Film School Secrets: Insider Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers

Why Film Schools are a $100,000 Joke & What to Do Instead

Most people attend film schools believing they will help them achieve their goals of working in the film business and making movies.

The truth is far different. You’re more than likely setting yourself up to be the next $100,000 joke. Film schools charge up to $40,000 a year to use equipment that rents for only a couple hundred dollars a day. Film school graduate job placement and earnings are very low proportional to the cost of school. And grads do not have the tools or the training to make a feature film.

Film Schools do not provide you with a plan.  That is why so many graduates fail. And that is why Stephen Ujaki, Dean of Film & TV at Loyola Merrimount said the “majority of students majoring in film and television will not be having careers in those professions” in a New York Times article dated 7/5/11.

It’s not because there are not jobs to be done in the film business, and it’s not because there aren’t movies to be made. It’s because film schools fail to provide graduates with the practical tools they need to find work, raise money, and make movies.

This site has got the tough love and real answers about you won’t find elsewhere. We want to show you a better way. First, we need to help debunk the myth that you need film school to be get into movies.To that end we have a lot of data, facts, and previously unrevealed information.

Film Schools: A Ginormous Truth Bomb

Film schools aren’t a luxury… the are a liability. Production managers, Producers, and Professionals within the film industry do not take graduates of film schools seriously. Why? Because film is not an academic field. This isn’t law or medicine, or biochemistry, where going to school and having a masters degree gets you ahead. In fact, in the book Film School Confidential, Karin Kelley and Tom Edgar, both NYU Film Graduates write:

“”In many cases, you won’t want to include your MFA on your resume. Ironically, an MFA in film will probably help you more outside of Hollywood than inside… Several people we know, who have MFAs in film and work in film and television production do not include their degrees on their resumes. They found that when that was included on their resumes, they were rarely hired. It was only when they removed the MFA from their resumes that they started getting work.”

Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and most of the most powerful people in Hollywood never attended film schools or even college. You may have heard this before, but think about it seriously. More than 90% of the successful professionals in film never went to school, so why do people trying to break into the field keep applying to school?

Part of the reason is marketing, and the cultural misconception that college is necessary to have a successful career. Don’t let your parents or teachers pressure you into going to school and taking out loans without understanding how the business works. Recently, Full Sail ran an ad on Facebook that epitomizes the problem of film schools and other institutes of higher education intentionally overpromising and misleading students into believing investing in their school will lead to a lucrative career.

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This ad appears to claim that graduates of film schools can earn up to $85,000 a year out of school, based on statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you go to the footnote cited, you will see that the average salary for producers in film is $85,000. But this is an average which includes people who produce shows like American Idol, Modern Family, etc. who are making millions. It skews the data. And the actual government website point this out. This is what you find on that page:


That’s right from the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, and the U.S. Government. It speaks the truth. Older non profit film schools like NYU film school and USC film school rarely produce working directors. Newer for profit film schools like New York Film Academy & the Art Institutes don’t either.

Every once in a while, a graduating student makes a feature or wins an award. That’s great, but what about the thousands of other students of film schools that can’t find work and are deeply in debt from their student loans?

These are actual job placements stats from the Art Institutes. According to them, graduates of one of their $99,000 Film BFA program have a 66% job placement rate and starting salary of $31,000 a year… which is about $460 a week after taxes.


Meanwhile, the monthly payment on a $99,000 student loan is about $755 a month. And it’s recommended you be making $99,000 a year to be able to afford it. Plus you end up paying double your loan in 20 years ($180,000 total) to go through the program.


What kind of jobs can a film school graduate expect to get? The kind of entry level, basic jobs you wouldn’t give to anyone else. Here’s a sample posting of a typical opportunity from Craigslist:


Kevin Smith, who dropped out of Vancouver Film School and used his tuition money and credit cards to make “Clerks” back in the 90s, included this little truth bomb in his movie “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”. It’s a very satirical but truthful look at how film school grads are viewed within the film business:


Film Schools: Equipment Cost, Tuition, Profit

Part 1: Film Programs

Many aspiring filmmakers want to actual use real film instead of digital video. At NYU and USC students wait until their second year, but they do shoot little 16mm films. At NYFA, in the 1 year filmmaking program, students start making 16mm films on day one.


