One of the most mind boggling things about film schools such as NYU (and AFI and USC) is the fact they continue to leverage the success of a handful of uber successful grads from 40 years ago. I wasn’t immune to this myself. When I was 17 in the mid 90s, I dreamed of going to NYU because I “heard that Martin Scorcese went there”.
I didn’t think about the fact that he attended 30 years earlier before the invention of the video camera, and went during a time when film school was the only way you could realistically get your hands on film equipment. I also didn’t look at the fact that NYU has graduated tens of thousands of students in the past 4 decades and only 1 or 2, Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ang Lee, has achieved that level of success.
George Lucas went to USC in the 70s. This is George freaking Lucas. The pioneer of digital cinema and crazy f/x man. The guy who ditched the Hollywood establishment to found his kingdom in Northern California. Sure he went to USC, because in the 70s how else were you supposed to make a film? You couldn’t exactly grab your own flatbed editing system or film camera without spending a small fortune. So he went to school.
If Lucas were 18 today, do you think he’d be sitting in a classroom paying $40,000 a year to make some ridiculous black and white short films? No. He’d be one of the wild young DIYers putting together his own camera rigs and shooting a 7 part epic feature series and pimping it online.
It’s 2014. And banking on the fact that a handful of superstars went to a film school years ago just doesn’t warrant a $100,000 investment. So let’s look at some examples.
NYU had it’s heydey in the 70s and 80s when Scorsese and Spike Lee went to their graduate programs. Can you name a recent graduate who has even made a feature film?
Recent Film School Graduates are Not Directing Movies
AFI has a long and storied history, but look at their alumni list. Nearly every single name is a graduate from the 1970s, 80s, or 90s. You can see the full list here: http://www.afi.com/conservatory/alumni/alumni.aspx
Look for any names of people who graduated in the past 10 years. The one name there, 2003 graduate Bradley Beucker is listed a Director of “Eat Pray Love” but noted he was just the editor.
The same goes for USC and NYU, which are considered the top “name” film schools. There may be a working director who graduated from their ranks here and there but it’s a very small percentage of the thousands of people they graduate who end up working below the line entry level crap positions that don’t have anything to do with directing. Case in point, once again, the Kevin Smith clip which humorously illustrates the real plight of most film school grads.
Remember the “Coalition of the Willing” in the Iraq War? You had Great Britain, the US, Australia, and Poland. Everyone else was like “no”. It’s the same with film schools. There are a couple of big names but nearly every successful filmmaker you can think of from JJ Abrams to Hitchcock to Tarantino to David Fincher and on and on never went to school.
What About the Other Film Schools?
LA Film School alumni Brian Taylor went to the school in 2006 and went on to direct the movie “Crank” with Jason Statham. That’s great for Taylor. But the sad truth is that he is literally only one out of thousands of grads from that school to achieve a directing credit on that level. Yet the school pimps him to convince young people to invest $40,000 a year in their program to play with some video cameras and make short films.
They don’t teach the process by which Taylor had to hustle and lead after school to move from short filmmaking into a feature. In fact if you look at their latest alumni newsletter you’ll see they highlight Martin Moody, a 2006 grad who has been working in the camera department on a number of productions for the past few years. He worked as an AC on the movie “Nebraska” and that is apparently worth of highlighting in their alumni newsletter.
This isn’t to poo poo Mr. Moody for working in the business. But there is no reason he should have spent $80,000 to start working in the camera department on movies. Most people doing so never went to school. And you’d think the school would have something better to show from their alumni, like other feature films being directed, than an 8 year graduate working in the camera department.
New York Film Academy is another hilarious example. You can’t name even one working director who attended their programs. And the same can be said of Full Sail — a recent student of mine informed me that the only Director they could even name who had made a feature was the guy who directed “Saw V”, David Hackl.
How Should You Judge a Film School?
Now I’m not saying we should expect every film school to produce hundreds of Oscar winning or Box Office dominating directors. But at least you’d think film school graduates would be making Feature Films. Even if the movies suck, or are too “artsy” for mainstream consumption. At least they would be living the dream of directing a real movie.
But these schools still only teach short filmmaking and provide no training on how to make feature films, much less how to make a living doing that. Film Schools have popped up all over the planet, graduating thousands of students a year paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition. A school shouldn’t be able to point out 1 out of every 1,000 grads who actually makes a feature and say that is a “success”. It’s a freaking failure, big time!
You should judge a film training program not on what a handful of grads did 40 years ago, nor the size of the building in which the equipment is housed, or whatever US News and World report “ranks” the school. You should judge it by what they actually teach you to do.
And that’s why in my programs, student learn to make feature films. They learn how to tell stories that are engaging and keep people’s attention. They learn how to build an audience and make money from their movies. They learn how to realistically have a Directing career.
If that’s something you want, then enter your name and email below and learn about the world’s most practical and exciting film training program: