Why film school may not be your best choice (try digitelefilm school)

Film school used to be the way to get a job or up your chances of selling your projects in Hollywood. Now the studios are making bigger and fewer movies and the action is shifting to other platforms.

On The Wrap, Brent Lang writes, “In the digital age, institutions including New York University, the University of California, Los Angeles and Boston University have torn down the old barriers between teaching television and film production, and merged film and interactive departments. The internet age has led film schools to encourage students to think about narrative in different ways than their predecessors did.”

He quotes Bob Bassett, dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts: “Twenty years ago, people went to film school to become the best filmmaker they could become so they could go out and make films. Today, they have to be much more calculating about developing their skills, because those skills are what lead to paying jobs.”

The new outlets: YouTube, Funny or Die, and other sites, as well the the more adventurous cable TV outfits. YouTube has joined with various companies to start new channels. I wouldn’t be surprised if before too long we’re watching Facebook TV.

The formats are new, too. On the internet there’s no particular reason to think of programs in chunks of 30 or 60 minutes. There’s room for stories that take 30 seconds, and for all kinds of media combinations and interactivity.

I’ve always felt that the one big advantage of going to film school is the contacts you can make. You needed a path to reaching the powerful people who ran the film business. The digital media landscape is much broader and you have more ways in. I’m not naive enough to think it no longer matters who you know, just that it matters a bit less than it used to.

Does it make sense at all to go to even the new versions of film school—what I’d call digitelefilm school? Sure–you’ll learn a lot and find collaborators and make useful connections, too. That’s if you can afford it or don’t mind racking up big student loans. Otherwise, get out your Flip or point your New iPad at some actors, or teach yourself Flash or HTML5 animation, or make some stop-motion figurines and make something brilliant.

(What you still need is a good script–which is the missing link in most productions made for the web. A good place to start is my book, “Your Writing Coach,” published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other booksellers. It’s not specifically about writing scripts but it IS about crafting the kinds of solid characters and storylines you need.)