That is a testimonial from the NYFA web site. It’s true, nobody is disputing that NYFA provides students with the opportunity to shoot short 16mm films. But most applicants do not understand the nature of the equipment they will be using.

The main camera used in the film program at NYFA, NYU, and USC is the Arriflex-S 16mm Camera, first manufactured in 1960. These cameras haven’t been used in the film industry for many, many years.

Film schools either have their own in house supply of these old cameras or have students rent them through local production houses. As such, rental rates are surprisingly low. In New York, for instance, there is s rental house called “Hit and Run Productions” that rents these cameras for $150/day.

The question is, why does it cost so much at film schools like New York Film Academy?


Students at most film schools including NYU and NYFA pay $18,000 a semester or more to use old cameras that can be rented for as little as $150 a day. The film stock for the films can cost a couple hundred dollars.  And this is the kind of films they make:

Here’s on from NYU using the same cameras, at a cost of $20,000 a semester:

(Learning to load a 16mm camera and use a light meter takes about 10 minutes to learn). Additionally, students are expected to pay for production costs of their movie on top of tuition at most film schools (?!)

At NYFA, student pay an additional $2,000 equipment fee (for what exactly) plus incur their own expenses on top of tuition, while using (at least for the 1st semester) 50 year old film cameras. Where does the rest of that money go?

NYU and USC film schools also have students pay for their films on top of tuition, which is why some students end up paying an additional $10K to $50K for their films.

Does this make sense to you? It’s your call.

Part 2: Digital

This is where film schools  get really crazy. In the last 10 years digital video has increased in quality and the price has dropped drastically, but film schools are still charging insane prices to use equipment you could buy on your own for much less. At the Art Institutes, students are paying $90,000 in a 3 year program to use DSLR cameras you could purchase for $3,000 and editing stations you could buy for under $1,500.

#1: Editing Systems.

Let’s start with editing. At NYFA, it’s right in the school’s documentation, but most people don’t know how to interpret it.


Apple and Final Cut Pro Editing Software revolutionized editing. Back in 1996 an AVID editing system cost $25K and up. Nowadays, you can go to the Mac Store online and buy a Mac like this:


And Final Cut Software like this:


That’s about $1,200 for a 4GHZ Mac and $300 for the software, about $1500 to purchase your own Final Cut Pro Editing System.

It’s even cheaper if you buy a PC and AVID’s Pinnacle Editing software which is only $90.

Part #2: Digital Cameras

When considering film schools you also have to remember that the digital video cameras they provide are shared by hundreds of other students. You pay a premium to share used equipment, when you could purchase or rent it for much less. According to NYFA (and this is the same at NYU, USC, and Art Institutes), the equipment they provide is like this:

Panasonic DVX and HVX200 cameras. These are the bread and butter of film schools. The Panasonic 35mm cameras and Red One Cameras, which cost a lot more, are available in less numbers and not until you take more advanced courses. These Panasonics are handed out like candy to eager film school students who have no idea just how cheap they are.

The Panasonic DVX 100b camera was revolutionary… in 2002. Nowadays this camera costs $2000 to buy new, $1000 used (less than many cameras at Best Buy) and uses Standard Definition mini DV tapes. It’s still a nice camera, just outdated. And you can rent one for less than $100 a day.


These DVX cameras are still used in many of the courses offered at film schools throughout the world. But they have more in common with a Fisher Price camera these days than the current modern HD cameras you can buy for less than $3000.

The camera used in the NYFA 4 week digital filmmaking course, according to the school’s website is either the DVX100 or the HVX200. Again, a nice camera. But look at the cost for purchase. And remember, there is a big difference between using a piece of equipment and buying it:


The HVX 200 is $4000 to buy new and as little as $1900 used. The cost keeps dropping. And the rental price is super cheap:


However, I recommend a DSLR camera – because of the interchangeable lenses and sensors, if you want to make cinematic looking images.

Think about this information carefully before taking out a student loan to pay for using one of these cameras for a few weeks.

Okay, What to Do Instead of Film School

We could go on, but this site isn’t about hating on film schools. We need to be critical to get your thinking critically. To learn the right way to begin a directing career, check out our free webinar called ‘The Film School Solution”:

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