Graduate film school. You’ll see posters for such programs all over Manhattan and Los Angeles. The good ones, of course, are at New York University (Tisch), the University of Southern California, and the University of California Los Angeles. There isn’t really a university with a graduate film school of the same caliber. But don’t take what we just wrote literally because we feel that graduate film school (watch this video!) is utterly ridiculous. And we’ll tell you why.
Take for example the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. Students in this program (mostly aspiring movie and TV producers, writers, directors, and executives) pay big bucks to go to school to learn how to be producers. They learn about film budgets. They learn about film financing, how to effectively frame TV pitches, and they get to be taught by real industry professionals. But is that really worth the money? Our answer, in short, is absolutely, positively not.
When you work your way up the Hollywood food chain (first as an unpaid intern, then as an assistant, etc.), you build connections. And you do grunt work. That grunt work, if you do it with a smile, doesn’t go unnoticed by higher ups and it often leads to a promotion. Going to school in the hope of bypassing the grunt work just doesn’t work. Graduate film school is not an effective bypass of the low rungs on the television and movie business ladder. It just isn’t.
And when students graduate from such programs as Stark and feel entitled, that doesn’t sit well with feature and television executives. That doesn’t sit well with other feature and TV writers and directors. In Hollywood, it’s all about paying your dues. It’s about getting coffee and running errands. Does that mean that it’s the right way? No. But it’s the way of Hollywood. Graduate film school is a whole lot of money for little payoff. The return on investment just isn’t there. Rather than applying, consider trying to land a PA, writer’s assistant, or director’s assistant job in Hollywood. That’s the bottom line.