Yes, there really was a time in the early seventies when Hollywood simply gave new filmmakers the power to do what they wanted, with minimal interference.
Stumped by the popularity of such films as Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider, and unable to replicate the success on their own, studios gave unprecedented creative power to a new generation of film school graduates. They figured these brats must know something they didn’t. This was how legends like Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, and Scorcese got their starts. And this was how some of Hollywood’s greatest films got made.
By the end of the seventies, after years of studying and quantifying, Hollywood had learned to systematize the formula unwittingly developed by Lucas, Spielberg, and others. The Hollywood summer blockbuster was thus born. These past several decades, Hollywood has continued to refine the system, developing a pretty well predictable profit machine fueled almost entirely by hype and spectacle.
What does this have to do with you?
Well, the fact is, you stand a better shot at getting a decent studio job with a Masters in Business Administration than with a film degree.
Artists have not run the industry from the top since at least the 1940s. Hollywood is run by large conglomerates with more interest in making money than movies. Hollywood exists for profits, like any industry, and a movie is a big investment. Studio films with artistic merit are understandably rare, given this paradigm.
So should no one ever go to film school?
Film school can be an amazing place if you’re really passionate about movies, if you really want to live movies and create them. Where else can a budding filmmaker be surrounded by like-minded people, accomplished industry mentors, and some of the best equipment money can buy? If you can pay for it, film school can be a wonderful place to make relationships that will last through your whole career.
Film school gives you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to focus on your art without distraction. It lets you follow your inspiration wherever it will lead. You can write what you want, and film what you want. You can ignore the annoying call of “real life.” This could be just the thing you need to develop your artistic voice. It could also be just what you need to get the attention of a mentor in the industry, or someone else who can help you climb to the next level.
A lot of people think the money you might spend on film school is better spent actually making a movie. That’s not a bad argument. It is true that not many film school graduates get a good industry job based solely on a degree. No screenwriter sells a script just because he or she has a degree. Everything comes down to what you can do, to the product itself.
If you can demonstrate that you are a strong filmmaker, you can make it in this industry, with or without film school. The filmmaking degree is really just a single step on the long path toward your goal – success in the film industry.
And besides, who knows? Things could change.
The current Hollywood formula could stop working – and it probably will. And then what? Perhaps the studios will once more hand over creative control to a new generation of film brats.
You could be one of those brats.