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Should you go to film school?

It has been a hotly debated topic since the foundation of film schools: study film or start working in the film industry at an entry-level position.

Minco van der Weide
Minco van der Weide at the National Film and Television School – Picture by Twan Peeters

We had a Q&A with Minco van der Weide to find out his view on this question. Minco has had production companies in The Netherlands and Sweden and attended The Netherlands Film Academy as an undergrad and The National Film and Television School as a postgrad.

How do you like the NFTS?

It’s a fantastic school. My master’s specialises in distribution. Our class consists of 6 people, and we get industry executives over on a weekly basis. This not only teaches us the ins and outs of the industry, but it also grows our network.

We have amazingly experienced tutors and get masterclasses from people like Paul Greengrass, Louis Theroux and Paweł Pawlikowski.

Who should apply to film schools?

Before you apply it’s important to look at your goals. The average path of becoming a director often looks very different than that one of, for example, a production manager. There is just one way of finding out what role fits you best, and that’s making films.

Being a director commands for more than just film knowledge: you need life experience. Many directors studied history, philosophy or simply just travelled or worked. This probably gave them more inspiration than going straight to film school.

I started out as a filmmaker and directed a few shorts, but found out I like producing more. I would have never discovered this out any other way than constantly working on short film projects.

Why did you decide to study again?

After having had two production companies in both the Netherlands and Sweden, I needed room to develop my skills and not worry about the financial side of having a business. It gave me a lot of practical experience and made me value studying a lot more than I did before.

The NFTS doesn’t offer undergrads studies, and many people had careers before applying. Studying again is a way to learn in a safe environment where you can experiment while being mentored to excel in a very specific field within the film industry.

What about the many successful names who didn’t go to film school?

There are plenty of big names that didn’t go to film school or even vocally expressed their dislike of the concept of film schools. Often mentioned are people like Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick.

There are indeed many filmmakers who succeeded without formal film education. But in my experience, the majority of the professionals working in film have had education in film in one way or another. Sometimes this is via a film school, but this can also be internal education within studios.

I don’t think looking at a handful of big names reflects the reality of the thousands of people who did attend film schools and went on to become successful in the film industry.

What does a film schools offer you?

I believe that film schools simply can’t create talent, they can only nourish it. The way this is done depends on what film school you’re looking at, but the top film schools (the likes of USC, UCLA, NFTS and FAMU) usually have small classes and tailor their lessons to individual needs.

This is an important matter to consider: a strict selection process is one of the hallmarks of a good film school. The people you’re surrounded with are just as important as the teachers, if not more.

What is the difference between film schools?

You can divide film schools into a few general categories. National film schools are often state-backed and are generally considered to be the most competitive in terms of application. European examples include the National Film School of Denmark, National Film and Television School (UK) and the Netherlands Film Academy.

Then you have commercial film schools, these include the London Film School and the Met Film School. Another path to choose is to study at an art school like the Royal College of Art. These are often more focussed on auteur films and are great if you have a general interest in film and want to make essay-kind of films, but they often lack the department structure of traditional film schools.

Finally, you have film programs at universities. Many larger universities offer film programmes, British examples include the University of Westminster and Ravensbourne. These courses usually have fewer options for specialisation.

How do you choose a specialisation?

If you don’t know what you want to do yet it’s not a bad idea to look for a less specialised course, but having a very specialised course makes the chances of excelling in the path you decide to take more significant.

At the NFTS there are for example four studies in sound-related functions: composing, sound design, sound and vision mixing for TV and location sound recording. At other schools, this would often be bundled together into one or two courses.

How should you decide between film schools?

One way to see how good a film school is is to check out what graduates are up to now. Check out tutors as well, examine their employment history on LinkedIn or films they worked on at IMDb or IMDb pro. Doing this will probably give you an idea of what you can expect.

What are your key takeaways from going to film schools?

I think having a safe space to develop is crucial at the early stages of a career in any creative art. A film school won’t automatically open doors for you, no matter how prestigious it is. But if you’re willing to learn I think that anyone who is interested in working in film can benefit from a good film school.

At the end of the day, it’s really just about how much effort you put in. If you watch a lot of films, ask plenty of questions to tutors, make connections with fellow students and work on plenty of film sets you will definitely end up learning a lot.

What do you think?

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