NYU Film School Secrets

NYU Film School has, for years, enjoyed an image of a spectacular dream utopia of high tech filmmaking instruction… an incubator for the careers of future Scorecese and Spielbergs. But this image of NYU Film School is based on fantasy, not fact, nor reality.

The sad truth is this: NYU Film School is a poorly run, staggeringly expensive, and outdated institution that does not support its alumni. Many prestigious alumni have asked not to be associated with the school. And most surprising: within the film industry, NYU Film School grads are considered to be a joke.

NYU isn’t alone in this situation. The Film School Industry includes both private non profit schools like NYU and USC, and private for profit schools like NYFA and The Art Institutes. Within the business, these places are known as “Diploma Mills” or “Chop Shops”, quickly ingesting young people’s thousands of dollars in tuition and spitting them out into the film industry with little to no preparation. These schools bring in MILLIONS of dollars in revenue annually, with little to no scrutiny.

As an NYU Grad (Tisch UGFTV ’99) with more than 15 years of experience on film sets, I felt strongly enough about this topic to write the book “Film Fooled”. The book is an in depth, course by course, dollar for dollar account of NYU Film School.

Why such detail? Because the way in which people rank colleges makes no sense. If you’re going to buy a car, you read Consumer Reports, check out the price, the MPGs, the repair record, and make a qualified decision based on facts.

Sobering Facts About NYU Film School Beyond the Hype

People pick colleges like they are teenage girls picking out make up. “Oooh that’s pretty! I like that one! This one is so popular!” Truthfully, NYU Film School enjoys it’s reputation simply because the people applying to get in know nothing about the film business, and never do any research about the curriculum nor life after school. Does that make sense?

Essentially, most people believe NYU Film School to be a quality institution because they “heard it” somewhere. There’s no facts to back this up. Some famous alumni graduated many years ago from the Graduate Program. But the highly popular Undergrad Program that attracts so many applicants every year, has only graduated two well known directors: Brett Ratner and Chris Columbus.

I wrote “Film Fooled” to shatter the illusion of NYU’s supremacy in great, great detail. And by proxy all film schools. Once you see what actually happens in the classes, what the Professors are actually like, the image of NYU begins to lose its shine and luster. If you actually examine the curriculum versus the tuition, you will be perplexed. If you actually speak to graduates you will be shocked. And if you actually attend the school and complete your degree, you will end up like this graduate:

NYU Film School

That’s a sample posting from NYU Film School’s Alumni List Serve. A typically clueless 21 year old Undergrad asking for some kind of guidance on what to do next now that he’s graduated from this prestigious school. The answer: struggle, start at the bottom of the film industry totem pole, far behind your counterparts that skipped school and just started working.

So why the shocking rhetoric on this site? To shake people up, to wake young filmmakers and their parents up. To SNAP high school students and their parents out of the Emotional Frenzy that is the college search. And get your attention to talk about this like adults, with facts, not fiction. This is serious business. A year at NYU is now $68,000 with housing.

Let’s be real. THAT IS A LOT OF MONEY.

Before taking on six figures of debt you deserve a brutally honest account of where all that money goes. “Film Fooled” was written to answer that question. Just this information alone should be enough to snap you out the deluded dream of film school and set you free to start your career the right way: by making movies, getting on film sets, and learning about film as a business.

The first chapter of this book covers Freshman Year at NYU, which is very similar to Freshman Year at USC and almost every other 4 year film school.

And while this sounds crazy to most people who’ve never been on a film set, this is why NYU Film School and others are such a joke within the industry.

A typical posting from the NYU Film School Job Bulletin:

NYU Film School

This is what NYU Film School graduates are offered from the very poorly supported Tisch Career Services Center. The top opportunity is to work as a Boom Pole Operator, which looks like this:

Over 3,000 Undergrads competing for one job as a Boom Pole Operator. It’s pathetic.

