love Atlanta but I didn’t know anybody and had no professional experience.  I only had a demo reel of student films.  So, I had a degree and a ton of knowledge but I still was on the ground floor.  But, the first feature I was on I started out as a PA and quickly moved into the electric world and a couple of months later  I was lighting my first feature film.  This was a big deal to me even if we had Church's Fried Chicken for lunch for a week.  (The executive producer owned one of the restaurants). 

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Now a days - it’s so easy to glean the knowledge from books, forums, videos,etc that almost all the techniques can be learned by sitting at a computer at night or picking up your dslr and laptop and making your own films.  But, I know that what will be missing is the hard lessons of working together and being forced to work with others, and the brutal techniques and examination of work.  This is a relationship business so it’s important to learn to relate to folks while making your films.  Also, what you miss out on is the alumni support and network.  Yes, I do say I am a “CML”er - (cinematographers mailing list).  But - that’s an email forum which is nothing like saying “Go Noles.”  We cheer for our fellow alums success and we can reach out to them and use them as a resource.  

But - on a side note.  I don’t think it’s worth going into close 100k worth of debt to go to film school.  I came really close to going to a really well respected school for cinematography and I can’t imagine being saddled by that debt today.  I don’t think it’s worth that - unless your loaded and hate giving to charity.

So all that to say - whatever you do - just go for it and pursue your art with vigor and confidence.  You are at the driving wheel.  

Jon Swindall

Jon Swindall produces, directs, and shoots t.v. shows, commercial, and feature films.