What do Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Spike Jonze and Steven Spielberg have in common? Answer: they didn’t attend film school. El Mariachi, Rodriguez’s breakout film, was shot so he could understand how, a story he describes in his book Rebel Without a Crew.
Unlike a lot of careers, there is no specific qualification needed to start. Film is not medicine: there’s no requirement to have a degree or a diploma in anything.
A number of location managers and assistant directors in reality say they like Production Assistants who haven’t been to film school, mainly because they are the ones most keen to be taught and who understand they don’t know anything. Often film school graduates think they know almost everything, and that causes them to not seek advice, and that causes them to make a mess of things.
The short answer is that you don’t need to go to film school to get a job in the film industry.
For film production, and in particular PAs, the best significant skill is an ability to get things done and get them done well. You are continually judged on your ability to help the production move forward, and whether you can solve problems. Your past experience has no bearing on that, if somebody trusts you they will choose you, end of story. Having worked on films for university with a few other students doesn’t mean you are able to work on a huge professional set with lots of people.
That’s not to say that film school is a waste of time, far from it. Obtaining a career is all in relation to who you know and while you’re at film school, you familiarize yourself with a lot of people. Some production companies have internship agreements with educational institutions too. If you can get an internship, it’s a very beneficial way of heading on to a full time career. Additionally, you do get to gain knowledge of what is involved in making film, something which you would have to learn yourself otherwise. That can be a daunting task, and the structure that comes with a course can help people who are not good at self-motivated learning.
So in review, film school is highly-priced and you can skip it if you want a job in the film industry. It has great networking possibilities, but so does spending those years meeting, greeting and working!