The Truth About NYU Film School (with pictures)

Do You Know the Truth About NYU Film School?

NYU Film School, my alma matter, has long enjoyed a reputation as a prestigious and top film school in the US and the world. In 2008 I began meeting graduates of NYU Film School here in LA. Many kids were over $70,00 in debt and had no idea how to get a PA gig let alone begin producing a movie.

The sad truth is this: NYU Film School is a poorly run, staggeringly expensive, and outdated institution that does not support its alumni.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 reality check

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.

First, you must know that the essential curriculum at NYU Film School has not changed in 15 year since I entered the school in 1996. The first chapter of Film Fooled, which comes as part of the entire Film School Secrets course, is available below. You can either read it in this window, or download it:

Here is a link to the entire book. 

[Note: Sadly, the Acceptable.TV tutorials have been taken down. The good news? They have been replaced with 1,000 more how to videos on youtube on how to shoot a basic short film!]

“Frame and Sequence” is the mandatory ‘Production’ course for Freshman. Before NYU Film School students can touch a video camera, they must master the use of a still camera and put still images into a “sequence”. For a mere $20,000 and 5 months of their time at school, students make a slideshow.

The other semester, you do a course called “Sound Image”. It’s an audio class. You take out a tape recorder and record sounds of the city and make a radio drama. I managed to find some examples on youtube. Another $20,000 in tuition:

And this is a sample final project:

If you honestly feel it’s a good idea to invest $40,000 plus in bizarre, esoteric exercises like these, then NYU Film School is for you. But if you have half a brain, you’ll realize that this is a shameful waste of student’s time, talent, and resources.

And this is one of the reasons by film school students are a joke in the business. While real filmmakers are on real sets making stuff, learning the ropes, film students are in a classroom making ridiculous projects like these.

Meanwhile, this is a short film shot by a random guy on the internet with no film school experience. Does it look like he missed out by skipping school?

They say an Education is priceless, but that’s bald faced lie. Education is a business, and it has a steep price tag. Do you really want yourself, your son, or your daughter spending a full year playing with a still camera and an audio player while their non college counterparts are on actual film sets, making connections, making movies, and establishing a groundwork for their career?

Now the final rub. Almost every insane investment in NYU Film School can be justified by the fantasy that the degree somehow gets you “connections” or “your foot in the door”. Absolutely false. Film is a business, and people in the film business would as soon wipe their butt with your degree than hire an NYU Film Student for any task more complex than getting coffee or picking up dry cleaning.

Want Proof?

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.

Finally, an additional note on the Art Institutes:

The Art Institutes

People don’t seem to realize that $25,000 a year (which is a realistic entry level rate for production work, at about $100 for 12 hour days) is hard to live on, and almost impossible to pay off a $90,000 loan, which is the kind of money many kids take out to pay for film school.

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.

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”:


  1. First of all, ignoramus, get your facts straight. You’re conveniently forgetting a number of extremely important, influential and famous former students including Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, and more recently, Life of Pi) and BOTH Coen Brothers (Fargo, Miller’s Crossing). Secondly, a number of UGFTV graduates became famous but chose not to pursue directing specifically. The alumni program boasts some incredibly famous celebrities who are now considered vital to the indsutry– many of whom, by the way, are Academy Award winners. Some of these people did not complete a degree but took years of coursework here (Woody Allen, for instance, or Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of the Dreamworks corporation). It is not ambitious to say that most movies you see today have been worked on by a Kanbar student, faculty member or alumnus in some capacity. In fact, why don’t you come revisit the department and have a look at the movie posters that line our walls? Each one is signed by a notable alumnus. Finally, allow me to point out that some “names” have graduated from the Rita & Burton Goldberg department of Dramatic Writing here at Tisch, which is directly associated with Kanbar as it is also part of the Skirball Center for New Media. That’s where Donald Glover hails from.

    Perhaps, as you wallow in self-pity at your workplace (which, judging by the harshness of your criticism, I can only assume is unsatisfactory to you) I want you to really think about NYU Film. You may want to consider taking your unsubstantiated resentment elsewhere.

    • I love how all the comments from film school alums are angry and bitter. Sir, I advice you to please check out this post:

      where I address everything you just said. If you ever bothered to actually visit Los Angeles (which, I’m told is a slightly bigger hub of production than New York), you would realize that while yes, there have been a HANDFUL of successful grads to emerge from Tisch, the majority (we are talking about 1000s of students each paying $40,000 a year in tuition) DO NOT GO ANYWHERE. It’s not due to a lack of desire, talent, or drive. It’s because the school is so painfully bad at preparing students for the realities of the film world.

      Funny enough, I sat down with an NYU Alum who is a high level professor at USC’s Grad program last month. He actually helped create the curriculum at Tisch in the 60s and has worked with pretty much every name you can think of in the industry including the God of NYU: M. Scorsese. This gentleman is a big fan of this blog. He also helped nourish the alumni association out here, which is the only bright spot for recent grads; that is barely supported by the school. We laughed about the reputation NYU has out here. The reality remains: paying more than a house to play with cameras and possibly see a lecture from a famous film director is not only impractical but ridiculous way to prepare onesself for a directing career. Cheers Tim, best of luck with your career.

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