While film has changed so much in the last 100 years, film school has not
I thought I would die if I didn’t get into film school. If I had to get a degree in something, I wanted it to be something I loved, like filmmaking. But film schools are one of the hardest forms of higher education to be accepted into. I worked tirelessly, keeping my grades up in high school and making videos with my friends in the hopes that I would be accepted, that I would be let into that club that would help me get everything I wanted. Why the fuck did I think that was appropriate?
Film school and programs are presented and sold to young people as the route to success — a place to hone your talents and take you where you want to be. But film school acts as an extension of the film industry, perpetuating the same ideas and mantras that have kept the industry alive for over a hundred years.
When I got into Ithaca College’s Park School of Communications, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Majors in screenwriting, film and photography! All the famous alumni! Bob Iger went here! I was so excited and ready to create screenplays and tell the stories I wanted to tell. But when I stepped into my first production class, I knew something was wrong. The projects for the class were already laid out with no room for adjustment. When we had to present our projects, it was as if I had watched an entire class remake something over and over again. Shouldn’t film school be the ideal place to experiment with your work? In film school, students feel pressured and are almost encouraged to create films, scripts, and content based on topics and stories the public already knows. The film industry has a habit of this — barfing out the same films and shows audiences are familiar with. It’s repetitive, safe, and — more importantly — toxic. The industry has created a gatekeeper out of film schools by reminding students that if they want to be successful in their world, they must conform.
Take the concept of film schools touting their alumni. The names are well-known people who took the mainstream route into the industry. Why are students only exposed to the “famous” alumni? What about the ones working in independent film, running their own production companies or are in any other facet of the entertainment industry besides making blockbusters and running Disney? Film school is all about selling fame and success. To sell that image, film school must cultivate that image.
The Park School, much like other film schools, has a mantra of assuring its students that an undergraduate degree from their institution is the key to success. Without it, students can forget about a future in entertainment. This promise is how film schools and programs can justify their high prices of tuition. This is worrisome because it seems convincing to students. Successful filmmakers have masters, undergraduate or otherwise no degree in filmmaking.
Film schools tend to keep an air of exclusivity around them. Lucrative tuition costs keep low-income students out and those individuals in the upper and middle-class in. As I walk around the Park School, I see predominantly white students and especially male students. These male students represent a not-so-stereotypical stereotype: white college students that go to an expensive liberal-arts school because their parents can afford to send them there. While not every person is the same, keeping the same kind of individual in film school leads to only hearing stories from the same voice.
Besides income separating students, there are more barriers in the form of organizations. The Park School has a chapter of Delta Kappa Alpha, otherwise known as DKA, an all gender film fraternity focused on helping its members achieve success and employment after college. While this may sound like a no-brainer for film students, those who attempt to join DKA go through an extensive vetting process, sometimes not getting in until their last year in school.
So what does this all mean? In my opinion, I don’t believe there is a right path into the film industry. A piece of paper issued by a school should not be the factor that lands an aspiring filmmaker a job, because that piece of paper can only get a person so far. But film school, like Hollywood, is in a rut. Hollywood may be stagnant, but the industry as a whole is changing at a rapid pace. Independent film is on the rise. Young, diverse voices are fighting to be heard. Institutions must be more flexible and opening to changing practices like costs and admissions. Professors and instructors are only hurting their students by keeping their curriculums in the past. You cannot teach change but you can embrace it.
Julia LaCava is a sophomore Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media major who is so sick of watching party scenes in every CP2 film. You can reach them at email@example.com