Film School Rankings Are Meaningless

Film School Rankings are absolutely meaningless in the real world of film production. There’s a lot of theory and baseless opinions on this, but this screenshot from a real life LinkedIn conversation among NYU Film alumni really sums it up:

How useful is your Tisch undergraduate degree    LinkedIn4

As this Tisch grad points out, employers don’t care about where you go to school, they just care about your previous work experience. Which is why it makes more sense to just start getting on real sets now or, even better, start your directing career by creating a marketable product.

Film School Rankings Can Help With Gopher Positions

Film is a business, and what matters is your work experience, what you can produce, and your reputation. As a recent film school grad, you have no work experience and a very limited skill set to offer an employer. A prestigious film school might help a graduate land an entry level, grunt position such as a Production Assistant. That means their primary jobs will include getting coffee for a working Director, who likely didn’t go to film school. This reality is illustrated nicely in this Craigslist job opportunity:

Film Jobs

Skills and duties include Driving the DP to the shoot every day. Did a film school grad really need to earn a degree in order to do that? No. It’s ridiculous.

This reality is further illistrated, very humorously, in this clip from the Kevin Smith movie “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”:

It’s a funny scene; but if you just paid $100,000 for a degree, only to end up as somebody’s coffee lackey, that’s no laughing matter. The key is to understand the difference between Above the Line and below the line positions, which you can learn more about here. The simple reality is that these gopher, assisting positions don’t lead to creative positions; they can lead to further below the line positions.
Basically, in the film industry, there are a lot of USC and NYU Grads working at Paramount. Fox, etc…. in the offices. As Assistants, Secretaries, possibly even Agents. But it has nothing to do with film production. And, for every person working in the offices of a major studio, there are 5 other co-workers who did not go to film school. 

Film School Ranking Methodology Revealed

 

US News and World Report is a magazine based in the States that publishes an annual “ranking” of colleges and universities. This has included film schools, and USC, NYU, and AFI are often placed at the top of the list. Many people blindly accept these rankings as gospel without looking at how the schools are ranked in the first place. Which is this:

Methodology  Undergraduate Ranking Criteria and Weights   US News and World Report

 

The Criteria used to rank Film Schools are completely irrelevant to anything involving the film business. It’s based on completely arbitrary academic and financial factors. Let’s break it down:

1. Undergraduate Academic Reputation, Peer Assessment, and High School Guidance Counselor Survey. 

In plain English, this means what Pressidents of other Universities and your High School Guidance Counselor think. So, the President of Princeton, who knows nothing about the film industry and has never even touched a video camera, has heard that USC is a good school, and he gives it a high score. Then, your high school guidance counselor is given a survey, and they heard that USC is where George Lucas went 40 years ago, so they give it a high mark. And there you go.

Do you really think ranking a film school on what your high school guidance counselor thinks is a good measure?

2. Student Selectivity

Basically, the harder it is to get int to the school, the better it’s considered to be, and it’s based on the Academic Performance of the applicants. Again, film is a business where many of the most successful individuals didn’t even go to college. That includes James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock (and almost every filmmaker before 1960). It’s not an Academic Field, which is why a USC Grad with 1500 SATs is still going to end up picking up dry cleaning for the TV Director who never graduated college.

3. Faculty Resources

My favorite part of this, and something that sheds a bright light on the absurdity of these rankings, is “Faculty Compensation”. So basically, if a tenured Professor at USC is making a ton of money, then it’s considered to be a good school. Doubtful.

4. Graduation Rates, Financial Resources, Alumni Giving

What does any of this have to do with the Film Industry? It’s a better measure of how much money the school has, and if rich people are attending.

If you’re serious about working in a creative position in film, you should really think about all this. Do you want to apply to a film school that’s reputation is based on these kinds of criteria and waste your life savings to end up as an assistant for someone else?

If you’re interested in a smarter, more direct approach to beginning a directing career, then make sure to learn more about our training program for directors.

 

 

 


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