I Spent 4 Years in School & All I Got Was This Lousy Short

From a simple financial perspective, film school is an impressively retarded investment. If you are attending a 4 year school, as many people aspire to do, your total investment cost can be anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000.

Four years of training and almost a quarter of a million dollars should get you the most cutting edge tools, plus the most insightful and relevant instruction. You should also get highly valuable, direct hookups to potential employment and a clear path towards a career as a director.

Instead, students get remedial and basic filmmaking instruction on a par with many high school AV programs or things you could learn on youtube. Instructors are rarely working in the industry, and most film school graduates leave school with a paper diploma, a mountain of debt, some short films, and little else.

This is why Stephen Ujaki, Dean of Film & TV at Loyola Meerimount, was quoted as saying the “majority of students majoring in film and television will not be having careers in those professions” in a July 2011 NY Times Article.

Think about it. $100,000 to come away with a couple of student films. Student films have been aptly charatcerized by the guy from “Shit My Dad Says” as “like sitting through a 3 hour prostate exam.” And that’s fine. Student films are supposed to be bad, because you are learning. Robert Rodriguez says that everyone has 20 bad films in them you should get out before making a real movie. And that makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is paying more than it costs to buy a house to play with some video or film cameras you could buy for much less. Some people say film school is a “luxury” in this sense, but in fact it is actually a liability. Because spending so much time and money on short films actually teaches film students very very bad habits when it comes to filmmaking.

The biggest problem most film school graduates face when emerging from school is the fact that they’ve spent years and a fortune making short, and don’t know a damn thing about making a real movie. The kind of movie people would actually pay to see. You know, a feature length film. Case in point was a mediocre but ambitious NYFA thesis film I just watched called “Heaven’s Idiots”.

It’s a very clumsily executed but well meaning story about a dorky guy who has two jock roommates. The jock roommates promise to help get the nerdy guy to kiss a girl, but they die before they can fulfill the promise, and have to advice him as ghosts. It’s actually a better feature premise than a short premise. And like so many short films it’s very cringe worthy.

The movie killed at the student film festival at NYFA, as many student films do. But when taken out into the real world, you hear crickets. A friend of mine knew the director and told him that it had good elements but he needed to develop it into a feature.

The director took his advice, but instead of writing a full feature film that expanded on the ideas in the short… he somehow just made the same story go on for 90 pages. It was excruciating. No new character development, no new twists or turns… and the movie actually ended in the same way it did in the short.

Now this particular short was nicely shot and had some adequate performances. Clearly the student had some money to put into the project. But he ran into the exact same stumbling block everybody out of film school does: no idea how to write, shoot, pitch, or fund a feature.

You can use training wheels to get ready to ride a bike, but eventually you gotta ride a bike. Short films ain’t features. Film students are relegated to using “training” wheels throughout film school and by the time they are forced to figure out how to actually make a living making movies… they have no idea how to balance the bike.

So every film student should have a t shirt that says “I spent 4 years in film school & all I got was this lousy short”. Because even if you make the best short in the world (as has happened with grads from big film schools who won awards and met famous filmmakers), it won’t take you anywhere if you don’t have a feature project or feature experience under your belt to show your financiers or a studio that you can handle something like that.

If you want to avoid being clueless about how to actually translate your short film skills into a bankable skill, then check out Film School Secrets. Film School Secrets is a practical, no BS course that provides relevant and useful guidance to help aspiring filmmakers begin their careers the right way.

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