A Guide for the Freshman Film Student
For millions of high school seniors across the United States, now is the time of year where they're starting to think about what they want to do with their lives after the graduation caps have been thrown. If you are like me, that path for you is majoring in film. But you may be plagued with thoughts such as: "am I making the right choice?" or "how do I possibly get ready?" Well, let your resident film student offer you some advice.
Do I Need to go to Film School?
Whenever the topic of film school is brought up, its necessity is called into question. People will often cite filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino as proof that you don't need film school to be successful in the industry. To be fair, film school is very expensive, I can understand not wanting to spend that much money, and if you choose to pursue a career without film school then I wish you the best. However, like any profession, you will find more success as a filmmaker with a formal education. You won't find a doctor who didn't go to medical school or a welder who didn't go to trade school? So why is film any different? I have had the privilege of interviewing various players in the film industry, and pretty much all of them have said that attending film school can only help your career. You will be taken more seriously with a degree. But not only does film school give you a diploma, it also rewards you with so many more skills, creativity, and a broader perspective on art. Film school also gives you one of the most valuable things you can have in the industry, connections. In school, you will meet so many other creative minds that you can collaborate with and help each other grow. You need connections to be a successful artist, period. Honestly, I can't recommend film school enough. As Oscar Wilde said, "you can never be overdressed or overeducated."
Where Should I go to Film School?
Like any other major, high scho0l students will assume that the most prestigious option is the best option. But that is not necessarily true. For example, if you wanted to major in mechanical engineering, you would probably be under the impression that Harvard University is the best option because after all, it's the "best school in the world, right?" And yes, a degree from Harvard would look good on paper, but what you might not know is that Harvard is ranked #89 for mechanical engineering. Realistically, you are better off going to somewhere like Iowa State University because despite a 91% acceptance rate, their mechanical engineering program is ranked #49, much higher than Harvard's. The same basic principle applies to film school. If you were to go online and look up "Top Film Schools" you will most likely see New York University or University of Southern California, and while these programs are fantastic, they are some of the most expensive in the country, and attending them does not guarantee a good career. The truth is, it's more important to find a school that's the right fit for you, than one that looks best on paper. I can't tell you which school is right for you because I don't know your ambitions, your skills, or what you hope to accomplish, just make sure that your choice is based on your needs and no one else's.
How Do I Apply to Film School?
Film institutions are aware that not everyone, especially teenagers have access to high quality film equipment, lighting, crew members, and so on. As long as your application shows an active interest and passion for film, you will be looked at favorably. It's best if you have a few short films you made in your backyard, have been in a school media club, or have worked on things like small, local ads. Your essays will be just as important as your resume, in fact, a good essay for film school will probably hold more weight than your GPA, just make sure your grades are at least solid. In your essays, prove that you have a passion for film as a subject and come off as someone that is eager to learn. Adam Driver got into Julliard by singing "Happy Birthday," not because he was an amazing performer, but because someone saw something in him and wanted to teach him. Being someone that staff want to teach is more important than being a top-of-the-line amazing artist. You're going to school to learn and improve, give them a baseline.
What Should I Bring to Film School?
As certain as it is that the sun will rise in the East, Freshmen will overpack. A common mistake that first-years make is stocking up on materials they're used to bringing in high school. Notebooks, folders, binders, pens, pencils, these are pretty much useless in college. Maybe stick to one folder for any papers, but most of your assignments and note-taking are going to be electronic. Get a reliable laptop, ideally one that's good for photo editing, you will probably have an editing studio at your disposal in film school, but being able to do it wherever and on your own time is a game-changer. If you are lucky, your school will have a place to rent video cameras and other equipment, so it's not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a video camera. However, there's a good chance you'll have to take a photography course, and rentable photo cameras aren't as easy to come by. A Cannon or Nikon camera is a must. One thing that absolutely will not be supplied to you are SD cards, these can be found at Best Buy and a lot of office supply stores. Remember, college is different from high school, so pack accordingly.
What Will the First Few Weeks be Like?
College is going to be an adjustment for the first few weeks, no matter what subject you are pursuing. It's not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed and pack up and leave before classes even start. Do not be that person. Yes, you are going to miss home, and it's going to affect you like crazy, but remember why you are there. You are in school to study a subject you love, and the pain you are feeling is temporary. Make sure to take advantage of orientation events to make friends in your major because friends = connections. One of the most valuable things you can obtain from film school is connections, which can make or break you in the entertainment industry. Once you get settled, always be working on a new project, no matter how small, keeping your creative muscle in shape will only improve your skills. No matter how hard it may get, remember why you're there, and remember the end goal. You can do it if you just set your mind to it.
Regardless of your major, college is going to be an adjustment, and at times very difficult, but a degree is priceless in the current job market. Make sure to stay true to yourself, keep your eye on the prize, and make memories.