Experience beats a degree for film, and most everything else

Morgan Smith

There is no film major at CSU, and this is good. A relatively new trend in American education is the film production degree. The first one was created in 1929 when a film bachelor’s degree was made available at UCLA. Since then, the major film schools in America have been the American Film Institute, NYU and UCLA, with more universities popping up recently. The degree itself remained pretty unpopular until the 1970s, when film school graduates Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola made some of the most successful and critically-acclaimed films of all time (“Raging Bull,” “Star Wars” and “The Godfather,” respectively). Suddenly, everyone thought that a film degree was the ticket to fame and success in Hollywood. This was not so. Now, you can look up the most famous directors to come out of film school, like the three above. But was it film school that made them great, or was it that they were always great storytellers? Narrative film had been around for 30 years before the first film degree was made, and the directors of that time essentially created and mastered the medium without any instruction or film education. Today, anyone can be a filmmaker. You can even make a semi-decent film on your phone, if you’re dedicated. I make films on a $600 Canon DSLR, and sometimes I think that’s too expensive. You don’t need $40,000 worth of equipment at a film school to tell a good story. You can do that with the most basic of lenses and an actor or two. Having so much expensive technology around can actually inhibit the creative process. Having limits and more challenges to overcome sparks creativity. Like with many degrees, people assume the degree itself will be the key to a career in that field. This is a really bad way to think. Unless you are in a medical field or something similarly specialized, nobody really cares what your degree is or what your grades are. If I were a Hollywood producer, I would sign on a director who has made one independent feature film with no film school experience over a film school graduate with no feature films under their belt. Film is an art, first and foremost, and a person cannot be taught how to be artistic. They can only be taught how to use the tools and techniques of their medium. And today, those tools are incredibly cheap and easy to use. The cameras of the golden age of Hollywood were so big that they couldn’t really be moved, and were more expensive than the average person’s annual salary. If you want to be a filmmaker, you can go out and make a film for less than a tenth of a semester’s tuition. Robert Rodriguez got his start in Hollywood after making a feature film in the summer of 1992 with $7,000 and no crew. And, as he said, you can learn how to be a filmmaker in less than 10 minutes, and anybody can learn the technical processes of making a movie. If you are a bit talented and really hard working, you will be noticed. Put good work out there, and it will be found. Filmmaking is just one of those professions that is easily self-taught. To be a better writer, read. To be a better musician, listen to good music. To be a better filmmaker, watch movies. Now, this concept of self-teaching and opting for practical experience over degree titles should apply to all college students everywhere. Don’t trust your major to take you where you want to go. For all the time you spend in school, spend as much time doing things that will actually build your skill set and help your career. Also be sure to study your career field outside of class. If you are truly passionate about something, you won’t need a professor to tell you to do it in an assignment. You should be doing it all on your own. Collegian A&E Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @MDSFilms.