10 Questions for Choosing the Right Film School
Film schools love to show off their beautiful campus, famous alumni and that guru who visited last year. Forget the marketing blurbs. Here are 10 practical questions you can ask that will help determine how a particular film school will work out for you.
1. How many hours per week will I study?
This may seem obvious, but it’s not. Being a “full time student” can mean that you still have time (and energy) to hold a part time job. Some fast-paced courses will have you working on assignments on nights and weekends. You will get a taste of what it’s like to work in the industry, but everything else – including your own film projects – will have to wait.
2. How many film / TV productions will I be involved in per year?
This can vary from zero to 40+, depending on the course. It’s not all about the number though. In some schools your thesis (usually after 2-3 years of initial studies) can be in form of a feature film, which can take up the whole year. Many schools publish their curriculum online. Read between the lines: history of cinema, field trips, site visits, academic writing etc. point towards theory.
3. At what stage can I specialise / major in my chosen field?
If you know exactly what you want to do after you graduate, make sure you can focus on it early on – especially if you already have a basic understanding of the filmmaking process. If you’re still young and not sure, by all means do your generic film studies and try out different roles.
4. How hard is it to get in?
If getting in is neither difficult nor expensive, you might find yourself surrounded by not-so-motivated classmates. If getting in is extremely difficult, you may find yourself wasting valuable years of your life applying to a school which – even if you one day make it in – will not guarantee a successful career in filmmaking. Looking at the application process will usually give you an idea of the prestigiousness of the school. Some will only ask for your CV, some want an essay and a showreel. The schools that are really playing hard-to-get-in will hold several rounds of entrance exams with various assignments and interviews.
5. How easily can I access gear?
Film schools love to advertise the highlights of their equipment, but having one Red Weapon for 50 cinematography students doesn’t mean much. Ask about the number of gear, the number of studios and edit suites and compare these to the number of students. Ask about their policy on lending gear to students outside of school hours or assignments. Some schools may let you use their gear and facilities even after you graduate. Others have limited insurance or other reasons why they can’t do this.
6. What is included in the price?
With some schools, the tuition covers room and board, as well as production costs. With others, you’re expected to pay or raise money for your filmmaking, including rental cars, parking and so on.
7. How many other students will be on the same course?
Filmmaking is teamwork and your team matters. Going to film school is a bit like playing the human lottery. You can increase your chances of winning by making sure there are enough people taking the same course. It’s simple math. If there are 100 people, you might find 5 or 10 that you really enjoy working with. Within 10 people, there may not even be one.
8. Which tutor(s) will I spend most of my time with?
Many film schools will show you a list of impressive industry people who will give occasional lectures or run workshops. However, most schools will have a permanent staff member(s) who you will spend most of your time with. Check out their credentials, their work and what past students say about them. Being qualified, talented and popular doesn’t guarantee that you will love them, but it’s a good start.
9. What do the past graduates think?
Visit the school’s social media channels (we have direct links in our database above, click to search film schools on twitter, film schools on facebook) and see what’s going on. Check out the ratings and comments. What’s the communication between staff and students like? How many *likes* or *followers* do they have? Then go on Google and search for any other reviews and past student interviews. Contact past students. Make note of what they are doing 5 or 10 years on. Look at the big picture, not just one or two complaints or praises.
10. Will I learn relevant things?
The film industry is changing right under our noses, but not all film schools are keeping up. Ask them about virtual reality. Ask them about motion capture technologies. Ask them about creating an online EPK and running a successful crowdfunding campaign. Make sure the things you study will actually help you as a filmmaker 10 years from now.
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