Film School: Show Me the Money

I just read an excellent post on the blog “The Black and Blue” about the pros and cons of film school. Evan always presents things in a very even keeled manner, and I respect that. But I’d like to bring up the driving point behind the stand of this site and everything we talk about:

Money.

You’ve heard of it. Little green pieces of paper we all assign a particular value. Now, many of the things that film school provides (including the opportunity to network with other creative young people and have a safe environment to focus solely on making short films) are really quite cool. And if they were being offered at the level of a community college or even a vocational workshop, where the participants pay anywhere from $60 to $1000 a class, I’d be down with it.

But that’s not the case. The fact remains that young people are paying between $10,000 to $50,000 a year in tuition plus film production costs to pay for film school.

That is a TON of money. You’d never blow that much on a car, a down payment on a house, or even a RED camera without doing some serious research and discovering EXACTLY what you’re getting for your money.

If a film school was audited, they would have no way to show where all that tuition goes. Once a school has stocked itself with entry level DSLRs, some Panasonic DVX 100s (still being used at some film schools even though Standard Def is ancient), and some PCs or Macs with Final Cut or Adobe Premiere… where does the money go?

For example, at one very popular school based in NY, a year’s tuition is $30,000. Student’s also pay EXTRA for their films on top of tuition (which begs the question.. what the hell is the tuition for?!). If you get 30 students in a classroom paying $30,000 a year… that’s about $900,000.

Almost a cool million per class.

Now, I’m not math whiz, but $1,000,000 is a lot of money. In fact that could buy 333 Canon 5D cameras, or 1000 Mac editing systems. This school, however, still uses cameras purchased in the 1960s (Arri-s Film Cameras) and has its beginning students use DVX100 cameras which were purchased ten years ago.

I know schools have to pay for faculty and their buildings, but that $1 mil figure is only from one class in one school. The school in question has campuses all over the planet. Even if these schools we re-investing the tuition into new equipment it still leaves a healthy amount of profit. And that’s why these schools pay marketers as much as $20 per lead to find new students.

The real cash cow at the end of it is this: student loans.

If the average film student were required to shell out his or her own cold hard cash of $40,000 to $200,000 to go to film school, these schools wouldn’t even exist. The reason schools are like crack is because the student loan companies allow for a young person with little to no credit or understanding of money to borrow more money than it takes to buy a house in some cities to pay for school.

That’s a dream come true now, and a nightmare later.

So you want to go to film school, but can’t afford it. Student loan qualification means that you can borrow as much as $200,000 in one fall swoop; which will result in more than $1000 a month in payments after graduation. But between the time you borrow, enroll, and start taking classes, you don’t pay a thing.

And the whole time, you have borrowed money against a dream and a hope.

The hope and the dream that fuels film schools is that somehow you will become the next Spielberg, or win Sundance, or make a ton of money from your film school experience and degree.

But when you actually talk to people who went to film school, even the ones who enjoyed it, you will find one thing in common: everyone says it wasn’t necessary. They may have picked up some tips, made some good contacts or connections.

Is that worth the thousands of dollars people are spending and the schools are making from this bloated “education”?

No.

You know there are no “self made” doctors. Nobody ever just picks up a scalpel and starts doing surgery without being arrested. But in the film business more than 90% of the working professionals are self taught. No school.

If my son or nephew was considering film school I’d think twice about encouraging him to invest that kind of money learning things that he could learn better, faster, and smarter on a real film set. I’d also feel irresponsible as an adult if I let him invest that kind of money into an educational process that cannot provide him with a solid, concrete plan of how he will ever make back that incredible debt load.

I would not want to see someone I care about having to come up with $700-$1000 a month on top of rent, food, and car insurance every month while they are doing what every film school grad has to do anyway: grind it out, find work, make a project happen.

It’s just a radically poor investment.

That’s why I created Film School Secrets. To give aspiring filmmakers the brutal truth about film schools and provide a smarter, faster, and cheaper alternative that in most cases puts you well ahead of people who take out loans to go to school. To find out exactly what we teach and how it works, click here to see the course syllabus and read some student testimonials.


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