Film school can be a wonderful learning experience for aspiring directors, writers, editors, cinematographers, and other crew members. As a student, you get to immerse yourself in cinema and also get hands-on experience as you serve in different functions on set (and figure out which roles are most rewarding for you).
However, you can get plenty of experience on film sets without a film school degree. You can also use internet resources to learn the craft of screenwriting and use new technology and new media to make your own art. The internet can be your film school.
The importance of an entry-level job
Film school often focuses on the study of film as well as the creative process of making one. But in order to make connections in Hollywood (and continue learning), you might want to get an entry-level job in the entertainment industry.
You might try working as an office assistant in a number of areas (film production, TV production, development, publicity, marketing, social media, home entertainment, etc). To get one of these jobs, you will likely have to find an internship first — and you’ll want to stay in touch with your internships connections so that you can hear about full-time jobs that are only filled via word-of-mouth. Through the networking connections you make, you might be able to get invited to private industry email groups or tracking boards. You could also look for jobs as an on-set PA. Here’s what production assistants do.
How to navigate a changing industry
Traditional film school might not teach you much about how to further your career via digital studios, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, virtual reality, etc. Professors might also focus on feature film and have little experience with commercials or reality TV, which comprise a lot of the available jobs in entertainment.
Consider internships and jobs that can teach you about new apps and platforms. You can also try reaching out to friends or alumni from your school who have experience with new or specialized parts of the industry.
That said, don’t be afraid to teach yourself! You might be able to pursue your same passions on a variety of new platforms.
“Before Snapchat, I did art through the web and digital mediums, and now I’m doing art for social media,” says Snapchat influencer CyreneQ. “I don’t really see a big transition, I just see it as a different canvas.”
How to get an education without film school
Many successful filmmakers never went to film school, and many film school graduates don’t end up using their degrees. A film school degree may teach you about film, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a high-paying job.
If you really want to learn about screenwriting, start reading professional screenplays! Many are available on the internet during awards season. IndieFilmHustle has compiled an exhaustive list of awards-season screenplays online, from Ladybird and Call Me By Your Name to Dunkirk and War For the Planet of the Apes. The best part is they’re all free.
“I think reading scripts: good, bad, mediocre, unfinished, anything is the best education you could get in how to write a script,” says Liz Hannah, the screenwriter of The Post.
You can also look into resources such as Masterclass, which offer online screenwriting seminars from professional screenwriters such as Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes. For more advice, you can also read online interviews from your favorite screenwriters.
When it comes to experience with cameras, you can look into local workshops, community college classes, and YouTubers who offer filmmaking advice.
How to make films on your own
You don’t necessarily need expensive cameras to make a film. Director Sean Baker used an iPhone 5S to make his Sundance hit Tangerine. Check out NoFilmSchool’s feature on the film to learn about all the tools used by Baker and his crew, including Moondog Labs 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter for iPhone 5s, the FiLMiC Pro App, and the Steadicam Smoothee for the iPhone 5s.
Similarly, director Tristan Pope wrote an article for IndieWire about how he shot a romantic film on the iPhone 6. He chronicles why he likes the phone, what limitations he faced, and what other accessories he used.
“The most important thing to remember is that no matter what medium is being used, the basics of filmmaking still apply,” he says. “But with any new medium, it was even more important to push the boundaries of the techniques and processes I have learned over the years.” He urges aspiring filmmakers to “be creative.”
Ultimately, there’s no one correct path to becoming a screenwriter or filmmaker. Don’t be afraid to try different paths and mediums as you soak up knowledge and experience.