Film School or Not?

My uncle taught himself how to drive with a borrowed car. He learned the hard way. I learnt driving in a school, with a one-on-one instructor. Both of us can drive. I went to a school because no one would lend me a spare car to abuse. If they did, I would have done it the way my uncle did it. That’s how I like it.

Which is why I say: Don’t go to film school.

Why? It’s a waste of time and money. Here’s how:

Money
What are the costs of film school? Let’s take a film direction course as an example. As of March 2011:

  • Cost of Film Direction course at AAFT, Noida is Rs.72,000 + Housing fees Rs. 30,000 (for three months) and Rs. 2,10,000 for a diploma (one year) + Housing fees
  • Cost of Film Direction course at Whistling Woods, Noida is Rs.15,00,000 for two years
  • Cost of Film Direction course at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU is approximately Rs.10,00,000 + Cost of living in the US
  • These costs do not include expenses incurred over the period of study, which will be more for longer programs.

    For Directors and Cinematographers:
    The cost of an DSLR that can shoot full HD is Rs 35,000 (for the 550D). Add to this a few lenses, accessories, tripod and film kit, and you can rig an entire kit in around Rs 1.5 lakh. Now you can shoot for life without further expenses. If in the future you need to upgrade, all you need is to change the body.

    So why not shoot on your own or give your services to an aspiring director and make a few short films? Even after you’ve made them, you still have your equipment to rent out or sell. If you are smart, you can even recover your invested within a year. But money poured down the drain for film school is gone forever.

    For Editors:
    The cost of Adobe Production Premium CS5.5 is Rs. 76,500. The cost of custom-built computer that can handle CS5 is around Rs. 60,000. For roughly Rs 2 lakhs, you will have a complete licensed editing and finishing setup that you can start learning and earning with. Think about it.

    For Sound Engineers:
    The cost Steinberg Nuendo is Rs. 80,000. A computer that can handle 5.1 sound with card is Rs. 50,000 and two Yamaha monitors cost Rs 30,000. Total: Rs. 1.6 lakhs + Padding up your room to make it sound-friendly. You can rent cheap microphones for a few hundred rupees a day for practice. Now you can start earning and learning at the same time.

    For Writers
    You need to buy one book: Syd Field’s Screenplay: The foundations of screenwriting. It costs Rs. 569 at Flipkart with free home delivery. Final Draft v8 costs Rs. 15,000 and a nice laptop that can run this software costs around Rs. 20,000 (get one with a DVD drive). Total: around Rs. 40,000. You have everything you need to become a writer. Start writing.

    Let’s say you want to be a filmmaker and have your own studio to write, shoot, produce, edit, record, mix and finish an entire feature film. You can do it for around Rs. 8-10 lakhs! Plus, you can start earning right from the word go. Then why the hell do you want to spend 15 lakhs and go to film school, walk out after a year with a few crappy short films and a worthless degree? Remember this: I have never seen or heard of anyone in India hiring somebody because of their film school certificate. It happens in the West, but not in India.

    Don’t waste your money.

    Time
    In one year, you can write, produce and finish an entire feature film. I made The Impossible Murder for around Rs. 10-15 lakhs. While I was at AAFT every other student got to make one short film. I made three in three months. What the hell are you going to do in two years at a film school?

    Since then I have made two more short films and one feature film. I learnt more from experience than by sitting in a classroom listening to somebody. If Diego Maradona talks to you about football, will you be able to play like him? What about if A. R. Rahman talks to you about music, can you compose like him? The only way to do it is TO DO IT. Coaches and instructors can only guide you, but they cannot make you. Which is why if you can read, buy books. They are cheaper and last longer. If you have questions, google them. Visit, join and ask for help at forums. There are so many people who are willing to help you for free (I’m one of them). Why not use it? I went to film school in 2002 when the internet was just blooming. There weren’t any forums or online assistance or torrents to help me. It was tough to buy and ship imported books into India since Amazon didn’t support India then. I discovered my mistake on my second day in Noida.

    In today’s age, it is wiser and cheaper to waste a few eggs learning to cook an omelette rather than ask a chef to teach you how to make one (You’ll still waste eggs)!

    Exception
    The ONLY exception I will make to what I’ve stated above is for acting. Even if you are a natural talent you cannot practice acting on your own. It is such an emotional experience that without an objective coach you will be lost.

    So, who is film school for then?

  • People with spare money who don’t care if they lose it.
  • People with spare time who don’t care if they waste it and never get it back.
  • People who are afraid to meet new people and network.
  • People who are lazy to find out things for themselves in this day and age.
  • What if you don’t have any money and want to learn?

    For Writers:
    Buy the book, Use Microsoft Word or use pen and paper. What you are learning is how to create characters and compose your script, not fancy wordplay.

    For Cinematographers:
    Buy a used DSLR and learn photography. It is the same thing as cinematography. What you are learning is to see the world, not operate an electronic device.

    For Editors:
    Use Microsoft Moviemaker which comes free. It’s the same thing as other software, with lesser features. What you are learning is to time, match and edit footage, not operate expensive software.

    For Sound Engineers:
    Join FTII. Otherwise find work in a proper studio or under a well-known sound engineer. As far as I know it is impossible to learn without money.

    For Directors:
    Read. Think. Listen. Discover. Network. Write. Organize. Execute. Nobody can teach anybody direction, which is why everyone thinks they can do it. Create the passion inside you, and the path will open up by itself. My guarantee.

    PLUG

    If you do need some help, and want advice on no-budget filmmaking, click on the image below or Click Here.

    All the best!