Is it Worth Attending an Elite Film School?

Is it worth attending an elite film school
Is it worth attending an elite film school?

Firstly, by film school, here I’m talking about conservatoire style film schools. I’m not talking about part-time film schools, or extra-curricular filmmaking courses like the ones we offer.

Conservatoire style film schools are specialist providers of vocational film training at a higher education or postgraduate education level. Examples of conservatoire-style film schools in the UK include the Met Film School or the National Film and Television School.

Attending a film school such as these will typically mean that as a filmmaker, you receive intensive, practical filmmaking training that might lead on to a professional career within the film industry.

You might focus on a particular discipline, such as film directing, or film producing. Courses are often full time, with 30-40 hours per week of film tuition.

So, if you’re thinking about embarking on a career in the film industry, then this probably sounds like a great option, no? That’s probably the case, but there are some drawbacks to consider.

These types of film schools are generally quite elite. The courses are expensive and admission is highly competitive. Typically, admission is less than 1% of applications. It’s also a big commitment if you aren’t sure that pursuing a career in film is right for you.

What are the benefits of attending film school?

There is no doubt that training at one of these film schools will provide a more intensive and more vocationally-relevant level of film training than a Film Studies degree or an academic university course, which tend to focus on encouraging different skillsets.

You’ll benefit from more intensive tuition. There will also be access to more practical opportunities. You’ll also learn from teachers who are connected to the film industry or have industry experience.

All of this is likely to better prepare you for gaining entry into the film industry. After graduating, you’ll have more relevant experience to draw on. Your skills will likely be more practically developed and, crucially, you’ll also have contacts within the industry from your work as part of the course. It’s also quite likely that you’ll work on an industry standard of equipment and have access to better, more specific facilities. All this is helpful in accelerating employment and opportunities within the industry.

Speaking from experience of a conservatoire environment, I can’t stress the benefits of all this enough. It really does go a long way, and having a prestigious name on your CV can open some desirable doors in your career.

I should point out that I didn’t go to film school, I attended the Central School of Speech and Drama, a conservatoire drama school in London (I started working in film as a result of this, but didn’t have any specific film training at this point in time). There, I spent three years training full time with some of the best drama teachers in the world. This experience prepared me for so much of working life in the creative industries. In terms of transitioning into professional opportunities, it offered me a competitive edge in a very crowded world.

But these types of environments aren’t easy. And they aren’t for everyone. The hours are long, the work is hard and your ‘student experience’ will be very different from most of your peers.

What are the alternatives to film school?

If your ambition is to work in the film industry, there are lots of other paths you can take.

A lot depends on the kind of work or role you’d like to do. For instance if you plan to work within the crew, often the simplest way to get there is to go out and get some experience. Rather than train on a film course, you can volunteer on set in entry-level roles to build up your experience, skills and of course, your film industry contacts. If you’re prepared to work hard and prove yourself, this is a relatively quick way of gaining work experience and then progress into paid work in the film industry.

For many of the creative roles, for instance if you’re thinking to become a film director, or a film producer, then building your portfolio is key. You’ll need examples of your work that showcase your abilities and creative ideas. This usually means a portfolio of short films, along with a showreel of highlights. Although a film school training is helpful to this process, as they often provide the practical support as part of the course, you don’t strictly need it to build up a portfolio.

You can make your own work independently, which you can then demonstrate to agents, or enter to film festivals to start to build your CV. I should also note that both of these processes are, again, highly competitive and require a lot of dedication, a lot of time and probably quite a bit of money.

So is it worth applying?

If you’re interested in a career in film, then it’s at least worth researching and applying to any film schools you’re interested in.

The experience of applying can be beneficial in itself: the process will prompt you to think about what your interests and ambitions are, as well as how attending a film school can help you to get there.

You can also apply for film courses at university, which might offer a broader range of progression pathways beyond university, or consider other options too.

Another good thing about film schools is that they often welcome mature students, in fact they often prefer mature students, so even if you don’t attend as a young or emerging filmmaker, it might be an option for later on.

6 Top Tips for Film School Applications:

If you’ve decided to apply to film school, here are some tips to help with developing your application. Remember, you’ll need to stand out from the competition and make a compelling case – only a small number of film school applicants will succeed.

  1. Research All the Requirements Fully
    Each film school has its own application process and its own requirements. Make sure to research each school individually and choose the schools that feel like the best fit for you. I’d highly recommend visiting in person for an open day and talking to as many people as you can about their experiences.

    When it comes to applying, make sure you submit an application that responds to each school’s individual requirements. Plan ahead and leave plenty of time to fulfil all the different elements. Don’t copy and paste and don’t be generic. Respond to each question/section individually.
  2. Demonstrate Your Filmmaking Potential
    The first thing you’ll need to do is demonstrate an existing interest in film. This is likely to include an existing portfolio or body of work, or previous participation in film education or training experiences. The selection panel will be looking for proof of both interest and potential.

    You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to demonstrate passion and commitment. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have some existing filmmaking knowledge and skills, as well as some fresh creative ideas.

    You don’t need to show perfection. Show what you’re interested in and what excites you the most about filmmaking.
  3. Express Yourself Creatively – and Carefully
    Try to make sure you communicate all your ideas, but make sure to be as clear and concise as possible. In a competitive application process, it’s easy to get lost in amongst the crowd so communicate clearly and make your points stand out. Leave yourself plenty of time for drafting your application and for ruthless editing!
  4. Focus on Storytelling
    Filmmaking is a dramatic art-form: whatever genre, it’s all about storytelling. Tell your story, share your ambitions and what you hope to achieve. Help your audience to visualise and remember to include emotions, as well as the senses. Try to share your vision at every opportunity and try to include your audience in that process.
  5. Be You
    Share all the things that make you unique as a filmmaker.

    What interests and inspires you? What are all your quirks? What kind of stories do you want to tell? Don’t share what you think anybody wants to hear, share what’s personal to you and what your signatures might be as a filmmaker.
  6. Be Open to New Experiences
    Having new perspectives, new ideas and new visions includes being open to different possibilities. Demonstrate that you’re open to exploration and how new experiences can inform and influence your practice as a filmmaker.

    Diverse approaches and different processes can lead to brilliant new outcomes, and ideas can come from anywhere. Make sure to showcase how you collaborate and how you embrace new possibilities.

We’ll be sharing some more details in some upcoming blog posts about how to optimise your application to film schools, as well as a list of top conservatoire film schools internationally. Check back soon for more information.

If you’re interested to apply for film school, but haven’t yet started to think about how to get there, you might also be interested in our Studio 4 or Studio 5 classes for young filmmakers.

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