A Boom Pole Operator is the guy who holds a pole on a film set. I was doing this when I was 17 before any college at all. In fact, a well trained monkey could do this job, it doesn’t require an advanced college degree. This is the kind of work available to a lucky NYU Film School grad. But if you aren’t cool enough to get this pole holding job, you can also try your chances as a Comic Book Illustrator, Chorale Instructor, Specialist in Russian Art, or Digital Strategy Coordinator. All very relevant and exciting positions that would be a boon to any bright and talented film school graduate.

The real currency in the industry is experience, not education. Every film student learns this their first week out of school. They start off just like everyone else, trying to get an entry level job and working their way up the production ladder. The Profs at NYU cannot help you, as most of them haven’t been in the biz for more than 20 years.

Before you spend $67,000 a year to play with cheap video cameras and beaten up old film equipment at NYU Film School, make sure to check out Film School Solution. 

3 Responses to “NYU Film School Secrets”

  1. pam parker says:

    My daughter is trying to decide between NYU, Emerson, and Wesleyan to study film and television. I read your posts about NYU and feel discouraged. Emerson presents a very strong alumni network. Do you think it is a better choice for her?
    Thanks,
    Pam

  2. Cara says:

    You sound like a bitter Betty who is making a profit off of your own personal failure in the film industry. Both of my brothers graduated from NYU’s undergrad film program this year and are already working on high profile network TV shows, and this is largely due to the connections they made at college. And many of their friends have found similar success.

    Oh, and only two directors from NYU’s undergrad film program are well known? I’m guessing you never heard of Oliver Stone? Or Joel Coen? How about M. Night Shyamalan? Vince Gilligan? Yeah, thought so.

    • says:

      Hey Cara,

      Your brothers are working right alongside folks who never went to film school. So while I’m glad they are hustling and doing what they want, it certainly doesn’t mean that their dropping $100K at NYU made any difference in their career. Also, what are they doing specifically? Likely working as PAs or Assistants. Nobody that comes out of school segways that into a legit production gig. For every person who claims it was a connection they made in school they couldn’t have gotten anywhere else, there are people working as PAs, Line Producers, Writers, Writer’s Assistants, DPs, Special Effects Supervisor, and Directors who never went to school. It’s the reality in this industry – it is not an Academic field.

      Your stupidity in dropping the names of people who went to NYU 30 to 50 years ago is staggering. It blows my mind that anyone could justify the investment of $60,000 a year to play with some video cameras in 2014 because some talented folks attended a program nearly half a century ago. Think about it. When Oliver Stone (who went to the Grad Program) and Joel Coen, as well as Scorcese, etc. attended NYU, you couldn’t just pick up a video camera and shoot. You couldn’t edit on a computer. Tuition was also much less expensive. Back then it made sense – but give me the name of ANYONE who graduated within the last 10 years that is Directing?

      And for every film student who may have gotten a job in the industry there are hundreds who are clueless. The main contention is that film schools don’t teach students to do the one thing most people attend school for: to make a feature film. They don’t teach feature screenwriting, audience engagement, fundraising, or marketing. And that’s why though some grads do get below the line work almost NONE go on to Direct. You can’t argue this – look at the numbers. And even if out of 2,000 graduates a handful actually even makes a feature, those are terrible numbers.

      I find it hilarious that you’d criticize me for profiting by sharing my experience and actually helping young filmmakers with practical advice for a reasonable cost when these schools are leaving their graduates financially crippled. You’ve got 20 year olds with $80,000 in debt coming out of these schools, debt they will never pay off, debt that can cost them $700 to $1,200 a month in loan payments that reduces their earning power by 70%.

      I actually outline the entire NYU Curriculum in my book “Film Fooled” – which has not been updated since the late 1960s. I know this because I am friends with the USC Professor who helped design the program in 1968. He actually reached out to me and told me how much he likes this site and agrees that undergrad programs are a waste. At NYU you spend the first year making a slideshow (Frame and Sequence) and doing a Radio Drama. Then you spend your second year making black and white silent films like any shmo can do in a community darkroom using 50 year old Arriflex Cameras.

      Thanks for the comment. Think a little more critically before you speak next time.

      Best,

      Seth

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