I will start with I know nothing more or less than anyone else I just know different things from my experiences and education.
The other day I walked past my old university on my way to meet a couple of actors for a upcoming project. It wasn’t a campus I ever spent much time in if any but it was my old university all the same. Nothing much had changed, the same people stood outside, rain or shine smoking. The voices and faces may have changed but these were the same people I remembered.
There has been lots of talk about the merits of an education, a university education specifically, much of it has centred around the cost involved. It’s a tough decision for those weighing up their options and the lines of opinion seem pretty much divided these days between those who have been, being for and those who haven’t against. I went and oddly enough my friends are pretty much divided between those who went and those who didn’t. Each on are successful in there in their own area, most of the non degree friends wrk in the film industry although I have notices more and more people getting degrees and coming into the industry a little later than ten years ago.
Does anyone actually need a degree in the film industry, probably not. Most of the time the most qualified person on any film set will be the one person that is left of the film credits’ the Unit Nurse. The film industry has always trained it’s own and and had trainees in every department, people paid and learning on the job. The trainee position is essential, its the runners, camera trainees, people who are a vital job and get to learn how to do the nest job up the food change, such as clapper loader or third assistant director. These aren’t purely trainee positions they are important jobs in their own right.
So why go get a degree?
For me it was to get away from home, and make short films. I did both. Some go to university to use the equipment. I didn’t, quite frankly the equipment we had was thin on the ground and not very good at that. My degree was more social, I had quite a good time. Money well spent I believe, others may disagree.
When it come to what I know about film making I pretty much learnt about it on the job and paid ones at that. I did an apprenticeship and got a degree. So the degree route right now reading this would look as not a great option when you can learn and get paid at the same time. Well that is what I thought for quite some time. Today my opinion has changed. The things I haven’t learnt on the job is the theory, culture and history of it all. Books are great as is the internet but the instant interaction of a classroom is hard to beat.
Being able to question and debate ideas in an environment with qualified, trusted lectures is a big plus that and most in my experience usually are passionate in their field. The University environment also allows and fosters experimentation, using the facilities is seen as a must. All those people who say “I only went there to use the equipment” well that is what most of them want you to do along with the theory. I wish now I did that more. A degree is more that the learning facts and figures but its about expanding thoughts and the mind.
There are some that look down on an education citing they never needed one and they’ve done alright and it is an attitude that I can’t understand. To look down on anyone that and sort education or self improvement seems clearly wrong. In other parts of the world the attitude is different and education is seen as something to embrace. Here the education is seen as a means to an ends, to get a better job and prospects and not how it improves a person or society at large. But an education is more than that.
Is university the only way, no. It really is horses for courses some people do not excel in that environment. It is not for everyone. Like everything in life you get out what you put in. The main problem is lots of people don’t know what they are going to get out of it. Me included at the time. In fact I dismissed my degree out of hand for a long time until I realised that what I had learnt there was influencing me and and my work. My education was become my sleeping giant, coming out when I least expect it whether it be on discussions on narrative structure to the physics of optics.
My point is education is every useful. Where you get it is not important but it is important and books and the internet can only go so far and self education although asset is like university for for everyone, some need the structured environment to learn and develop. For all those successful self made film makers there are many who followed the university route such as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Emma Thompson, Anthony Minghella so it can’t be all that bad. But academia is not the only thing important in life and as Evelyn Waugh put it Brideshead Revisited “there is no point working hard for a good second”