Every aspiring director, cinematographer, writer, or actor wants to know the answer to this question, but it’s not that straightforward. Notable film schools like Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Whistling Woods International (WWI), and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) have given us many gems. Shabana Azmi, Santosh Sivan, Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty – just to name a few. Even the National School of Drama (NSD) (which is more of a drama institute) has provided great acting and directorial talent, like Naseeruddin Shah & Tigmanshu Dhulia. Also, some roles like the DOP, sound-engineer, or set designer require proper technical knowledge, which is best acquired through a relevant degree or diploma.
On the other hand, a lot of top talents in the industry – like Satyajit Ray, Manoj Bajpayee, Mani Ratnam, and Shyam Benegal have made it without any formal education in films. Though it isn’t compulsory, attending a film school has its pros and cons. Take a look at them and decide for yourself!
1. Expensive fees.
Studying in a government film and television institute doesn’t cost a lot, but getting a seat can be tough. The other alternative is joining a private film school that comes at a cost (schools can charge upwards of 1 lakh/year for each course). This can put an additional burden on your finances if you don’t have money saved. Also, getting enough income through films takes time. Keep this in mind if you’re planning to take a loan, or aiming to study overseas.
2. Not as convenient as learning on the Internet.
Nowadays, everything you need to know is available online, for free. People learn acting, cinematography, writing, etc. at their own pace, from quick tutorials on YouTube or a short course online. Plus, the internet is home to thousands (if not millions) of free film workshops and seminars. Then why spend so much money & time on an expensive degree?
3. Curriculum not updated frequently.
The film industry is a living, breathing organism. The kind of stories being made, the tastes of the audiences and the technology keeps changing with time. Amongst such rapid changes, a pre-decided curriculum isn’t usually able to keep up. Updating the curriculum also takes time, and by the time current trends & technology are incorporated, they can often become outdated as new developments take place. For example, almost no film school offers access to a virtual film set (a high-tech alternative to the green screen, used in movies like Mandalorian (2019) and Interstellar (2014).
4. Can’t substitute real on-set experience.
There’s a big difference between a college film project and a real film set. A real film set is more chaotic with lesser room for error. An academic environment proves inadequate in exposing students to the realities of the job. That is why, after graduating from a film school, the aim should be to work under an experienced person from the industry. If you want to be an editor, intern at an editing studio. Want to be a director? Assist a senior director before jumping into the water alone. This will give you real-life exposure & prepare you for a life in films. Even Anurag Kashyap, now an award-winning writer & director, started out writing scripts for filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma.
1. Thorough technical knowledge.
Film courses give an in-depth understanding of the craft, from principles & techniques to ideal work-flows & standard processes. This is essential for any field, from writing, editing, to acting and cinematography.
2. Access to equipment.
Good quality film equipment is often expensive. All the best film schools in the world offer free access to professional cameras, lights, editing setups, etc. that you might not be able to afford on your own.
3. Making contacts.
The greatest benefit of attending a film institute is that it’s filled with students of all disciplines. So finding a crew won’t be a problem. Networking too is easy. One gets to interact with a lot of industry professionals, faculty, and alumni through regular seminars and meet-ups. So if you’re looking to make contacts, there’s no place like campus!
Fun fact: In the mid-1970s, many of today’s film industry legends studied together at the same institute, roughly at the same time. Rakesh Bedi (Actor), Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Filmmaker), Benjamin Gilani & Tom Alter (co-founders of Motley theatre group) all sharpened their crafts in the FTII campus.
4. Developing your showreel.
By the time you graduate from film school, you already have a body of work. This makes finding projects easier, compared to people without a film degree – who have to find projects first to put something in their showreel.
5. Freedom to fail.
In the real world, a failed film project can often mean a setback. But since you don’t have a lot of money invested in equipment or crew, your appetite for failure is high. This freedom is especially useful for aspiring filmmakers since it takes many films to master the craft and you can go wild and experiment with your creativity. Apart from choosing a film institute in India, you can also opt for an international one – like New York Film Academy (USA), London Film School (UK), Prague Film School (Czech Republic), or Lodz Film School (Poland). Such overseas institutes offer a chance to work with a diversified group of creative people and access to world-quality equipment & training. This means you make a lot of global contacts while developing world-class skills.
There are a lot of ways to learn film-craft. And there’s no hard and fast rule to success in the industry. Now that we’ve discussed all the merits & demerits of going to a film school, you can choose the approach that suits you best. But remember, whatever route you take, film school or not, dedication and creativity are the only compulsory requirements.