For most majors, you go to a four-year university, get a paid internship, get a job after graduation, start at the bottom and work your way up. And while that clear-cut path is sufficient for a future Accountant or Veterinarian, it doesn’t exist for those of us who are creators in the movie industry.
As filmmakers, we create stories that help our society to reflect, escape, laugh and cry. There is no piece of paper that will make that happen for us. We filmmakers learn this the hard way.
Education vs. Experience?
I, like many of my peers, went to a four-year university to study film and it didn't take long to figure out that a college degree wasn't going to help launch and sustain a career in the film business.
I began finding work in the business as a sophomore in independent feature films and, at one point, I took a break from school to sustain film work. Under pressure to get that piece of paper, I returned to complete my degree.
Upon receipt of that piece of paper, no one hired me to direct, no one offered an internship and no doors opened.
What did open doors was my experience – me practicing my art. It’s how I met people who, in turn, would hire me. To become a good director—or a screenwriter, or cinematographer—takes time and practice. These are all learned skills that are perfected by doing.
This doesn’t mean I don’t find value in learning. On the contrary, a formal education is more important to succeed in the arts than any other field.
If you want to build a car, there is a clear outcome to determine your success with or without a formal education – the car will turn on. It’s not so clear-cut in the arts.
I remember taking a cinematography class at my university where the professor had never touched a camera. I remember thinking, ‘why can’t there be a school where I can really learn how to make movies?’
And right there, the idea of MPI — Motion Picture Institute — was born…
A school where you are taught by trained professionals who can mentor you. A school that values your momentum and enthusiasm and doesn’t deplete you of your valuable energy and focus. A place where you can simultaneously practice and learn in an efficient amount of time.
The value of time is another lesson I learned the hard way.
Like money, time is a valuable and limited resource. After graduating with a Bachelor's degree I can candidly say that I wasted two, possibly three, precious years that could have put my focus in the industry sooner and with far less debt. If I bundled together the college classes that actually helped train me for my field they could have been offered within a single year’s time. It would have been much more concentrated and made me better prepared for working on film sets and producing my own films.
Co-founding the Motion Picture Institute turned my frustration into opportunity.
MPI students come from all parts of the world and with varying educational backgrounds. We have students who have dropped out of well-known four year universities to study with us. We have students who have degrees when they enroll with us. We have students fresh out of high school eager to fast track a career start. We even have professionals who return to school after decades away.
In all this diversity there is a commonality; the need for a focused short-term film education; an MPI education.
About the Author
Doug Schulze is an award winning independent filmmaker and Cofounder/ CEO of the Motion Picture Institute.